1. Agriculture World

Know the Reason Behind Bt Brinjal’s Popularity in Bangladesh

Abha Toppo
Abha Toppo

Recently many media had reported about Haryana farmers growing Bt brinjal without any regulatory approval. Even though the original source of the genetic modification is not obvious, what few seem to realize is that the neighboring Bangladesh has already been cultivating Bt brinjal on a wide scale since its government approved its use in 2013.

Hence now it is important to understand what impacts Bt brinjal can have in the real world.

In general, Bt brinjal is very popular in Bangladesh. The number of farmers cultivating it has jumped from 20 in the year 2014 to 6,512 in 2017 & most recently to 27,012 last year (2018), covering approximately 17 percent of the country’s brinjal growers. In the last few years, almost a fifth of Bangladeshi brinjal growers have started growing ‘Bt brinjal’. Growers in all vegetable growing districts of the country now use Bt brinjal.

The main reason for this popularity is that Bt brinjal do well in the field in fighting the destructive impact of the main insect, the fruit & shoot borer. The Bt gene generates a protein that is poisonous to the borer pest but safe to other types of insects as well as humans. Therefore Bt brinjal fruits face less pest damage & their overall productivity is higher.

bt brinjal

Moreover, the crop has also been found to cut pesticide use, as intended. Previously, before Bt brinjal was introduced, growers in Bangladesh used to spray their brinjal crops around 84 times per season. Surveys show that at least half of all cultivators said they experienced some form of ill health as a result of their proximity to these poisonous substances.

Bt brinjal does not have need of spraying against the fruit & shoot borer pest, which means that farmers can reduce the amount of time & money spent on sprays. A study conducted by the Bangladesh On-Farm Research Division on 850 farmers growing brinjal in 35 districts of the country had found that their pesticide costs went down by 61%. The number of sprays also dropped from 41 times a season on average on non-Bt-brinjal to merely 11 times.

All this helps in improving farmers’ livelihoods considerably. The same study as above also established that the net returns per hectare were Rs. 1.5 lakh for Bt brinjal in place of Rs. 25,000, which means Bt brinjal growers were earning  6 times more than their non-Bt counterparts every year.

This has mainly been a public sector and philanthropic attempt. The original genetic engineering using Cry1Ac gene was carried out by the Maharashtra-based Seed Company, Mahyco. After that, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute had introgressed the material into 9 different farmer-preferred varieties. This venture also involved Cornell University & was funded by US Agency for International Development.

The Department of Agricultural Extension circulated seeds and also sold them last year to almost 17,950 growers through the government-owned Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation. There are no royalties to be paid and farmers can save, distribute and trade the seeds freely amongst themselves.

But Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, as in India was drawn into the wider GMO argument. An organisation UBINIG that promotes organic farming and resists genetic engineering had claimed in Dhaka that some growers were discontinuing their commitment to Bt brinjal owing to poor performance.

The news has not been independently verified, but either way, at least the farmers in Bangladesh have an option - they can grow Bt brinjal if they want or continue with the conventional varieties. But farmers in India have been denied this choice since the indefinite moratorium imposed by the last government in 2010.

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