Applications of Nanotechnology in Agriculture and Food Industry




Science and Technology

1 min read

Prelims: General Science

Mains: Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenisation of technology and development of new technology

Nanotechnology is emerging as a promising tool for advancement in agriculture. Nanomaterials, with at least one dimension of 100 nanometers or less, have unique optical, magnetic, electrical, and mechanical properties. Their high surface area-to-volume ratio also makes them highly reactive.

The use of Nanotechnology in agriculture enables efficient disease detection and management, precision farming through nano-sensors, enhanced productivity through nano-fertilizers and pesticides, and improved food quality and safety through innovative packaging materials. Hence, the use of nanotechnology in agriculture is significant in order to meet the changing needs and domains of providing food to the growing population of the world.

Applications of Nanotechnology in Agriculture

In agriculture and food systems, nanotechnology has emerged as a powerful set of tools that allows enhanced productivity, disease/pest resistance, nutrient absorption, and food safety. Major applications of nanotechnology across the crop production value chain include:

  • Nano fertilizers: Conventional fertilizers have low nutrient use efficiency as the majority of applied nutrients are wasted and cause environmental pollution.
    • Nano-encapsulated fertilizers control the release rate of nutrients that match the crop's needs over time.
    • Slow and steady nutrient delivery reduces losses. Nanocarriers also protect nutrients from soil immobilisation.
  • Nano pesticides: Nanoscale pesticide formulations enhance solubility, dispersion, target-specific delivery and efficiency compared to conventional pesticides.
    • Nanocapsules, nanogels, and emulsions allow the slow and sustained release of active ingredients.
      • Lower doses are effective and toxicity is reduced.
  • Nano-sensors: Miniaturised optical, electrochemical and magnetic nano-sensors monitor soil quality, crop growth environment, plant pathogens, moisture levels etc. in real-time.
    • Farmers can take quick action and move towards precision agriculture with the help of networked nano-sensors.
  • Smart delivery systems: Nano-porous zeolites, carbon nanotubes, cellulose nanofibers etc. act as smart carrier systems for controlled and targeted delivery of genes, DNA, growth hormones, herbicides and other agrochemicals to plants, this improves efficiency.
  • Anti-microbial Nano-coating: Silver nanoparticles applied as coatings on greenhouse glass, plastic films, and irrigation pipes prevent microbial buildup.
    • This avoids decay and enhances the durability of farming infrastructure.
  • Water purification: Magnetic nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes and nano filters enable rapid decontamination of water from pesticides, fertilizers, pathogens etc. which is then safely reused for irrigation.
  • Plant disease diagnostics: Nano barcodes and nanoprobes coated with antibodies detect plant pathogens like bacteria and viruses quickly and accurately compared to conventional techniques.
    • Rapid diagnostics facilitate early disease prevention.
  • Seed germination: Nano priming of seeds with zinc, titanium dioxide, and silica nanoparticles speeds up germination rates and plant growth by penetrating the thick seed coat and enhancing enzyme metabolism.
  • Food packaging: Nanocomposite films with nano clays and cellulose nanofibers improve mechanical strength, barrier properties, heat resistance and biodegradability of food packaging compared to conventional polymer packaging.
  • Crop protection: Silica nanoparticles applied on leaves shield the plants from high temperatures and strong UV radiation.
    • Nano-coatings on fruits restrict oxygen and moisture penetration to delay ripening and prevent spoilage during storage.
Nano Technology Applications In Agriculture

Nanotechnology Applications in Food Processing

Nanotechnology promises to become a major driver of innovation in agriculture, food processing, and packaging. Nanotechnology is enabling revolutionary changes across the food manufacturing value chain:

  • Encapsulation and delivery: Nano-encapsulation of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavours in the food matrix through techniques like nanoemulsions, nanoliposomes, bilayer vesicles, etc. improves their stability and controlled delivery in food products.
  • Food safety: Nanosilver particles incorporated into food containers and packaging films provide antimicrobial protection and avoid contamination.
    • Magnetic nanoparticles bind and detect pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli in food samples within minutes for quality checks.
  • Product development: Nanoscale self-assembled structures of lipids, proteins and polymers can mimic food properties like texture, taste, and appearance.
    • This enables the design of low-fat or fat-free food formulations.
  • Enzyme Immobilization: Fixing enzymes over nanomaterials like silicate nanoparticles retains their activity and reusability during the synthesis of sugar syrups, organic acids, and amino acids used in food processing.
    • Nanomagnets can retrieve immobilised enzymes.
  • Nutrient absorption: Reducing nutrients like vitamins, minerals and supplements into nanoforms enhances their bioavailability, solubility and absorption in the body.
    • Nanoencapsulation also improves flavour.
  • Packaging: Oxygen scavenging nanopackaging absorbs oxygen to prevent spoilage of food items.
    • Nanosensors integrated packaging detects food contamination and shows changes through colour or fluorescence.
  • Processing equipment: Nanofilters remove microscopic contaminants during the processing of wine, beer, and fruit juices.
    • Nanocoatings minimise bacterial adhesion on machines and prevent corrosion.
  • Food Nano-sensors: Low-cost printed nanosensor arrays based on gold and silicon nanoparticles change colour to detect gases released during food decomposition. 
    • Portable nanosensor kits identify contaminants and allergens.
  • Cleansing agents: Silver nanoparticles exhibit strong antibacterial activity against foodborne pathogens like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
    • Coatings and nanosprays keep processing equipment sterilised.
  • Smart packaging: Nanosensors and RFID nanotags integrated into packaging detect gases released by spoiling foods like meat, fish, etc. and communicate through colour-changing indicators; this improves food shelf-life.
Nanotechnology In Food

Meat Processing

ApplicationNanomaterials usedPurpose
Antimicrobial coatingsSilver, magnesium oxide, and chitosan nanoparticlesReduce biofilm formation
Smart packagingPalladium nanoparticlesSense spoilage gases
Meat tenderizationEnzyme nanoparticlesCatalyze protein breakdown
Time-temperature sensorsNanoparticles dispersed in edible filmsMonitor product freshness

Bakery Products

ApplicationNanomaterials usedPurpose
Nutrient deliveryChitosan, soy protein, PLGA nanoparticlesPrevent degradation during processing
Fat replacersNanocellulose, nanoclaysReduce fat content in cakes, pastries etc.
Antimicrobial packagingSilver nanoparticlesPrevent microbial spoilage
Dough conditioningZinc oxide nanoparticlesImprove handling properties


ApplicationNanomaterials usedPurpose
CoatingsAloe vera nanofibersReduce moisture loss
Antibrowning agentsNanocapsules with antioxidantsPrevent enzymatic browning
Condition monitoringNanosensorsDetect temperature changes
Smart packagingPolymer nanocompositesControl gas exchange


ApplicationNanomaterials usedPurpose
Water treatmentSilver nanoparticlesDisinfect drinking water
Toxin detectionGold nanoparticlesSense contaminants in beverages
Gas barrierCarbon nanotubesPrevent oxidation in beer bottles
Packaging materialNanoclaysEnhance barrier and strength

Key Challenges of Nanotechnology in Agriculture

While offering tremendous benefits, some key challenges currently inhibit the large-scale adoption of nanotech in agriculture:

  • Toxicity concerns: The impacts of nanomaterials on soil quality, microbial activity and human health require more evaluation through life cycle analyses and can also trigger the production of free radicals.
    • Nanomaterials reaching the land have the potential to contaminate soil and migrate into surface and ground waters.
  • High costs: The R&D and specialised manufacturing systems required to engineer nanoproducts make initial investment prohibitive for small companies.
  • Scalability: A large variety of nanomaterials are still only being produced in lab quantities. Methods for controlled, scalable synthesis with reliable properties have to improve.
  • Regulations: Regulatory uncertainty due to lack of standardised safety data and nano-specific regulations deters commercialisation.
    • International harmonisation of regulations would help.
  • Lack of awareness: Understanding of nanotechnology remains low among farmers. Effective communication regarding costs versus benefits for different applications is needed.
  • Skill shortage: There is limited interdisciplinary expertise combining domains like nanoscience, agriculture, and food technology. Capacity building is required.

Government Initiatives on Nanotechnology in Agriculture

Realising the potential of nanotechnology, India has established dedicated nanotechnology programs and research centres:

  • Nano Mission: Launched nanotechnology research centres like the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) at IISc Bangalore, which works on nano-fertilizers and nanotech food packaging.
  • ICAR Initiatives: The Indian Council for Agriculture Research established Nanotechnology Centres at IARI and IVRI to develop nano-biosensors, nano-pesticides, and nanocapsules for nutrient delivery.
  • IFFCO placed India first in the world in Nano Urea and Nano DAP production. 
    • Nano Urea is sprayed not on the ground but on the plants, which leads to a zero possibility of destruction of natural elements or earthworms present in the soil.
  • Nano-fertilizers: IARI developed nanoparticles of zinc, chitosan, and silica as nano-fertilizers for improving crop growth and yield.
  • Nano-sensors: ICAR funded the development of nano biosensors at IIT Kharagpur for detecting pesticide residues in food.
  • Nano-pesticides:Tamil Nadu Agriculture University synthesised nanoparticles of herbal extracts as an eco-friendly, non-toxic nano-pesticide.
  • Toxicity evaluation: Karumanchi University assessed the impacts of nano-scale zinc oxide on soil microbial activity.
  • International collaboration: Indo-UK project between the University of Birmingham and IIT Delhi on nano-sensors to monitor soil and crop health.

Way forward

Nanotechnology has exciting potential to enhance agriculture and the entire food value chain. Here are some future possibilities:

  • Multifunctional nanosystems: These systems can simultaneously improve crop yield, damage resistance, water efficiency, and fertilizer utilisation.
  • Large-scale networks of nanosensors: These networks will provide real-time monitoring of soil, plant health and food quality across the supply chain.
  • Smart nano-pesticides and nutrients are responsive to plant biochemistry for precise dosing and minimized toxicity.
  • AI-guided automation will enable data-driven dynamic optimisation of nanomaterial dosages and applications.
  • Edible nano-coatings: To allow self-cleaning and anti-browning effects to produce.
  • Nano-enabled urban agriculture: Vertical farms, nano-greenhouses and hydroponics to maximize productivity.
  • Nanotech-derived new functional ingredients: Like colourants, textures, flavours, and vitamins synthesized using nano processes.
  • Active packaging with colour-changing nanosensors: To give visual spoilage alerts to consumers.

With benefits like increased crop yield, reduced waste, and sustainability, nanotechnology can play a pivotal role in shaping the future of agriculture in India.

PYQs on Nanotechnology in Agriculture

Question 1: There is some concern regarding the nanoparticles of some chemical elements that are used by the industry in the manufacture of various products. Why? (UPSC Prelims 2014)

  1. They can accumulate in the environment, and contaminate water and soil.
  2. They can enter the food chains.
  3. They can trigger the production of free radicals.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 3 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Answer: (d)

FAQs on Nanotechnology in Agriculture

How can Nanotechnology improve crop production?

Nanoparticle-based smart fertilizers provide controlled nutrient release. Nanocoatings on seeds improve germination rates. Nanosensors enable real-time soil monitoring for better input management.

How are Nanopesticides better than traditional ones?

Nanoencapsulated pesticides allow slow release over time, lowering toxicity to crops. Nanosilver particles have antibacterial effects against plant pathogens.

What role do Nanomaterials play in plant breeding?

Nanoparticle labels and markers enable rapid and precise genetic testing. Nanotechnology aids genomic selection and supports accelerated breeding.

How can Nanotechnology improve food safety?

Nanosensors can detect pesticide residues, contaminants, and pathogens quickly and accurately to enhance food safety and quality control. Antimicrobial nano-coatings for packaging prevent spoilage.

Are there any concerns regarding Nanotechnology in Agriculture?

Toxicity to plants, accumulation in soil and environment due to nanoparticle use needs evaluation. Regulatory frameworks for nano-agri products are essential for safety.