Growing agriculture through nuclear solutions in Zambia

02.04.2018

Post-harvest food and grain losses pose serious challenges for most of African countries. According to estimates provided by the African Post-harvest Losses Information System, the value of post-harvest grain loss in sub-Saharan Africa could amount to US$4 billion a year out of an estimated annual grain production worth US$27 billion.

This is roughly equivalent to the value of annual cereal imports in the region during the same period. Given the near-doubling of global grain prices over the last decade, the value of current losses is likely to be much higher. Conservatively, such a magnitude of food loss could meet the minimum annual food requirements of at least 48 million people across the continent.

In Zambia smallholder farmers contribute about 80% of food production, but over 30% of the food produced by these farmers is lost because of post-harvest loss. The crop cultivation brings about 10% of total direct earning for the country and maize plays there an important role in Zambian agriculture.

According to recent Food and Agriculture (FAO) statistics, reducing food wastage and losses is one of many steps necessary to ensure food security for a rapidly growing and urbanizing global population.

Up to date there is a wide range of technologies that can be used to deal with food preservation. For instance, thermal food preservation can be used to reduce foodborne pathogens or reduce spoilage organisms, ensuring microbiological safety and increased shelf life. Also, preservation organic acids can be used in food preservation restricting microbial growth. However, the weak organic acids can penetrate into the food cells and cause damage.

Each methodology has its own advantages and disadvantages, in terms of the product and energy consumption. Freeze-drying is by far the most expensive in energy terms, but can produce excellent results.

Among all the methods nuclear irradiation can be named as one of the most satisfactory for food security. This method is not only highly efficient, but also safe and does not pose any risk to end consumers. The World Health Organization, FAO, and IAEA have reviewed accumulated data from about 50 years of research, and they found that irradiated food is as safe as food preserved with other techniques, such as freezing or canning.

For instance, to tackle the issue of food security, Zambian farmers with the help of scientists can apply nuclear irradiation techniques to keep food and grains safe and healthy. Indeed, the food irradiation could play a significant role in reducing food losses and improve food quality. Nuclear treatment of produced food helps to extend shelf life and improve significantly the quality of offered production.

Among the other techniques of food preservation, the irradiation is the most extensively studied one from the point of view of toxicology and side effects. Decades of testing among all over the world demonstrated that the irradiation does not have adverse effects on consumers.

Irradiation is much better than use of fertilizers. In general fertilizers are expensive and if not properly used can cause serious damage to soil and underground water.

Moreover, irradiation can delay ripening of fruits and vegetables to give them greater shelf-life. Its ability to control pests and reduce required quarantine periods has been the principal factor behind many countries adopting food irradiation practices.

Conscious of the benefits that nuclear technologies can bring to the wellbeing of their citizens, more emerging African counties are considering broadening their nuclear capacities. For instance, Zambia is moving forward to nuclear science development. The country is planning to build a Center of Nuclear Science and Technology with the help of Russian partners to meet its raising demands in key spheres of social and economic activity.


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