New plant varieties developed to thrive despite climate change

Nuclear technology is helping scientists unmask the hidden potential in plants, allowing plant breeders to develop new crop varieties that can withstand external stress such as drought, often brought about by climate change. Experts believe that climate change will affect the suitability of land for different types of crops, livestock, fish and pasture. It will also have an impact on the health and productivity of forests, the incidence of pests and diseases, biodiversity and ecosystems.

“On World Food Day 2008, people’s attention is drawn to the issue of food security. It is important to remember the contribution that nuclear technology can give to the development of crop varieties that thrive in an environment suffering from the consequences of climate change,” says Qu Liang, Director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear techniques in Food and Agriculture (NAFA).

“Through the use of nuclear techniques and related biotechnologies, we have been contributing significantly to the effort of achieving sustainable food security.”

Amongst others, success stories from the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme include the development of barley varieties in the Peruvian Andes that grow in adverse conditions at altitudes above 3,000 metres. Salinity-resistant rice varieties are also being used in Vietnam in the Mekong delta region.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division assists FAO and IAEA Member States in the implementation of modern and efficient plant breeding programmes using radiation induced mutation and efficiency enhancing biotechnologies such as in vitro techniques, molecular markers and genomics.

The overall aim is to enhance food security through sustainable crop production using strategic fundamental and applied crop science research, technology transfer, capacity building, policy advice, and information management. With increasing pressure from different sectors of the economy, more people than ever are subject to food insecurity.

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