Director of General of BARI remarks about Bt Brinjal

11 August 2015
John Bakum

Brinjal is a very popular vegetable which is grown year round all over Bangladesh. The brinjal shoot and fruit borer is the key pest of brinjal in this country. For brinjal production, farmers spray insecticides at 2-3 days intervals (in one season 80-160 times) which are most harmful for public health and environment. The excessive use of insecticides creates adverse effect on human health and environment. The production cost of brinjal is increased due to frequent spraying of insecticides and even by frequent spraying of insecticides farmers do not get desired yield.

Now the farmers cannot successfully control this insect by using environment friendly IPM methods like sex pheromone trap and by removal of the infested shoots and other methods.

It was not possible to develop variety resistant to brinjal shoot and fruit borer by conventional breeding. The Bt gene (Cry1Ac) received from developed countries is introgressed in 9 popular brinjal varieties in Bangladesh. The main advantages of Bt brinjal are-

  • To save brinjal from the brinjal shoot and fruit borer
  • Farmers can produce and preserve the Bt brinjal seed as Bt brinjal varieties are not hybrids
  • Farmers do not need to depend on seed company for seed every year
  • Farmers do not need to give any royalty to foreign company
  • Due to the limited use of pesticides, there will not be environmental pollution and the health of farmers will remain good
  • The production cost would be less and farmers will secure desired increased yield and consequently there will be increased income

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute created a multidisciplinary team in 2005 with biotechnologist, plant breeder, soil scientist, plant pathologist and entomologist under ABSPII Project which is led by Cornell University of USA and funded by USAID. Multilocation field trials were conducted in seven research stations of BARI (Joydebpur, Jamalpur, Jessore, Hathazari, Barisal, Ishwardi and Rangpur) from 2008-2013 according to the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Agriculture and approval of Bio-safety Committee and following the bio-safety rules. Field days were organized at research stations with local farmers, extension agents, NGO representative, journalists, public representative and researcher to show the obtained results. The results of research are published in BARI annual report. The reports of the field days were published in print and electronic media. Besides these, four consultation workshops were arranged with all Vice-Chancellors of public Universities in our country; Deputy Directors of Agricultural Extension Department (DAE), Regional Directors of DAE; the Departmental heads and Deans of all Public Universities on the results of Bt brinjal and to create more awareness on Bt brinjal. The members of bio-safety committee, local and foreign researchers, policymakers, teachers, journalists and public representatives also visited the Bt brinjal research and development activities.

BARI applied to National Technical Committee on Crop Biotechnology (NTCCB) to release Bt brinjal based on the research results for more than 8 years following the existing rules of the country. Then the application was sent to the National Committee on Bio-safety (NCB) with the recommendation of NTCCB. Upon proper assessments by NCB based on the recommendation of Bio-safety Core Committee, Government approved the deregulation of four Bt brinjal varieties [BARI Bt begun-1 (Uttara), BARI Bt begun-2 (Kazla), BARI Bt begun-3 (Nayantara), and BARI Bt begun-4 (ISD 006)] on 30 October, 2013 following the exiting rules of the country.

On 22-01-2014, Bt brinjal seedlings were distributed among 20 farmers of Gazipur, Pabna, Rangpur and Jamalpur districts. The farmers successfully cultivated the distributed seedlings and sold the produce in the market. As a result, the farmers are economically benefited. But, couple of farmers did not follow the cultivation instructions properly and thus they did not get desired results.

In the current year (2014-2015), Bt brinjal demonstrations plots were established in 108 farmers’ field across 19 districts in the country. Shoot and fruit borer infestation was not observed anywhere. Due to no infestation of the insect, production is more (on an average 25-39 ton per hectare) and farmers are benefited by selling the produce in the market. From the results, it is observed that the performance of Bt brinjal was better than non Bt brinjal in all districts. While the infestations by the insect in shoots and fruits in Bt brinjal were only 0.00-0.05 per cent and 0.04-0.88 per cent respectively, the infestations in non-Bt brinjals were 30.00-40.00 percent and 48.00-57.00 per cent, respectively. BARI Bt Begun-1, BARI Bt Begun-2, BARI Bt Begun-3 and BARI Bt Begun-4 have brought with an average 66 per cent, 68 per cent, 40 per cent and 100 per cent higher yields respectively compared with non Bt brinjal. Field days on Bt brinjal were arranged in every district and farmers, scientists, extension officials and local journalists were present in each field day and reports were published in different newspapers. Besides this, in this year the breeder seed is being produced from the released four varieties at research stations. Such seeds will be sold to the farmers following the government rate.

In this year, application will be submitted to release three varieties (Singhnath, Dohazari and Khatkhatia) from the rest five Bt brinjal varieties (Singhnath, Chega, Islampuri, Dohazari and Khatkhatia). The food value and chemical compositions of Bt brinjal with Cry1Ac gene were tested in local and foreign laboratories. No element toxic to human health was found. No toxic effects were found in fish, hen, goat, rat, buffalo and other animals while tested is more than ten accredited laboratories of the developed countries. All such reports are stored with BARI authorities. On the other hand, ‘GMO crops are toxic to human health’ such information have not been published in any recognized journal as far as our knowledge goes.

On the other hand, the nutritional composition of Bt brinjal is similar to traditional brinjal. Besides, there are less possibilities of cross pollination of Bt brinjal with local brinjal as brinjal is self-pollinated crop. The stability of Bt brinjal gene is examined; in this case there is less possibility for Bt brinjal to become non-stable due to gene contamination.

GM (Genetically Modified) method is fully observed over all types of breeding methods and it is still being continued. But, so far no unaccepted or undesirable effect was found that might harm on human health, animal, or for environment. Recently, Bangladeshi Bt brinjal samples have been tested in the internationally recognized COVANCE laboratory in London. There was no difference between Bt brinjal and its non-Bt counterpart. No detrimental effect of Bt brinjal was found on tested animals. Now, biotechnology is applied worldwide to overcome the limitations of conventional breeding to develop desired varieties. By using biotechnology, desired varieties could be developed with less time and money. Now a days 170.3 million hectares are used for GM crops cultivation in 28 countries of the world and its cultivation is increasing day by day. The crop varieties which are developed by applying genetic engineering in different countries are soybean, corn, cotton, papaya, potato, sugar beet etc. are mentionable. In America (2012) about 69.5 million hectares of lands were used for cultivating GM corn, cotton, soybean, potato, squash and sugar beet. In Argentina and Brazil, GM corn, cotton and soybean are cultivated. In the same way, in Canada, canola, soybean, corn and sugar beet are cultivated; and in China cotton, papaya, tomato are also cultivated with other GM crops. In 1996 the land under GM crops was only 1.7 million hectares which increased up to 170.3 million hectare in 2012. Very recently, in Britain, the late blight resistant potato variety is developed (Dainik Kaler Kontha: 18 February, 2014).

It is normal that the new technologies are being developed in ages for human beings and these are also used for benefit of people. By obeying the intellectual property rights, trade related rights, patent rights and other forthcoming rules and regulations, the benefits GM crops are to be used by human beings. We should not be remaining silent as researchers. We should have mentality to develop new technology and also to accept it. This technology is considered as the best option for a country like Bangladesh with the challenge of food shortage and decreasing cultivable land.