EghtesadOnline: Iranian academics are urging authorities and farmers to employ nanotechnology for modernizing the agricultural sector and curbing water use.
Alireza Allafchian, deputy director of Isfahan University of Technology’s Nanotech Research Center, said since Iran is a semi-arid country, managing surface water and putting it to agricultural use can greatly aid the sector, IMNA reported.
“Nanotech water treatment systems can store and purify surface water and lower the evaporation rate, creating a reliable source for irrigation,” he added.
Allafchian noted that in such systems, nanomembranes are used to soften the water and remove physical, biological and chemical contaminants.
“Nanoparticles can be used in many ways to provide clean water. Several local knowledge-based businesses are currently engaged in this endeavor,” he said.
The official explained that nanomaterial is defined as "material with any external dimension in the nanoscale or having an internal structure or surface structure in the nanoscale - the length range approximately from 1 nm to 100 nm”.
Nanotechnology, according to Allafchian, can increase crop productivity and minimize pesticide applications by using nanoparticle-mediated gene or DNA transfer in plants.
“Genetic modification of crops, reducing agricultural waste and increasing products with the use of nano-biocompatible materials are some of the numerous benefits of nanotechnology in the field,” he added.
Based on scientific articles, the applications of nanotech in farming industries also include nano-formulations of chemicals for developing pesticides and fertilizers, using nanosensors in crop protection, the identification of diseases and residues of chemicals, applying nano-devices for genetic engineering of plants, and postharvest management.
“Nanotechnology has the ability to revolutionize agriculture and the food industry, if adequate support is provided to experts and the talented young generation working on the subject,” Allafchian said.
According to the Vice Presidential Office for Science and Technology, 270 Iranian firms are currently active in nanotechnology, which can be a game-changer for all industrial fields run by conventional policies.
The official believes that creating a proper environment for research, providing opportunities to advance nanotechnology and exchanging know-how with other leading nations are necessary for sustainable development.
The application of different technologies in agriculture has gained momentum in Iran over the past few years. To upgrade the key industry, the academia and the growing technology ecosystem have launched initiatives.
In late January, the Islamic Azad University and Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation jointly launched a startup accelerator to support startups active in agricultural technologies and expand Iran’s startup ecosystem.
The two sides signed a deal to implement joint research projects on food safety and establish a research and innovation fund.
Mohammad Javad Sadri, the head of commercialization affairs at IAU’s tech park, said the deal is expected to help introduce new technologies into agricultural industries and commercialize innovative ideas developed by tech teams.
“We will hire mentors and soon start startup acceleration process. By using the state’s financial resources, we plan to support tech teams active in the sector. Hopefully, we will be able to extend support to at least 30 startups by the end of the current Iranian year [March 20],” he added.
The official said the university owns 17 hectares of greenhouses in its 235 branches across the country, which area is planned to expand to 50 hectares for use as laboratories by startups.
“Agritech and food safety are strongly intertwined. Involving the technology ecosystem in the farming sector can help develop both sectors and create added-value,” he said.
Sadri noted that universities have many empty seats in agriculture majors, adding that the lack of human resources in the sector has exacerbated water shortage problems, threatening the productivity of the domestic food industry.
“By using the potentials of tech units, we could make more people interested in the field,” Sadri said.
The public and private sectors’ support for technology ecosystem has increased the use of technology in farming.
Last year, a private knowledge-based company announced the indigenization of drones for assisting farmers.
“Sabokbal Helia Aseman Company designs and manufactures agricultural drones used in farms,” the company’s managing director, Mohsen Siadatnejad, said.
“Buying drones from other countries is costly while domestic knowledge-based firms are manufacturing small aircraft at lower costs,” he added.
Speaking about the high potential for exporting drones, Siadatnejad said, “We are in talks with neighboring states but have not yet reached the export stage.”
An agricultural drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by farmers to help increase crop production and monitor crop growth. Sensors and digital imaging capabilities give farmers a clearer picture of their fields. The information can also be useful in improving crop yield and farm efficiency.
Agricultural drones let farmers see their fields from the sky. The bird's eye view can reveal many issues such as irrigation problems, soil variation and pest and fungal infestations.
Multispectral images show a near-infrared and visual spectrum view. They show differences between healthy and unhealthy plants, a difference not always clearly visible to the naked eye, which can help assess crop growth and production.
Data provided to farmers can also help cut the use of pesticides and water consumption.
The other successful startup, now growing into a powerful business, is Keshmoon, which was established in 2017 and provides customers with an opportunity to directly purchase quality organic products from experienced growers.
Based in South Khorasan Province, Keshmoon intends to provide a reliable source of income for farmers, according to the firm's directors.
The startup’s directors believe that the current distribution network does not do justice to conscientious farmers, with consumers at the mercy of profiteering brokers.
“Keshmoon is aimed at providing customers with good quality products at a lower price and increasing the farmers' profit margin over time,” Mohammad Qaempanah, one of the company’s partners, said.
Qaempanah noted that farmers need to avoid using chemical fertilizers and follow water-saving policies in Keshmoon.