The Wonder that is Nanotechnology and its Role in Reshaping Agriculture

23 Jun 2020

Study and research of nanoparticles as a dedicated discipline of science would have been considered a fantasy until a few decades ago. Tiny gadgets with ginormous capacities, computers the size of textbooks with processing speeds infinitely higher than the earliest of space crafts, synthetic compounds to enter the body and fix microscopic tissues, these are some of the results of this fantasy turned into reality.

Nanotechnology has often been termed as the technology that will change the world in 21st century. It has given us wonders like self-healing materials for thermo-electric plants and rockets to further space exploration; highly efficient solar panels for combatting climate change; adsorbent polymers for cleaning of oil spills; micro-detectors for cancer prognosis; and one of the most important, ultra-dense chips and drives that have made big data possible.

The impact of nanotechnology in the Food and Agriculture sector has been tremendous, right from inputs for healthy and disease-free crops, to protective packaging for a safe and hygienic supply chain.

Researchers in Israel are deploying solutions based on Amphiphilic Janus Particles, Super-Hydrophobic, and Active Coatings in the post-harvest and food processing industries. These solutions are making the processing of produce highly efficient and delivering products that taste better, as a result of nanoemulsion, are less prone to oxidation, due to nanoencapsulation of certain enzymes, and have a much longer shelf life, because of the nanobarrier materials used in their packaging. 

Significant work has also been done in The Netherlands with a special focus on Food Process Engineering. Scientists are developing sustainable food chains and even alternate meat products by using nano-biopolymers. Significant research is also being done with enzymological solutions to reduce the impact of chemicals in the food system and extract valuable components from waste streams, thus further contributing to sustainability. Another interesting application of nanotechnology being studied by Dutch researchers is 3D Food Printing, where complex food systems are getting decoded to develop technologies that enable personalized food printing.

Indian research and industry have also shown a fair bit of interest in using nanoparticles in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, and nutrient solutions for the farm. Pre and Post-Harvest Nano Formulation sprays have resulted in better quality produce with an elongated shelf life. Seed priming technology using nano-polymer matrix has helped increase the performance of crops in the field. AgTech startups too have leveraged nanotechnological solutions and developed products that make the sector more efficient. Water retention polymer using natural ingredients developed by a venture has garnered worldwide attention and accolades. The solution uses plant waste to create a polymer with high water retention capacity, used in arid regions of the country, the polymer aims to increase water efficiency in farming, and when it biologically degrades, it further improves the quality of soil. Another Indian venture has progressed the advanced material technology to develop nanofiber platforms for delivery of biopesticides, biofertilizers, and several other stimulants to the plants. The result is improved crop yield and resource efficiency. With such levels of research being done at both at an institutional and a startup level, and the monumental need for such innovations in the industry, the future of nanotechnology, sure is bright in India. 

One intervention that can accelerate the adoption process is creating a sustained dialogue with worldwide representation that brings such innovations to the forefront and sheds the spotlight on them. This is the driving motivation behind CII’s Advanced Technology Programme under which several tech-themes are being looked at from a large-scale deployment perspective. The latest amongst the programme’s several initiatives is the Masterclass on Agri-Nanotechnology where leading Indian and international experts will deliberate the research, commercialization, and impact of nanotechnology in the Food and Agriculture sector.

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