Md. Arif Hossain*
Dhaka, November 30, 2015 (Alochonaa): There are almost 8 million brinjal farmers in Bangladesh, fulfilling the demand of about 160 million people. Unlike other vegetable crops, brinjal requires extreme care to attain satisfactory yield.
Resource limitation, high production cost, climate change, pest attack, and diseases are some challenges faced by brinjal farmers in Bangladesh. These problems must be overcome in order to sell the grown crops at a good price.
Attack by the Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) insect is an inevitable reality of Bangladeshi brinjal farmers. To protect their brinjal, farmers are compelled to spray pesticide for 80-100 times in a single cropping season. Almost half of eggplant production cost goes to pesticides, and more than 47% farmers misuse the pesticide; this can adversely affect the soil, water, environment and biodiversity. Moreover, about 87% of farmers do not use protective measures while spraying pesticide in the field.
There was no potential solution for this paradox of Bangladeshi brinjal farmers until the country’s public research institute, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), developed FSB resistant Bt brinjal varieties. Bangladesh made a historic step on October 30, 2013 by releasing four genetically engineered eggplant varieties [BARI Bt brinjal 1 to 4] for commercial cultivation after its long-term research since 2005.
Twenty farmers initially received seedlings from BARI in 2014, cultivating the country’s first GM crop. This provided scientific evidence that Bt technology worked in brinjal. Farmers were able to grow brinjal without spraying pesticide for FSB. The result became more evident in 2015 when 108 farmers received seedlings from BARI and grew Bt brinjal. Importantly, these varieties are open pollinated, meaning the Bt brinjal seeds can be kept and re-planted in the future. As a public research institute, BARI provided seedlings and all necessary information to the farmers free of cost. Bangladesh is expecting a successful adoption of Bt brinjal as farmers reap the benefit from the four released varieties. BARI has already submitted application for the approval of three more Bt brinjal varieties and in the future will apply for the approval of two more.
Farmers and consumers alike are welcoming this new crop, which is good for health, the environment, and is cost effective. India as a neighboring country, and also the Philippines, are now thinking more deeply about the commercial release of Bt brinal; these two countries initially embargoed the technology following the pressure of Anti-GMO lobby and activists.
Bt brinjal proved to be a success in Bangladesh, which is paving a comfortable path for other GM crop research and commercialisation in the country.
*Md. Arif Hossain is the Lead, Bangladesh Alliance for Science & Visiting Fellow Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
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