Fruit and shoot borer-resistant Bt brinjal reaches out to 65,000 farmers in 7 years, work underway to achieve bacterial wilt resistance
Starting with only 20 farmers in 2014, the technology of Bt brinjal – a crop developed to drastically lower hazardous pesticide application – reached to 65,000 eggplant growers this year, making it the fastest expanding biotech product in Bangladesh.
Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant variety, was developed to fight fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that used to cause colossal crop loss in Bangladesh’s brinjal fields but not anymore.
Now, riding on the huge success of Bangladesh’s fastest expanding biotech crop, breeders areworking on developing two new eggplant varieties capable to withstand FSB and bacterial wilt.
Together with FSB, the bacterial wilt causes substantial crop loss in brinjal, second most consumed vegetable in Bangladesh after potato.
Dr Yousuf Akhond, a chief scientific officer of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) who heads the institution’s biotechnology division, told Dhaka Tribune recently that by working on two previously released brinjal varieties – Bari Begun-10 and Bari Begun-11 – they are now developing varieties, expected to withstand bacterial wilt.
Once success comes Bari’s way, brinjal breeders hope farmers in Bangladesh would get varieties of eggplants, which would effectively withstand both FSB and bacterial wilt.
Till date, Bangladesh is only country in South Asia to release GM food crop while some of its neighbours i.e., India, Pakistan have long been cultivating Bt cotton, a cash crop.
Bt brinjal controls the FSB without the need for pesticide sprays to control it, thereby cutting farmers’ investment cost on brinjal and also resolving the worry over pesticide-induced health hazards. A few sprays are still needed to control insects like thrips, aphids and other minor insects that are not susceptible to the Bt protein produced by the plant.
However, bacterial wilt disease which lingers in many of the soils in Bangladesh, is not controllable by any sprays. Bacterial wilt is best controlled by using plants that are resistant to the disease.
Dr Md Jahangir Hossain, who coordinates biotech brinjal and late blight-resistant potato project in Bangladesh, told this correspondent that in 2020-21 crop year as many as 65,000 farmers in Bangladesh are growing Bt brinjal in 12,500 acres of land.
Fast adoption of Bt brinjal, he said, helped farmers reap double benefits of cost cutting and much less application of chemical pesticides.
Each year Bangladeshi farmers grow over half a million tons of brinjal from over 50,000 hectares of land. But scientists hope further adoption of Bt brinjal and future release of bacterial blight-resistant varieties would help farmers grow more brinjals from less land.
Earlier, five years after introducing country’s first genetically modified crop – Bt brinjal – government undertook an impact assessment study in 2018. It stated that the farmers got benefitted financially by cultivating Bt brinjal and they are now less prone to health hazards caused by pesticide sprays.
Under the Ministry of Agriculture’s behest, the study on 1200 farmers was designed and carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The study outcome found that the farmers who cultivated the Bt brinjal gained by 55 percent higher income comparing to their peers growing the non-Bt brinjal.
The genetically modified 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), the deadliest pest for brinjal.
There is an array of other biotech crop products now under release and development pipeline in Bangladesh which include, among others, Vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice, bacterial blight resistant potato, leafcurl resistant tomato, and Bt cotton.