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Monday, 26 November 2012

Using nanotechnologies to boost crop yields?

Nanotechnologies that deliver fertilisers to plants offer promising ways of improving farm productivity while reducing the risk of water contamination. But the scientists behind a new Swiss-funded study caution that while the technology is still evolving, potential risks must be considered.
The European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme proposes heavy investment in developing materials and machines that are built from an atomic or molecular scale, with the European Commission proposing some €6 billion in financing for nano and other advanced technologies. Even more, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization conference held earlier this year in Rome identified nanotechnology as potentially having “significant benefits” for food security in a world facing a population rise from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050.
Clemens Breisinger, a German agricultural economist and senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), says the growth in consumption in the emerging world’s middle class also creates pressure for more production. “As incomes grow, people tend to eat richer food, more meat,” Breisinger said. “The only way to meet the demand is to significantly increase global food production,” Breisinger told EurActiv in a telephone interview. “The big question now is can this be done through productivity gains, or do we need more land.”
But the scientists behind a new Swiss-funded study caution that while the technology is still evolving, potential risks must be considered. Researchers at Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station (ART) in Zurich and the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture in Berne say that direct application of plant protection products and fertilisers containing nanosubstances may pose potential hazards to microorganisms that flourish beneath the Earth’s surface. The scientists contend there is only limited research into the effects of man-made nanomaterials on soil health, and point out that “the potential improvement of plant protection products and fertilisers through nanomaterials is offset by their significantly higher flux into soils if nanomaterials are used.”


Source: Euractiv