African Development Needs Nuclear Science and Technology, FAO–IAEA Meeting Hears 2023

At a joint meeting of the IAEA and the FAO in Vienna today, speakers noted that nuclear techniques have improved food security in Africa, but investing in science, technology, and capacity building can do even more.

Since 1964, the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has provided effective and safe nuclear technologies for soil and water management, crop breeding, animal production and health, insect pest control, and food safety and control.

At the IAEA Headquarters, 200 diplomats from Permanent Missions of African governments in Vienna and Rome, African Union members, and Ambassadors of donor countries gathered.

Ambassador Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to FAO and Chair of the African Group in Rome, said the Joint Centre can help address climate change, draught, productivity, food insecurity, soil degradation, pests, and diseases by building capacity and providing technical assistance.

FAO–IAEA Meeting Urges Nuclear Science and Technology Investment for Africa’s Development

The Global Report on Food Crises – 2022 states that one in five Africans go to bed hungry. 140 million Africans are severely food insecure. However, Africa has unique potential: agriculture contributes for 32% of GDP and 70% of employment.

Over two-thirds of Africans are under 30, which presents obstacles but also great potential. It boasts 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, about 600 million hectares.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi underlined the special character of the long-standing IAEA–FAO collaboration. “We work organically together,” he remarked.

“By upgrading our joint laboratories in Seibersdorf, we are increasing our impact and efficiency in contributing to global food security and sustainable agriculture development.” He urged African Ambassadors in Rome to visit IAEA facilities in Seibersdorf “to see how we do the science that underpins our projects in Africa and elsewhere.”

Science, technology, and innovation may help reduce African hunger and food insecurity, according to FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. “10 national agricultural research institutions have benefited from the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre’s global network of almost 400 research institutes and experimental stations” in West Africa alone in 2022.

Najat Mokhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, highlighted FAO–IAEA success stories in Africa, including how nuclear technology in soil and water management enables Sudanese women farmers escape poverty; how a nuclear technique saved the orange industry in Western Cape, South Africa;

how Uganda’s cassava brown streak disease was treated with nuclear methods; how stable isotope techniques helped Benin’s beekeepers export honey to the EU; and how Cameroon’s veterinary authorities fought ruminant disease with nuclear methods.

The session also discussed expanding nuclear food and agriculture technology. To overcome obstacles, governments should increase their pledges, integrate nuclear technology into national food and agricultural programs, invest in research and development, and build capability.

“Now it’s action time,” said Ambassador Philbert Abaka Johnson, Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA and Chair of the Vienna-based African Group. No one will help us. The IAEA and FAO can do it, but we must change.” He stated that African nations may spend more in science and technology for youth. “We must increase coordination in both international and national levels, involving all stakeholders, to guide the wider international community to help achieve goals in malnutrition and food insecurity.”

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