SHREYA SRINIVASAN NAIR
ST. XAVIER’S COLLEGE
The future needs us!
Sustainable agriculture, a concept that aims to increase crop yield without having any detrimental effects on the environment, is the need of the hour. Conventional agriculture usually employs the use of heavy doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to boost the yield, but very little attention is paid to the effects of their remnants on soil in the longer run. The answer to the future lies in our hands hence it is now time for us to make a change and think sustainable and we surely have the technology that can help us deal with this problem – NANOTECHNOLOGY.
What is Nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is a burgeoning area of research that deals with materials in the nanoscale (10-9 m) and has wide applications in the field of medicine, material sciences, energy, and agriculture. Nanotechnology in the field of agriculture has made precision farming a reality and holds promising potential in increasing crop yield, stimulating plant growth, monitoring the conditions in which the crops are being nurtured, and improving soil health to favor better growth. It also finds application in the genetic engineering of plants and post-harvest management.
Modernity coupled with Sustainability – Evolving the Nano- way:
- Nano fertilizers: The nano-formulations of agrochemicals can immobilize nutrients allowing their slow release into the soil which solves problems such as leaching of the chemicals and can mitigate eutrophication as they prevent nitrogen from reaching the groundwater. The practice of using plant and microbial extracts or green synthesis of nano-zinc and nano-silver has been proved to improve crop yield with less eco-toxicity. Nano fertilizers can even be generated from waste, Hussein et al (2019) in their experiments have shown that nano-fertilizers can be sourced from banana peels.
- Nanopesticides: Developing nano-formulation that can combat pests can increase solubility due to their large surface area to volume ratio, minimize hydrolysis and degradation of these compounds. Fusarium wilt, a destructive disease affecting tomato and lettuce, can be controlled by the use of nickel nanoparticles as demonstrated by Ahmed et al (2016). Similar effects were produced by green synthesized nanoparticles of magnesium oxide (MgO) against green peach aphids (Ghidan et al (2017)). Silver NP has the potential to control phytopathogen Colletotrichum gloeosporioide. Nanopesticides sourced from plants such as Azadirachta indica (neem) in a study shown by Pascoli et al (2019) are the way forward in establishing sustainable agriculture.
- Nanosensors: Nanoparticles have unique thermodynamic, electrical, and optical properties, with increased sensitivity and reduced signaling time. Nanosensors can provide real-time monitoring of the pH, nutrients, residual pesticides, and water content in soil for farmers to access the amount of water, fertilizers required and help in selecting the crop that can flourish in such an environment. They can also help to sense pathogens and pests for efficient tuning of the number of pesticides required. A great example is TiO2 nanotubes-based nanosensors for the detection of atrazine in soil developed by Yu et al (2010). Such technologies will help in managing the crops in a more comprehensive and holistic approach.
- Soil remediation: Nanoparticles such as hydrogels, nanoclays, and nano zeolites have the potential to improve the water holding capacity of soil by allowing the slow release of water. This can help not only in agriculture but also improve the soil conditions to make it more conducive for reforestation. They have also shown the capability to absorb contaminants and improve soil conditions.
Can Nanotechnology be our savior?
Nanotechnology can revolutionize agriculture in India, it is, however, important to note that every coin has two sides. There lies the problem of upscaling the technology, regulating the green synthesis of nanoparticles, and evaluating the effects of this technology on the environment and plant body which would otherwise prove to be a hazard. Adequate regulations need to be implemented that can prevent such a novel technology from being destructive. India – an agrarian economy, where agriculture contributes to 18% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and makes up 50% of the Indian workforce, should effectuate the use of nanotechnology. In 2019, the first nano fertilizer was commercially available in India, which paved the way for further studies and research for the commercial exploitation of nanotechnology in the agricultural sector.
Author Biography: Shreya Nair is a Master of Science in Biotechnology student from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She has a keen interest in scaling biology-based technologies from the laboratories to the industries and hopes to pursue a career in the same.