The field of nuclear agriculture is introduced here very briefly with Pakistan as an example. New varieties of different crops have been developed in Pakistan using nuclear techniques.
Varieties are selected when desirable traits are produced in crop experiments. Agriculture has been the backbone of the development throughout the human history. It helps us in the production of foods, clothing and the raw materials for the old and modern industry.
Nuclear agriculture refers to the application of nuclear techniques and methods in the field of agriculture. It is an example of peaceful uses of nuclear technology. No residual radiation is left in the plants developed through radiation induced mutations.
Nuclear agriculture is among priorities of Pakistan’s neighbors India and China. Pakistan is not behind its neighbors in nuclear agriculture and has developed close to 100 new varieties of various crops including wheat, cotton, rice, lentil, chickpea, brassica and sugarcane, etc.
Developed varieties have higher yield potential and resistance against diseases and insect pests than their parent varieties. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has paid considerable attention to promote the nuclear techniques for the development of agriculture sector in the country.
PAEC agriculture research system includes Nuclear Institute of Agriculture (NIA), Tandojam, Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Peshawar and National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Faisalabad.
They have played an important role in the development of new crop varieties by using the nuclear techniques in agriculture. Development of crop varieties is a slow process as it takes 12-15 years to develop new varieties and to achieve stability in performance.
A number of crop varieties have been developed by PAEC institutes (Table 1). Wheat, cotton, rice and sugarcane are major crops on which breeding work through radiation induced mutations is being conducted at PAEC institutes. Varieties are selected when desirable traits are produced in radiation induced mutations of crop seeds.
Varieties of 8 different crops are released which shows the broad scope of breeding work continued at PAEC agriculture centers. PAEC agriculture centres have developed new technologies, crop varieties and instruments/methods related to agriculture.
They have transferred the developed technologies to the end users or farmers. The released crop varieties have resulted in outstanding improvement in productivity and tolerance of the crops.
Table 1. Crop varieties developed by the PAEC institutes*
*Consultation for data in this table: Dr. K.D. Jamali, NIA, Tandojam, Sindh, Pakistan
A number of varieties of above mentioned crops have been released by the PAEC’s agriculture institutes. These varieties cover significant fraction of crop areas in the country. NIAB-78, released by NIAB, Faisalabad, is a cotton variety which covered more than 70% of the area under cotton in Pakistan.
Sarsabz (1985) and Kiran, (1992), both released by NIA, Tandojam, are very successful wheat varieties and covers more than 30% area under wheat in Sindh. Kiran still dominates in Sindh province covering more than 25% of land under wheat.
Shandar is a rice variety, released by NIA dominates and covers more than 50% of area under rice in Sindh. NIA has released rice variety Shua for saline lands. Saduri is the best cotton variety released by NIA and it covers more than 25% of land under cotton in Sindh.
NIA-2004 is a sugarcane variety, released by NIA, which is very popular in Sindh. Pakistan is an agricultural state where crop improvement can have a significant impact on the national economy. So, agriculture R&D in Pakistan is very important.
Rising world population requires the increase of food production and decrease of crop losses. Nuclear techniques in agriculture can help in achieving the goal of matching food production with its demand by developing high yield and stress resistant crop varieties. Pakistan is applying scientific knowledge/experience in solving the problems of agriculture.
Acknowledgments: Discussions with Mr. Muhammad Yousuf Memon (Director NIA), Dr. Nazir Ahmad, Mr. Abdullah Khatri, and Dr. Azeem Asad (NIA, Tandojam, Sindh, Pakistan) are gratefully acknowledged and appreciated.