United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Increasing Productivity and Quality of Basic Food Crops in Bulgaria

United Nations / Multilateral body

    Bulgaria, one of the most biodiverse countries in Europe, has long been a major exporter of key crops such as tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. With gradually warming temperatures over the past decades, farmers have seen the yield and quality of key crops fall. An initiative by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) helps Bulgaria develop varieties of key crops that are resilient to drought and adapt to other adverse climatic conditions to enhance food security in the country.


    The project was launched in 2018 to enhance the productivity and quality of key crops through induced mutation breeding while maintaining the country’s biodiversity, to enhance food security and contribute to socio-economic development (SDG 2.3). By using radiation, scientists can significantly shorten the time it takes to see beneficial variations in crops. Screening techniques target certain traits to address key needs, such as plants tolerant to high salt levels in soil or resistant to certain pests. The practice of mutation breeding, in combination with climate smart agriculture, ensures sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, strengthen capacity for adaptation to adverse climatic conditions and improve land and soil quality (SDG 2.4).

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    The support from the IAEA through its technical cooperation programme builds on long-standing technical cooperation with Bulgaria in mutation breeding and climate-smart agriculture practices and contributes to (SDG 2). The projects are designed to enhance the country’s self-reliance in developing and producing crop varieties in response to the needs of the country for improved food security and socio-economic development and the use of sustainable climate-smart agricultural practices that maintain soil health, biodiversity and increase the genetic diversity of crops.

    Implementation methodologies

    The project was planned and implemented in close cooperation with the Maritsa Vegetable Crops Research Institute, the Agricultural University and other Bulgarian institutes and universities. The IAEA provided equipment, expert advice and training in mutation induction and characterization through nuclear and molecular techniques as well as drought tolerance treatment and the selection of beneficial mutants applying advanced biotechnologies. The training was provided to staff of the participating institutes through four scientific visits and four fellowships. The advanced varieties of pepper, tomato and potato that had been developed were launched in a field trial directly on the farms of participating farmers and on a site within the South-Central region of the country. The project has been monitored through a results-based monitoring framework, which includes regular feedback from counterparts, experts, partners and project-related events.


    The country has its first specialized laboratory of excellence with state-of-the art equipment and highly skilled staff who transferred the latest knowledge of plant mutation breeding and sustainable agricultural practices to vegetable producers and farmers on a continuous basis. An assortment of mutant lines has been developed to increase the quality and quantity of targeted crops, and some have been used in cross-breeding to obtain hybrids for the further development of new strains, i.e. pepper varieties with more favourable ripening and anthocyanin attributes; new potato varieties with higher drought tolerance and increased flavonoid concentrations. Vegetable producers in Bulgaria now produce higher yields of crops with a better quality due to their increased resistance to a variety of vegetable diseases, pests and adverse climatic conditions. The higher productivity has in turn led to increased incomes and better livelihoods of small- and medium-scale vegetable producers.

    Factors and Constraints

    The IAEA and FAO have developed a wide range of isotopic and nuclear techniques to improve soil quality and management, mitigate the effects of invasive species and support the breeding of plants and animals with superior genetic makeup, which can better resist climatic changes and diseases. Jointly with the FAO, the IAEA assists its Member States in developing and implementing technologies that, using gamma irradiation and X-rays, can induce the mutation of plants and thereby considerably speed up the development of new, beneficial varieties. This can also involve the use of related biotechnologies to identify the required mutations.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Bulgaria has 18 gamma irradiation facilities, allowing the country to work towards providing sustainable food for domestic consumption and export. At these national irradiation facilities, mutant lines and varieties that have been developed and have shown desired characteristics are stored in the national gene bank, which holds 60,000 seed samples for research institutions across the country for future use. Through IAEA technical cooperation programme and coordinated research projects implemented in Bulgaria over the past 50 years, 76 crop varieties have been released. These are recorded in the FAO/IAEA Mutant Variety Database. The collaboration between the IAEA, FAO and MVCRI will continue in the development of improved varieties of pepper, common bean, tomato and potato, onion, watermelon, garlic, leak with high yields, improved nutritional quality and the ability to adapt to climate change, enhancing food security throughout the country.

    COVID-19 Impact

    The delivery of some equipment was delayed due to the pandemic.

    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    31 January 2018 (start date)
    31 December 2020 (date of completion)
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