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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladeshi and Indian seed companies to develop doubly-resistant brinjal varieties

US govt’s Feed the Future initiative facilitates licencing agreement between ACI Bangladesh and ACSEN Agriscience of India

Update : 01 Apr 2024, 12:03 AM

Ever since Bangladesh introduced commercial cultivation of pest-resistant Bt brinjal in 2014, the four available Bt brinjal varieties increased farmers’ incomes and helped farmers significantly reduce pesticide spraying, resulting in substantial cost savings and a decrease in pesticides leaching into the surrounding environment.

Bt brinjal harnesses the benefits of a gene found in a common soil bacterium that provides resistance to the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer (EFSB) pest, which can lead to up to 90% crop loss.

While the gene tweaking helped eggplant farmers effectively fight the pest -- EFSB -- the menace of bacterial disease -- wilt -- persists. 

As the bacterial wilt is prevalent during the warm, humid summer season, current Bt brinjal varieties in Bangladesh can only be cultivated during the winter. 

Farmers have long been asking for eggplant varieties which would effectively withstand both the pests and the disease and they would be able to grow Bt brinjal year-round -- both in summer and winter seasons. 

Courtesy of a marriage between ACI in Bangladesh and ACSEN Agriscience of India, an initiative is now underway to develop varieties resistant to both shoot borer and bacterial wilt.

Current, hybrid eggplant varieties developed by ACI and ACSEN exhibit resistance to bacterial wilt and superior agronomic traits but remain highly susceptible to EFSB infestations.

Now, in a significant stride toward sustainable agriculture in Bangladesh, a newly announced partnership aims to introduce new pest-resistant and disease-tolerant eggplant hybrid varieties that foster enhanced food security while safeguarding the health of farmers and the environment.

Feed the Future Insect-Resistant Eggplant Partnership (IREP) has just facilitated a licencing agreement between ACI headquartered in Dhaka and ASCEN, the vegetable seed arm of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu-based Rasi Seeds, aiming at coupling the benefits of high-yielding and wilt-tolerant hybrids with the insect-resistance of Bt brinjal in varieties that can be cultivated during both winter and summer seasons.  

The licencing agreement kicked off with eight farmer-preferred hybrids that integrate the advantageous Bt gene and feature inherent resistance to bacterial wilt.

A comprehensive two-year testing and evaluation phase under controlled field conditions is scheduled within Bangladeshi biosafety guidelines. 

FH Ansarey, president of ACI Agribusiness said: “We look forward to addressing this challenge in partnership with ACSEN Bangladesh to deliver seeds that can help resource poor farmers earn more and safeguard their health.”

“Over the last two and a half decades, ACI has delivered unmatched value to Bangladesh farmers via access to high-quality seeds. Introducing the advantages of Bt technology to farmers cultivating hybrid eggplant is a major step in addressing the pressing issue faced by eggplant growers, who currently endure excessive pesticide sprays,” he added. 

Senthilnathan Senguttuvan, chairman of ACSEN Agriscience, said: “We are delighted to partner with ACI Bangladesh to bring insect-resistant eggplant hybrids that can truly address the challenge of high pest incidence faced by Bangladeshi farmers. This step will provide farmers with a sustainable higher income from cultivation of Bt Brinjal hybrids and ensure due compliance to the regulatory review of the product in Bangladesh.” 

Maricelis Acevedo, a research professor in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, oversees the Feed the Future Insect-Resistant Eggplant Partnership (IREP), as its project director.

“For the past several years, every time I visit eggplant fields, Bangladeshi farmers say they love Bt brinjal’s resistance to EFSB but want new varieties with superior agronomics that are resistant to wilt and can be grown year-round. During that same time, Bangladesh has seen an increase in hybrid adoption for many vegetable crops. The private sector investment will mean Bt brinjal is able to respond to farmer demands and secure farmer access to superior quality seeds of high-yielding Bt Brinjal in many market-preferred classes,” she said.

In last year, ACI Bangladesh launched a hybrid eggplant variety under the brand name 'Green Globe', which is bacterial wilt tolerant.  

Established in 1998, ACI in Bangladesh stands as the largest indigenous seed company in the country, with revenue worth Tk200 crore from its seed business.

Currently, ACI markets an impressive total of 110 varieties spanning 39 vegetable crops, including 36 varieties from 12 crops developed through its own research and development initiatives. Through partnerships with international seed companies, ACI efficiently distributes high-quality seeds in the market, leveraging its robust supply chain.

With a 50-year history and projected revenue of $203 million for fiscal year 2022-2023, India’s Rasi Seeds holds the distinction of having the largest acreage under Bt cotton globally.

Renowned as a leader in biotechnology, the company boasts a well-established infrastructure that facilitates the adoption of cutting-edge tools and technologies for the development of innovative products.

The Insect-Resistant Eggplant Partnership (IREP) is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Feed the Future Initiative, the US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

IREP’s goal is to enhance food and nutritional security in Bangladesh and the Philippines while protecting the health of people and the environment.

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