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UN atomic agency can help eliminate world hunger, agriculture chief says

UN atomic agency can help eliminate world hunger, agriculture chief says

Stand at the IAEA General Conference
The United Nations atomic watchdog agency, best known seeking to combat nuclear proliferation and terrorism, has a major role to play in feeding the world’s burgeoning population, the top UN agricultural official said today.

“We believe in the peaceful use of nuclear technology as applied to areas such as agriculture, crops, fighting disease, and soil and water management,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said, citing his agency’s 40 years of cooperation with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Addressing the IAEA’s Scientific Forum in Vienna, Mr. Diouf described the millions of hectares of higher-yielding and disease-resistant crops gained through radiation-induced mutations, the improvement of livestock and agriculture by eradicating insect pests such as the screwworm, tsetse fly and the fruit fly with the sterile insect technique (SIT), and isotopic techniques to enhance water use efficiency and crop productivity.

With SIT, radiation is used to sterilize otherwise healthy insects, which are then released to mate without producing offspring, thus controlling and gradually eradicating the pest population. The tsetse fly carries trypanosomosis, also known as sleeping sickness, a parasitic disease that is a major constraint to sustainable development, affecting both humans and livestock.

“We obviously need to grow more food, and to do so in a sustainable manner and in full respect of plant and animal biodiversity,” Mr. Diouf said, noting that with less than 10 years to go until the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to slash global hunger and other social ills, the problems facing the world in the areas of food and agriculture remain enormous.

“There are 854 millions of hungry people presently in a world population of 6 billion, expected to reach 9 billion persons by 2050,” he added, hailing the joint FAO/IAEA programme, Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, as one of the best examples of inter-agency cooperation in the UN family.

He said the MDGs could still be reached, “but only if we redouble our efforts and focus them in locations and on actions where they can make a concrete and significant difference in a relatively short period of time.”

The two-day Forum coincides with IAEA’s 51st General Conference. Wheat from Peru, tsetse fly traps from South Africa, and a sediment corer from the Caribbean were among the many hands-on-items at an exhibit showcasing the varied work of IAEA technical cooperation with countries and regions around the world.

The exhibit – Technical Cooperation: Delivering Results for Peace and Development – focuses “on concrete and tangible results” that Agency projects have delivered to people around the world, IAEA Technical Cooperation Head Ana Maria Cetto said. “It offers a snapshot of IAEA projects at both the national and regional level – projects which are making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis.”