Innovation and technology are critical tools to achieving FAO’s vision of a world free from hunger and malnutrition, Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said in an address to the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology.
Semedo was pointing to cutting-edge scientific applications in plant breeding and pest control “that have contributed to improving livelihoods for millions of the world’s rural poor. More scientific advances are needed in order for our food systems to “produce more – and better – with less,” she said.
Development of and access to nuclear techniques applied to food and agriculture are a necessary component in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, whose achievement requires putting the world’s 2.5 billion family farmers – who produce the bulk of our food – at the center by creating an enabling environment to unlock their potential to prosper and innovate, she added.
Semedo hailed the nearly 55-year-long partnership between FAO and the conference’s host, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noting it has improved the sustainable development of food and agriculture systems in areas including food safety, climate resilience pest and disease control and enhanced animal production.
Through a Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, FAO and the IAEA pool resources to manage agriculture and biotechnology laboratories, research and development activities, scientific networks and to promote technology transfer and capacity building initiatives.
Text continues underneath image
“While technology plays a central role in providing novel and practical solutions, innovation is about process, institutions, policies and knowledge,” Semedo said, adding that this was also the consensus driving the first-ever International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers held at FAO headquarters in Rome last week.
The agencies’ joint division operates with a team of about 100 scientists, technical experts and support personnel as well as running research facilities at Seibersdorf, where a new laboratory was inaugurated last month.
“Nuclear science and technology have added comparative and competitive value to conventional approaches in all areas of food and agriculture,” Semedo said.
Methods such as isotope measurement hold high promise in the growing area of traceability, which in turn is to assure food safety along increasingly complex agricultural value chains.
FAO and IAEA are also working together now to develop methods to trace the use of antimicrobials through the human food chain in order to combat the rapid surge in antimicrobial resistance.