Nuclear Applications to Improve Indonesian Food Security: Enhancing Agricultural Resilience and Productivity


Dirgantara Reksa.

3/28/20234 min read

gray concrete towers under white clouds and blue sky during daytime
gray concrete towers under white clouds and blue sky during daytime

Food security is a critical global issue, impacting nations' well-being and socio-economic development. With a rapidly growing global population and the increasing challenges of climate change, exploring innovative technologies and methods that can help enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability is imperative. One such approach is nuclear applications, which have demonstrated their potential to address various challenges related to food security. This essay presents an overview of the role and benefits of nuclear applications in food security, focusing on Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.

In recent years, Indonesian farmers have produced sufficient rice to feed over 20 million people, thanks to plants developed through the country's plant mutation breeding program. This program was initiated in 1997 through a partnership between the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and has since evolved into a comprehensive partnership network that brings the results of scientific research using nuclear techniques to farmers' fields.

The first plant breeding cooperation project with the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in 1997 provided scientists at Indonesia's BATAN research institutes with cutting-edge equipment, in-depth training in nuclear technologies, and expert support through IAEA-coordinated research and technical cooperation projects(1). This laid the groundwork for Indonesia's plant mutation breeding program.

The program has since generated over 35 new crop varieties, such as soybeans and rice. These new varieties are produced using irradiation and selected based on their improved characteristics compared to other local varieties, including higher yields, reduced growth periods, or resistance to climate change stressors and diseases (see Plant mutation breeding). Once prepared, seeds from these new crops are multiplied and distributed to farmers.

To encourage the widespread use of these new crop varieties, the program has developed into a comprehensive partnership network that facilitates large-scale cultivation. This collaboration model includes research institutes, ministries, governmental agencies, seed breeding companies, farmers' cooperatives, and market and export groups. These partnerships cover the entire supply chain, from seed development and multiplication to distribution and cultivation in the fields.

Role of Nuclear Applications in Food Security

Nuclear applications have been employed in several areas related to food security, including:

  • Crop Improvement: Nuclear techniques, such as mutation breeding and biotechnology, are used to develop new crop varieties with enhanced resistance to pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. These improved crops can help increase agricultural productivity and contribute to food security.

  • Soil and Water Management: Nuclear techniques, like neutron probes and isotopic tracers, are utilized to assess soil moisture content and monitor water use efficiency in agriculture. This allows for more effective management of water resources, reducing water waste and improving agricultural productivity.

  • Pest and Disease Control: The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is a nuclear-based method used to control and eradicate pests like fruit flies and mosquitoes. By reducing the population of these pests, crop losses can be minimized, and food security can be enhanced.

Why Nuclear Applications are Essential for Food Security

Incorporating nuclear applications in food security efforts is essential for several reasons:

  • Complementing Conventional Methods: Nuclear techniques can complement conventional breeding methods by increasing the genetic variability of crops and providing unique traits that improve their resilience and productivity.

  • Precision and Efficiency: Nuclear applications offer accuracy and efficiency in creating desired crop traits, reducing the time needed to develop new varieties.

  • Adaptation to Climate Change: Nuclear techniques can contribute to developing climate-resilient crop varieties that can withstand the challenges posed by climate change, ensuring a stable food supply for growing populations.

  • Resource Management: Nuclear techniques can help improve the management of critical resources, such as water and soil, leading to more efficient use and enhanced agricultural productivity

  • Global Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Using nuclear applications in agriculture fosters international collaboration and knowledge exchange among scientists, researchers, and policymakers, furthering the implementation of these techniques worldwide.

Benefits of Nuclear Applications in Indonesia

Indonesia has made significant progress in utilizing nuclear techniques for agricultural research and development. As a result, several improved rice varieties have been developed using mutation breeding techniques, which are now widely cultivated in the country. Examples include Mira-1, a high-yielding variety with improved resistance to pests and diseases; Inpari Sidenuk, a variety resistant to bacterial leaf blight and rice blast with tolerance to submergence; and Inpago Unsoed-1, a high-yielding variety resistant to the tungro virus disease. These improved varieties directly impact farmers' livelihoods, contributing to increased income and food security.

Other crops, such as soybean, mungbean, sorghum, and Robusta coffee, have also been improved using nuclear techniques in Indonesia. For instance, the mutation-bred Robusta coffee variety 'Kapet Muntilan 1' exhibits improved yield, leaf rust disease, and enhanced bean quality, benefiting Indonesia's coffee industry and contributing to the nation's food security.

Collaboration between the National Atomic Energy Agency of Indonesia (BATAN), the IAEA, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been crucial in advancing the use of nuclear applications in agriculture and ensuring long-term food security in Indonesia(2).

While nuclear applications are an essential and advanced technology in food security and production, they are not the only advanced technologies available. Therefore, the most effective approach to addressing global food security challenges will likely involve combining multiple advanced technologies and techniques tailored to specific agricultural contexts and needs.


Dirgantar Reksa is an operation and partnership specialist with extensive experience in international organizations and governments in Asia-Pacific and Europe region. He is also a Co-Founder of Indonesia Food Security Review.