Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan, with more than 60% of the population reliant on it for their livelihood. Food security has always been the biggest concern of the mankind. Nations, communities and governments have been struggling with the issue since long.
By Masood Ahmad, Athar Mahmood, Haseeb Ahmad
Particularly, it’s a prime agenda for the developing world including Pakistan. Agriculture sector in Pakistan contributes significantly to the national economy. Science and technology has played a significant role in increasing agricultural productivity over the years. Nanotechnology has great potential, as it can enhance the quality of life through its applications in various fields like agriculture and the food system. An extensive agricultural research system with a widespread extension machinery and government policy has enabled the agriculture sector to respond to the increasing demand for agricultural produce.
Nanotechnology is a field of applied science and technology which deals/involves in manipulating atoms and molecules to fabricate materials, devices and systems. The term nano derived from greek word “dwarf”. Nanotechnology was first introduced in 1959, in a talk by the nobel prize-winning physicist, entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” Richard Feynman proposed using a set of conventional-sized robot arms to construct a replica of themselves, but one-tenth the original size, then using that new set of arms to manufacture an even smaller set, and so on, until the molecular scale is reached. Nanotechnology has been provisionally defined as relating to materials, systems and processes which operate at a scale of 100 nanometers (nm) or less. Several areas like water purification technology, nutrition and health care technologies, energy, textiles, electronics, advanced manufacturing and advanced materials would necessitate cross disciplinary research in the context of science and technology.
Nanotechnology application here makes farming more targeted and scientific. Precision farming makes use of computers, global satellite positioning systems, and remote sensing devices to measure various parameters. Accurate information through applications of Nanotechnology for real time monitoring of soil conditions, environmental changes and diseases and plant health issues. Precision agriculture means that there is a system controller for each growth factor such as nutrition, light, temperature, etc. Available information for planting and harvest time are controlled by satellite systems. This system allows the farmer to know, when is the best time for planting and harvesting to avoid of encountering bad weather conditions
Nanotechnology for detecting plant diseases
A need for detecting plant disease at an early stage so that tons of food can be protected from the possible outbreak; has tempted nanotechnologists to look for a nano solution for protecting the food and agriculture from bacteria, fungus and viral agents. A detection technique that takes less time and that can give results within a few hours, that are simple, portable and accurate and does not require any complicated technique for operation so that even a simple farmer can use the portable system
Nano-particles controlling the plant diseases
Some of the nano particles that have entered into the arena of controlling plant diseases are nanoforms of carbon, silver, silica and aluminosilicates. Pesticides inside nanoparticles are being developed that can be timed-release or have release linked to an environmental trigger. Combined with a smart delivery system, herbicide could be applied only when necessary, resulting in greater production of crops and less injury to agricultural workers. Leading chemical companies are now formulating efficient nanopesticides and nanohericides at nano scale. One of such effort is use of Alumino-Silicate nanotubes with active ingredients.
Nanotechnology may be used in agriculture and food production in the form of nanosensors for monitoring crop growth and pest control by early identification of animal or plant diseases. These Nano sensors can help enhance production and improve food safety. The sensors function as external monitoring devices and do not end up in the food itself. Nanomaterials can also be introduced in or on the food itself. The effectiveness of pesticides may be improved if very small amounts are enclosed in hollow capsules with a diameter in the nanometer range which can be designed to open only when triggered by the presence of the pest to be controlled. Nanosensors may detect contaminants, pests, nutrient content, and plant stress due to drought, temperature, or pressure.
Smart Treatment Delivery Systems
Today, application of agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, probiotics and nutrients is typically by spray or drench application to soil or plants, or through feed or injection systems to animals. Delivery of pesticides or medicines is either provided as “preventative” treatment or is provided once the disease organism has multiplied and symptoms are evident in the plant or animal.
Major Challenges of Agriculture to be addressed by Nanotechnology
- Food security for growing numbers
- Low productivity in cultivable areas
- Lower agricultural input efficiency
- Unsustainable farm management
- Large uncultivable areas
- Shrinkage of cultivable lands
- Wastage of products
- Perishability/ low shelf life
- Post-harvest losses (processing, packaging)
- Diseases and vulnerabilities to climate change due to global warming
Authors : Masood Ahmad, Athar Mahmood, Haseeb Ahmad University of Agriculture, Faisalabad