Zambia’s agriculture sector has been identified as a key to unlocking economic growth as it provides the main support for Zambia’s rural economy. About 48.9 percent of the Zambian population depends on agriculture, primarily through smallholder production for their livelihoods and employment, and the sector is estimated to contribute 4.8 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017. The country is uniquely endowed with resources rich for agricultural development, which if harnessed fully, would enable the country to become the breadbasket of East and Southern African region.
Although, Zambia recently has been recording surpluses in staple food production, its potential for agricultural growth is insecure. Maize - Zambia's primary staple crop on which rely more than 90 percent of smallholders - is under attack from fall army worms.
To guarantee future crop yields and food security maize seeds and plants should be protected. In order to prevent these disastrous effects from insects, there are traditional and unconventional methods. Farmers can use huge amounts of pesticides, which have a negative impact on the environment and result in the development of resistance against pesticides among various insect species. Alternatively, there is an option of using nuclear science to deal with these harmful pests, this while not affecting soil and environment.
The Center of Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) which is to be built in the next 5 years in Chongwe in Rural Lusaka will offer a number of solutions to increase productivity in agriculture, ensure food security and prolong product shelf life. The irradiation center, an integral part of CNST, is multipurpose facility for gamma irradiation. This environmentally friendly and safe technology decontaminates chemicals and pesticide increasing the shelf life of products with no harm to food and storage. Radiation technology is also effective while combatting zika virus. Sterilized in the lab, mosquitoes loose the fertility which decreases their population.
Food irradiation is life-saving technology, as it eradicates bacteria and parasites that can cause foodborne diseases. According to the World Health Organization, each year around 600 million people suffer from consuming contaminated food.
“Food irradiation (the application of ionizing radiation to food) is a technology that improves the safety and extends the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects. Like pasteurizing milk and canning fruits and vegetables, irradiation can make food safer for the consumer. Unlike traditional forms of food preservation nuclear techniques do not cause changes to the taste, appearance, nutrition value and final quality of food”, -commented Dmitri Vysotski, Director of Nuclear Research Reactors at Rusatom Overseas.