The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it’s time to step up investment in a nearly century-old technique using radiation to produce high-yielding plants to help the millions of people worldwide in the throes of hunger.
Called mutation induction, the technique, which has been used since the 1920s, is safe and cost effective, the IAEA says. These plants are adaptable to droughts, floods and other harsh weather conditions, and can be bred to be resistant to diseases and pests.
“Selecting the crops that are better able to feed us is one of humankind`s oldest sciences,” says Mohamed El Baradei, IAEA Director General. “But we`ve neglected to give it the support and investment it requires for universal application.”
The UN News Centre say in mutation induction, scientists apply mutagens – such as gamma rays – to speed up the process of plant breeding. Unlike genetic modification, in which a plant`s genetic make-up is altered, induced mutation accelerates the natural process of a plant`s spontaneous changes.
“For decades, the agency, in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has helped Member States produce higher quantities of safe food though nuclear technology.
“The IAEA has already assisted in creating over 3,000 crop varieties of nearly 200 plant species, including barley that grows at 5,000 meters and rice that thrives in salty soil.
“In Japan alone, it is estimated that the almost $70 million of crops developed through mutation induction has resulted in a profit of over $62 billion between 1959 and 2001,” the news agency says.
The latest food crisis comes at a time when the earth`s resources are dwindling, climate change is triggering extreme weather events and the world is struggling to keep up with energy demand.
“We are reaping the results of decades of under-investment in agriculture,” said Qu Liang, Director of the FAO/IAEA Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.
IAEA said it believes that inducing mutation will help to alleviate the current food crisis, which is plunging millions – on top of the 850 million hungry people worldwide – below the poverty threshold of life on less than $1 a day.