IAEA and FAO launch global food security initiative

October 23, 2023, 3:02PMNuclear News
Dongyu Qu, director general of the FAO (center left) with Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA and Najat Mokhtar, deputy director general and head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications (far right) on the sidelines of the World Food Forum. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The International Atomic Energy Agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations launched Atoms4Food on October 18 at the 2023 World Food Forum in Rome as a flagship initiative to help boost food security and tackle growing hunger around the world. Atoms4Food will support countries as they apply nuclear techniques to boost agricultural productivity, reduce food losses, ensure food safety, improve nutrition, and adapt to the challenges of climate change.

Unprecedented need: “We find ourselves in an unprecedented time, where hunger and malnutrition are on the rise, posing a threat to humanity,” IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi and FAO director general Dongyu Qu said in a joint statement. “The Atoms4Food initiative seeks to provide Member States with groundbreaking solutions tailored to their specific needs and circumstances, by harnessing the advantages of nuclear techniques along with other advanced technologies.”

“Increasing climate extremes will cause more crops to fail, as global food demand rises. We need to use every tool we have to grow more food,” added Grossi. “Nuclear science offers incredible, innovative tools to grow stronger, healthier, safer crops and to protect the food we need to live.”

Assessment services: According to the IAEA, the number of people facing food insecurity has more than doubled since 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report found that in 2022, between 691 and 783 million people worldwide experienced hunger. Through the Atoms4Food initiative the IAEA and FAO will provide seven assessment services tailored to each country’s needs:

  • Assessment mission to map food security needs and to develop a tailored plan to address food security challenges.
  • Crop variety improvement service to use nuclear technology methods of plant mutation breeding to create more robust and nutritious crops.
  • Soil and water management and crop nutrition service to use nuclear and isotopic science to gather information on soil fertility, major crops and their average yield, availability of fertilizer, and water irrigation systems.
  • Animal production and health service to provide a scientific assessment of the epidemiological situation of animal diseases; interventions for prevention, diagnosis, and control; and laboratory and other veterinary services.
  • Insect pest control service to address insect pests that affect agricultural production by using the nuclear-based sterile insect technique.
  • Food safety and control service to assess laboratory capabilities and the ability to conduct surveillance of food hazards.
  • Public health nutrition service to inform impactful nutrition programming using evidence on the nutritional value of foods and diet quality derived from the use of stable isotope techniques.

After country-specific assessments, comprehensive packages will be developed under Atoms4Food, including support for nuclear science infrastructure.

Not a new collaboration: Atoms4Food builds on almost 60 years of IAEA/FAO collaboration through the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture to support countries using nuclear and isotope technology solutions to enhance food security, nutrition, and food safety.

According to the IAEA, nuclear techniques can be used to speed up the natural process of plant mutation to develop crops that better withstand diseases and climatic shifts. Nuclear and isotopic techniques can assess nutrient use and water use in soil, diagnose and characterize disease pathogens in animals, trace sources of contamination in water and study various forms of malnutrition. The nuclear sterile insect technique targets insect pests and reduces the need for insecticides to protect crops and livestock. And food irradiation can ensure that food is safe for consumption and extend its shelf life.

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