After encouraging farmers to adopt organic farming, the Bihar government is now exploring how farmers might benefit from nuclear technology, officials said Wednesday.
V.B. Patel, chairman of the horticulture department of Bihar Agricultural University (BAU) at Sabour in Bhagalpur district, said that nuclear energy could be used in plant breeding and for developing new varieties. Radiation could be used for mutation, he said, and nuclear energy could also be used to increase the shelf life of vegetables like potatoes and onions.
A team of scientists from the BAU is set to visit the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), India's premier nuclear research organisation next month (May) to explore the possibility of using nuclear energy in agriculture, Mewa Lal Choudhary, vice chancellor of BAU, said.
Choudhary said that BARC scientists have engaged in agricultural research that shows that nuclear energy could help increase the shelf life of fruit like mango and litchi for 48 days. The technology could also aid in altering the nutrients in fruit like banana, thus making for a higher iron content that would be of great use to people with anaemia.
The team of scientists visiting BARC from BAU would understand how nuclear energy could be harnessed for agriculture, Choudhary said.
An official in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's office told IANS that the matter has been of great interest to the chief minister.
"It was Nitish Kumar who took the initiative to hold a workshop here Tuesday, allowing scientists and experts of BAU to interact with officials from the New Delhi-based Department of Atomic Energy and the Mumbai-based BARC on the use of nuclear energy in agriculture," the official said.
The official asserted that there was no cause for worry in the move to harness nuclear technology to boost agricultural production and expand the shelf life of vegetables and fruit: The agricultural products would pose no health hazard, he said, as Choudhary added that millions of farmers stood to benefit.
S.F. D'Souza, associate director, Bio-Medical Group, Nuclear Agriculture and Bio-Technology, BARC, said that nuclear technology could change farming by bringing about beneficial changes in seed development, tissue culture and preservation techniques.
D'Souza said BARC was working on developing crops that could tolerate changes in climate, and resist certain diseases.
"On the preservation side, we do radiation processing of onions and potatoes to prevent early sprouting and extend shelf life. The chemical process to preserve the litchi fruit has been transferred for commercialization. We have also developed the nuclear process of litchi preservation," D'Souza said.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar's economy, employing 81 percent of the workforce and generating nearly 42 percent of the state's domestic product, according to the state government.
Last year, President Pranab Mukherjee launched the much-awaited agriculture roadmap of Bihar. Its main objective is to help to bring a "rainbow revolution" in the state in the next five years, boosting production and processing of agricultural and farm goods and pushing up growth rate in the sector.
The five-year agriculture roadmap covers the period 2012-17, with an investment of Rs.1.52 lakh crore. It aims at raising agri-growth to a minimum of seven percent per year.
The Bihar agriculture roadmap is the first of its kind in the country, and focuses on the areas of food processing and preservation, fisheries and animal husbandry.