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Technology that halves pesticide use

  • Published at 07:27 pm December 11th, 2020
Brinjal
File photo: Brinjal or eggplant is one of the staple vegetables in Bangladesh and across South Asia Reuters

Introduction of Bt brinjal revolutionizes the vegetable’s production scenario, it can prevent use of 2.3L litres of pesticides nationwide  

Brinjal growers in Bangladesh used to apply pesticides as many as 100 times in a single season to save the vegetable from insects. It used to cost them over Tk14,000 per hectare. 

Not anymore.

Since the inception of Bangladesh’s first genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant brinjal varieties in 2013, farmers in the country who adopted the biotech product over the past seven years, have successfully cut the cost on pesticide use by 50%.

Bt brinjal, the GM varieties of the eggplant, is resistant to Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), the deadliest among the insects that feed on the crop. But there are other crop-damaging insects, like beetles and white flies, for which farmers still require to apply some pesticides but at a much lesser volume than before.

Scientists and researchers involved with the Bt brinjal development and deployment in Bangladesh expect that cultivation of Bt brinjal, if scaled up, can prevent the application of over 230,000 litres of pesticide nationwide.

Official statistics show, starting with just below three hectares of land in 2013-14, the Bt brinjal acreage rose to nearly 2,000 hectares in the last financial year (2019-20), making it one of the fastest growing frontier science farm technology in Bangladesh. Some 30,000 farmers now grow Bt brinjal all over Bangladesh. 

Dr. Maricelis Acevedo, Director for USAID Feed the Future Bangladesh Bt-Eggplant Project, said brinjal farmers in Bangladesh are now saving Tk7,000 to Tk11,000 per hectare due to drastic reduction of the use of pesticides. 

Encouraged by this success, the Puerto Rican scientist said, the process is underway now to infuse double genes in brinjal, further solidifying the widely consumed vegetable in South Asia, capable of fighting against more pests.

Bt brinjal has been developed by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars,  thereby protecting the crop from infestation of Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB).

According to Dr. Acevedo, FSB is responsible for 30% to 60% crop loss in brinjal. 

When Bt brinjal got regulatory approval in Bangladesh back in 2013, debate sparked over its efficacy and impact on agro-ecology and biodiversity. Now with every passing year, the number of its beneficiaries – the farmers – adopting the GM technology is growing.  

Dr Md. Jahangir Hossain, Country Coordinator of Feed the Future Bangladesh Bt-Eggplant and 3R-gene Potato Project, said if farmers maintain proper crop management in the field, they will definitely get better economic returns from Bt brinjal cultivation.

Five years after introducing the country's first genetically modified crop – Bt brinjal – the government undertook an impact assessment study in 2018. 

Under the Ministry of Agriculture’s behest, the study on 1,200 farmers was designed and carried out by the Washington-based food policy think-tank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It later came up with the good news that farmers got benefited financially by cultivating Bt brinjal and they are now much less prone to health hazards caused by pesticide sprays.

IFPRI study found that farmers who cultivated the GM versions of one of the country’s most consumed vegetables, gained higher income by about 55 percent in comparison to their peers growing the non-Bt brinjal.

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