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What Next for "Atoms for Food" Partnership?

Key Decisions Ahead for Joint FAO/IAEA Division in Food and Agriculture

Atoms for Food

Through their partnership since 1964, the FAO and IAEA have contributed to global food security. (Photo: IAEA)

For decades, the IAEA and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have spearheaded the development and application of nuclear techniques in food and agriculture, teaming up to contribute to the world´s goals for food security in valuable ways. Today the successful "Atoms for Food" partnership stands in the balance.

The FAO in Rome is expected to take a decision next year on whether to continue its support of the partnership - built up since 1964 through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division headquartered in Vienna - following a report of the Independent External Evaluation of the longstanding arrangement. This week, the IAEA General Conference is expected to express its support for the partnership´s work to help countries use nuclear science and technology to help meet food challenges.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, earlier this week in his statement to the Conference, said the partnership is needed more than ever. Last week, the Agency´s Board received a report on the Joint Division´s key contributions to food and agricultural development, and how it could do more.

"The surge in global food prices has pushed millions of people deeper into poverty and hunger," he said. "A new report from the World Bank last month showed that there are more poor people in the world than previously thought. Some 1.4 billion people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 per day. The number of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled since 1981 to around 380 million.

This makes the work done by the Joint Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IAEA even more important. Its work includes using nuclear techniques to make food crops more resistant to disease, to boost crop yields and to combat pests and animal diseases. In Africa, for example, technical support from the Joint Division has helped 24 countries to eradicate the deadly cattle disease rinderpest. Our work in combating the fruit fly in Latin America has created a large area free of this pest, stretching from Chile into southern Peru.

Regrettably, the FAO has taken steps towards ending its involvement in the Joint Division. This would be unfortunate. The FAO Conference may make a decision in November. After discussions with Member States and with the FAO itself, we look forward to a positive decision that will ensure the continuation of this valuable FAO-IAEA cooperation."