Man has been associated with agriculture since the beginning. It has always been his priority to raise agricultural production to the highest possible level by Nuclear technology.
In every era, man found some ways in the form of techniques and practices to increase his crop production and to combat those biotic and abiotic restraints but he also had to compromise regarding those restraints against which he could not find any solution.
Initially, man adopted those methods which were not scientifically verified. those were mainly based upon general observation and philosophy. There had not been any concept of smart or precision agriculture for thousands of years. Such non-scientific and conventional methods became obsolete with the modernization of agriculture following the implementation of scientific approaches and techniques in this field. Like other scientific approaches implemented in the field of agriculture nuclear technology is also an emerging one that has yielded satisfactory results of its applications and implementations in the field
Initially, the use of nuclear technology was limited to the production of atomic bombs, that was a detrimental use of this technology. But with the advancement of scientific research and technology, scientists are now able to implement nuclear technology for nondestructive and beneficial purposes.
Implementation of nuclear technology in improving the productivity of crops and animals, controlling the insect pests and microbial pathogens, analysis of soil composition and enabling crops and livestock to withstand climate change, have yielded satisfactory results in a large number of instances.
Some agricultural achievements through the implementation of nuclear technology in this field are briefly described here.
1: Improved soil and water quality
Nuclear technology is being implemented in several developed countries to improve soil and water quality. For example in Benin maize yield was increased by 50% and fertilizer usage was reduced to 70% using nuclear techniques. Similar to this, in Kenia, it helped farmers to double vegetable productivity by irrigating with half of the amount of water as compared to that given conventionally. This is done by using neutron meter which is based upon the sensitivity of this instrument to moisture and uses neutrons in its operation.
2: Pest management
Sterile insect technique (SIT) that is being implemented in the field of agriculture involves mass rearing of male insects which are then sterilized using gamma rays. Later on, they are released in the field where they mate with the respective female pests but because of sterility, they cannot reproduce thus reducing the number of these pests in the next season. This helps in the reduction of conventional pesticides usage and thus helps to reduce environmental pollution to a large extent, caused by the field of agriculture. SIT is being implemented at a commercial scale by the US to prevent the spread of fruit fly. Similarly, hundreds of millions of sterile male medflies which are made so using gamma radiations, are sent by Guatemala to the US state of California to protect crops Like citrus.
3: Seasonal famine prevention
Modern breeding techniques involve nuclear technology to make the desired mutation in a specie’s genome in such a way that the mutation may induce fast ripening in that mutant specie. This helps farmers to cultivate more crops during the ongoing season. But during the making of that mutation, the mutation must be safe for crop’s health and quality.
In Bangladesh, farmers have been cultivating a fast-maturing rice specie named Binadhan-7 which ripens a month earlier than the other conventional varieties. So farmers have a whole month to cultivate those crops for which the time of that month is a suitable one if they are cultivated then. In Bangladesh, rice production has been increased from twenty-six million tonnes to thirty-three million tonnes using nuclear technology. Also, the crops have been altered genetically in such a way that they can tolerate sudden and unusual environmental stresses. This ability of crops to tolerate such stresses enables them to maintain their vigor and farmers obtain output as that obtained from a crop cultivated in normal conditions. In this way, seasonal famine can be avoided that can occur in case of the cultivation of conventional varieties which if encounter stress conditions, lose their vigor.
4: Improving livestock
As agriculture deals with the art and science of growing crops and rearing animals, so nuclear technology has also played its role to improve livestock productivity. It has improved the techniques of breeding, disease control, and artificial insemination. For example, using nuclear technology, Scientists have found ways to curb a contagious disease of animals called Brucellosis that can be transmitted from infected animals to humans through milk and meat obtained from these animals.
5: Climate change adaptation
Using nuclear technology agriculture scientists are now able to bring about changes not only in crops but also in animals to enable them to encounter climate change. This makes them resistant to different environmental stresses which occur with greater intensities due to changed climate conditions than ever before. But nuclear technology has helped us a lot to sustainably increase the resource use efficiency as well as productivity of both crops and livestock despite the climate change stresses.
Implementation of nuclear technology in breeding techniques has helped people a lot to breed such animals which are more productive and tolerant of climate change. These animals can tolerate fluctuating environmental conditions with their meet and milk production efficiency remaining undisturbed. Similarly, plant breeding techniques involving nuclear technology have yielded such plant varieties which can tolerate very harsh external environment including intense heat or cold, drought, salinity or alkalinity and over precipitation. These plants also tolerate a wide range of fluctuations in these environmental conditions.
Nuclear technology which was initially being used for destructive purposes only, has now become a beneficial one to be implemented in all the fields of science including agriculture sciences. It has been serving in this field to combat the challenges of increasing population demanding food in the largest quantity and of the best quality ever.
Another challenge being encountered especially by the field of agriculture the most is climate change. Climate parameters are not as they were two centuries ago. Industrialization has played an important role to change climate parameters around the globe. The environment as a whole has become too challenging for crops to grow normally without adequate measures to be taken by all of us.
We not only need resources to take these measures but also we should have appropriate techniques to allocate these resources in a sustainable way so that not only we may be able to encounter these environmental and social challenges but also these resources can be preserved to be used for a long time. Nuclear technology provides us with several different techniques not only to reasonably allocate our finite resources and take maximum agricultural benefits but also to preserve these resources for our future generations.