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Nanotechnology in Agriculture

Nanotechnology in Agriculture

In News

Indian Farmers Fertilizers Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) has introduced the world's first Nano Urea, an innovative solution for reducing environmental pollution and soil health.

About the News

  • IFFCO has also sought permission from the Department of Fertilizers for the export of Nano Urea (liquid) manufactured from its Nano Fertilizer Plant facility set up at Kalol, Gujarat.
  • Experimental trials of Nano Nitrogen undertaken during Rabi/Zaid 2019-20 at ICAR research institute/state agricultural Universities on different crops were found agronomically suitable indicating that nano nitrogen (Nano Urea) can enhance farmer's crop yields besides saving nitrogen to the extent of 50 per cent.

What is nanotechnology?

  • Nanotechnology refers to controlling, building, and restructuring materials and devices on the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometre (nm) is one-billionth of a meter. At nano scales, the basic rules of chemistry and physics are not applicable.
  • One example of this technology is the carbon nanotube discovered in 1991, which is only a few nanometers in diameter but can conduct electricity better than copper; 100 times stronger than steel but only one sixth of its weight.

How can nano-technology be applied to the field of agriculture?

 

 

  • Nanoscale carriers: Nanoscale carriers can serve as ‘magic bullets’, containing herbicides, chemicals, or genes, which target particular plant parts to release their content. Nano-capsules can enable effective penetration of herbicides through cuticles and tissues, allowing slow and constant release of the active substances.
  • Nanofabrication: Nanofabrication is the design and manufacture of devices with dimensions measured in nanometers. It can enable the study of plant’s regulation of hormones such as auxin, which is responsible for root growth and seedling establishment. It helps understand how plant roots adapt to their environment, especially to marginal soils.
  • Photocatalysis: It involves the reaction of catalyst (nanoparticles) with chemical compounds in the presence of light. Through this process, nanoparticles can be used for the bioremediation of resistant or slowly degradable compounds like pesticides, as Disinfectants and for Wastewater treatment.
  • Nano barcode technology: Nano barcodes have been used as ID tags for gene expression analysis. Nano particles to be utilized in nano barcodes are easily encodeable, machine-readable, durable, sub-micronsized taggant particles.
  • Nanosensors: Through the use of nano- Sensors and GPS with satellite imaging of fields, farmers can remotely detect crop pests or evidence of stress such as drought. By using electronic sensors, fertilizers can be placed precisely in moist zone, based on the spatial variability in native fertility.
  • Smart Dust: The ‘smart dust’ technology can be used for monitoring various parameters like temperature, humidity, and perhaps insect and disease infestation to create distributed intelligence in vineyards and orchards.
  • Nano- materials: Products based on nano-materials are being developed to absorb soil moisture when it is in excess and release slowly to plants during dry periods.
  • Livestock Upkeep: Nano-technology can be utilised to enhance livestock production and health. Food and nutritional products containing nano-scale additives, nano-sized, multi-purpose sensors to assess the physiological status of animals. Nano-particles may enhance nutrient uptake and help in efficient utilisation of nutrients for milk production.

 

Benefits of Nano-technology in Agriculture

  • Eco-friendly: Mechanisms like Nano-scale carriers help improve stability against degradation in the environment and ultimately reduce the amount of pesticides to be applied, which reduces chemical runoff and alleviates environmental problems. It helps reduce the amount of inputs to be used and also the waste produced.
  • Yield Increase: Precision farming techniques might be used to further improve the crop yields but not damage soil and water. Nanotechnology applications include nanoparticle-mediated gene or DNA transfer in plants for the development of insect-resistant varieties, food processing and storage and increased product shelf life.
  • Economic Benefits: Nano technology has subsidized the agricultural based business sector with annual growth rate of 25% (US$ 1.08 billion). It is estimated that integration of advanced nanotechnology in agriculture would thrust the global economic growth to ∼ US$ 3.4 trillion.
  • Cope with Global challenges: This integrating approach, i.e., agri-nanotechnology has great potential to cope with global challenges of food production/security, sustainability, and climate change.

 

Challenges in use of nanotechnology in agriculture

  • Human Resources: To be successful in the novel emerging field of agricultural nanotechnology, human resources must be well trained to experiment, innovate, assess, interpret, and successfully assimilate the theory, tools, and techniques of nanotechnology for its application in agriculture.
  • Concerns at various levels: The concerns related to the availability, synthesis, level of toxicity, health hazards, transportation challenges and incongruity of regulatory structure restrict the broad recognition and acceptance of adopting nanotechnology in agriculture.
  • Lack of Risk Assessment: The current research trends lack realistic approach that fail to attain comprehensive knowledge of risk assessment factors and further toxicity of nanoparticles toward agroecosystem components viz. plant, soil, soil microbiomes after their release into the environment.

 

Conclusion

The opportunity for application of nanotechnology in agriculture is prodigious. Research on the applications of nanotechnology in agriculture is less than a decade old. Nevertheless, as conventional farming practices become increasingly inadequate, and needs have exceeded the carrying capacity of the terrestrial ecosystem, we have little option but to explore nanotechnology in all sectors of agriculture.

 

Question: Discuss the various applications of nanotechnology in agriculture. What are the potential benefits and concerns related to it?

 

Sources:

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