Human

Fighting for food

 By Michelle Leslie

Hunger induced riots on the streets of Venezuela highlight the severity of not having enough to eat. A slash in oil prices has allowed the country to plunge into a deep recession that could be further exacerbated by a stubborn drought that has meant electricity shortages for a heavily reliant hydro nation. Electricity shortages could further slow-down economic production. These scenes are sounding the alarm to find both short-term relief and long-term solutions to the food crises. One long-term solution may be found in an atom. Scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are working with nuclear technology to address the hunger challenge. By using radiation induced mutation, mutation detection and pre-breeding techniques, they are able to improve and develop new crop varieties and breed plants that are more resistant to disease and insect pests…

(Cover photo by www.brookings.edu)

Hunger induced riots on the streets of Venezuela highlight the severity of not having enough to eat. The food shortage in the country has claimed multiple lives as people fight to feed their families.

A cataclysmic combination of events has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country. A slash in oil prices has caused the country to plunge into a deep recession that could be further exacerbated by a stubborn drought that has meant electricity shortages for a heavily reliant hydro nation. Electricity shortages could further slow down economic production.

The gross domestic product (GDP) for Venezuela is heavily oil dependent, almost all export earnings are from oil and a quarter of GDP is oil driven. A plummet in oil prices has resulted in a rapid explosion of unemployment and inflation.

Predictions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicate that unemployment will rise to just over 20% by 2017 and inflation will quadruple, going from approximately 481% to over 1600%. Meanwhile there is growing concern that the food shortage will have dire long-term health consequences.

These concerns are backed by a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report. The findings on global nutrition state that one in three people in the world suffer from malnutrition and that, “malnutrition and poor diets constitute the number-one driver of the global burden of disease.” In fact, in Asia and Africa gross domestic product (GDP) losses from malnutrition exceeded losses from the 2008 financial crises.

Climate Change Adaptation: Boosting Quinoa Production Using Nuclear Techniques (www.iaea.org)

The scenes playing out in the streets of Venezuela are sounding the alarm to find both short-term relief and long-term solutions to the food crises.

One long-term solution may be found in an atom. Scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are working with nuclear technology to address the hunger challenge. By using radiation induced mutation, mutation detection and pre-breeding techniques, they are able to improve and develop new crop varieties and breed plants that are more resistant to disease and insect pests.

Controlled irradiation practices are safe and do not make seeds or plantlets radioactive. Today the mutant variety database, a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN and the IAEA has bred over 500 more resistant plants. As the human population grows and climate change alters farming lands, the ability to grow more with less will be critical.

This work was highlighted in a recent IAEA initiative working with the superfood quinoa.

“It has the potential to play a critical role in overcoming issues related to hunger, malnutrition and poverty,” states Dr. Ljupcho Jankuloski, Plant Breeder and Geneticist with the IAEA. “Due to its high nutritional and economic value, quinoa is set to be a major food for future generations and an important alternative crop.”

Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids and it is genetically diverse, meaning it can be grown under a variety of environmental conditions. Over 70 countries currently harvest this gluten-free grain. Using nuclear technology to boost production of quinoa means more money in the hands of farmers and more food on plates.

The applications of nuclear technology to improve food production include developing different varieties of barley and amaranth in Peru, so that the crops can grow at high altitudes, is worth over $6 million to the national economy.

 

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In Mauritius, using nuclear technology to make fruit flies sterile through the sterile insect technique (SIT), will allow for a reduction in pesticide use and increased crop output, critical for a nation which experiences losses around $4.5 million per year as a direct result of fruit flies.

Theses are a few examples of the many projects the IAEA has targeted to help improve the economic conditions for people around the world.

In Venezuela, long-term initiatives can help to lay the groundwork for a more promising tomorrow. For now though, a nation struggling and starving, requires immediate efforts focusing on getting food, electricity, medical supplies and other much-needed aid into the hands of the people.

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.