(Nuclear agriculture : New technology is proving to be helpful in agriculture and horticulture)
By- Kavita Raj Sanghaik
A lot is being said about letting go of traditional farming methods and adopting the technically advanced nuclear agriculture.
However, many agriculture-dominant states are still alien to this term. They need to look at some states that are reaping huge benefits from this technique. All thanks to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) which is rigorously working on propagating it by collaborating with different agricultural universities of the country. So far, it has worked on 49 different seeds using nuclear energy. They include peanuts and lentils, such as urad, moong and soyabean, mustard and rice. What’s more encouraging is the fact that the Centre’s Agriculture Department, too, is gradually adopting this technique.
A scientist associated with BARC’s nuclear agriculture at the biotechnology branch, Dr Rajesh Vats, believes that since the land for farming is gradually decreasing owing to the ever-increasing population and demand for foodgrains, adopting nuclear farming techniques has become all the more imperative.
If today we believe that nuclear energy is all about nuclear bombs, it is wrong. It is important to know about this farming technique so as to be able to understand more about the latest techniques and technology.
Enhancing life through radiation
According to Dheeraj Jain, a scientist, a plant’s genetic potential can be enhanced by using radiation techniques of nuclear agriculture. Not only this, one can also do mutation of these prototypes in order to increase production. With this technique, not only can we increase production, but also improve the health of plants and crops by developing their disease-resistant capacity and reaping early and better harvests by using less water. Several lentils and foodgrains are being developed by using this technique.
Both BARC and the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology (BRIT) are working in this direction. Dr Yojana Singh, associated with BRIT, explains that isotopes play an important role in not only the health sector but also in agriculture and power generation. To ensure that the demand is met, BRIT works day and night to supply the isotopes to these sectors at the end of every week.
Tonnes of foodgrains wasted every year
According to data, 40 per cent of foodgrains are wasted during procurement every year. If they can be saved from getting wasted, crores of people can get food and not go hungry. Farmers are forced to leave their produce at grain markets or cold storages by paying exorbitant rates. The government’s rigorous efforts to keep the foodgrains and other produce safe are proving futile. In such circumstances, nuclear agriculture-based food irradiation can be of immense help. Biotechnology based on nuclear irradiation can keep the produce, including foodgrains, fruits etc, clean and free of worms and pests.
Nuclear agriculture – the way forward: What is food irradiation?
Food irradiation plays an important role in agriculture. With this technique, the shelf life of any produce — be it fruits or foodgrains — can be enhanced by preventing it from bacterial infestation. In this technique, the food is exposed to a specific amount of radiation for a specific time to protect it.
How do Cobalt-60 rays work?
A produce that has been exposed to a specific amount of gamma radiation for a specific time enhances its shelf life because the rays destroy the minutest of germs present in it. Care is taken that there is no compromise with the smell or quality of the produce after using this technique. In Maharashtra’s Lasal village, this technique is being used for years to preserve the mango harvest for long. Mumbai’s Radiation Processing Plant, BRIT, Vashi, too, functions using this technique. The most important aspect about this technique is the detection of soil quality first.
Nuclear agriculture – the way forward: How beneficial is radiation?
When mangos or bananas undergo radiation, it takes time for the fruit to ripen up; potato and onion are prevented from sprouting; wheat, lentils and rice are not infested with worms. Not only this, if used on fish, meat eggs or any other non-vegetarian item, it prevents them from developing any harmful bacteria. Even spices can be prevented from worm infestation.
At present, the country lacks technology to prevent food from decaying or going waste, but with radiation, tonnes of food can be saved from going waste.
Nuclear agriculture — the way forward-Radiation is completely safe
Radiation — the very term scares anyone who hears it. But scientist Dheeraj Jain of BARC says that one needs to understand its uses and benefits. The technique is helpful in extending the shelf life of a produce. Radiation does not have any negative impact on the quality of the produce and BARC, through its studies, has confirmed it. Like in India, many countries, where this technique is being used, there is no need to keep the produce in the sun to dry it. Instead, the produce is exposed to gamma rays for just 15 seconds, which kill the germs or bacteria, if any, from it and hence prevent it from further decay or worm infestation.
Nuclear energy and the technique associated with it can be helpful in villages .Recently, the Chhattisgarh Government inked two pacts with BARC and BRIT, under which foodgrains, fruits, vegetables and other produce can be kept safer for a longer time. Not only this, cow dung will also be used in generating power as per the agreement.
(The author is associated with TV and print media for 20 years)