The government plans to incentivise farmers to produce more genetically modified (GM) brinjal despite not having conducted any tests on its possible impact on human health and the environment.
Brinjal - also known as aubergine - is one of the staple vegetables in Bangladesh and across South Asia.
According to the plan, the Ministry of Agriculture will provide seeds and fertilisers among 2001 farmers in 64 districts to cultivate Bt brinjal on 2001 bighas (667 acres) of land next season.
As an incentive, each farmer will receive 20 grams of seed and 15 kilograms of DAP and MoP fertilisers, at a total cost to the government of Tk1,630,800.
The decision came from the ministry’s September 10 meeting, presided over by Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury.
The meeting report said a maximum of 90 farmers from Chittagong would come under the incentive programme, in addition to 75 farmers from Comilla, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali and Bogra.
However, environmental activists have been expressing serious concerns about the biological and health hazards at home and abroad that the new breed of brinjal may pose.
Several organisations and individuals also challenged the release of the GM crop with the top court, seeking an extensive assessment.
Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) released the GM brinjal varieties in the country on October 30, 2013 without giving any satisfactory explanation of the issues related to the environment and health hazards.
Environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan said the government had failed to maintain the labelling of Bt brinjal while marketing, which is one of the major conditions of the bio-safety committee regarding release of the varieties.
She said the government has yet to confirm the health and environmental hazards of the trans-genetic variety.
Initially, the agriculture minister herself distributed saplings of four Bt brinjal varieties among 16 farmers in four regions – Gazipur, Jamalpur, Rangpur and Ishwardi – to cultivate them on one bigha land each in February 2014.
Later, its cultivation gradually increased through selected farmers across the country.
On September 08, 2014, the then BARI DG Rafiqul Islam Mandol admitted that before releasing the four varieties at the farmers’ level, they did not conduct any laboratory test regarding the possible negative impacts on human health.
Environmental activists said the government had violated the constitution and two international protocols – Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Cartegena Protocol.
According to Article 8G of CBD and Article 16 of Cartegena protocol, a country has to abide by existing laws and rules while introducing any GM crops at farmers’ level.
According to BARI, it developed the Bt brinjal varieties – Bt Uttara, Bt Kajla, Bt Noyontara and Bt ISD 006 – from local varieties by inserting the Bt gene into them.
The seven-year experiment began in 2006 with the technical support of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company of India, in which the American seed giant Monsanto had 26% stake.