"GMO eggplant is a win for resource-poor farmers"

Insect-resistant brinjal, or eggplant, is arguably the most impactful project to bring agricultural biotechnology to resource-poor farmers, writes Joan Conrow with the Cornell Alliance for Science. Studies show that Bangladesh farmers, who began growing Bt brinjal commercially in 2014, have enjoyed a sizable increase in income, a receptive market, and significantly reduced pesticide use. It is now on its way to commercialization in the Philippines, where it was recently approved for human food and livestock feed.

The crop has been genetically modified to contain a protein from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring soil bacterium used widely in organic agriculture. It reduces pesticide use by providing inherent protection against the destructive eggplant fruit and short borer (EFSB). Field trials conducted in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and India demonstrated that Bt eggplant is virtually immune to EFSB, safe for humans and the environment, and welcomed by farmers.

While a number of studies have been published on Bt brinjal topics ranging from reduced pesticide use to market and farmer acceptance, a comprehensive documentation of the history and success of the project can only be found in Bringing Bt Eggplant to Resource-Poor Farmers in Bangladesh and the Philippines. Thirteen authors, led by Cornell entomologist A. M. Shelton, offer a unique and detailed assessment of the project from its inception to the present.

Their account, recently published in a book titled Genetically Modified Crops in Asia Pacific, discusses the environmental and human health damage of using frequent insecticide sprays — sometimes twice daily — in a futile attempt to control EFSB. It also documents the development and commercialization of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh, where it was the first GM food crop adopted in South Asia, and how its use was stifled in India and slowed in the Philippines because of anti-GMO activities.

“Seeing is believing” — the phenomenon of farmers wanting GM crops after seeing or hearing about their benefits — sums up the way forward for Bt eggplant, so long as governments simultaneously exercise the political will required to support the legal cultivation of the crops. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Minister of Agriculture Begum Matia Chowdhury provided strong support to move Bt brinjal toward commercialization through the Bangladesh regulatory framework. Such high-level political support, absent in India and the Philippines, was vital to the commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh.

Read the complete article at www.geneticliteracyproject.org.

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