Abdul Hossain, a brinjal growing farmer from Rangpur district of Bangladesh, is into his second year of enjoying the benefits from the cultivation of Bt brinjal in his one-fourth acre of land. In 2017 – 18, Abdul planted Bt brinjal for the first time in his fields and earned US $1675 by harvesting and marketing 10471 Kg of BARI Bt brinjal - 4 variety. This year his fields look very well managed and promise huge yields. He is excited and looking forward to harvesting an even higher amount of Bt brinjal fruits. With a higher market price of brinjal this year, he is expecting significantly higher earnings than last year. In the first harvest of the season, he has already reaped 569 kg’s of fruits.
The success of the technology is reflected in the socio-economic impact realized by farmers like Abdul. Bt brinjal has gotten off to a good start in Bangladesh with increased yearly adoption and very favorable socioeconomic benefits. Studies conducted by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) during the On-Farm Research Division (OFRD) trials of Bt brinjal indicate that performance of Bt brinjal is far superior to non-Bt brinjal, with negligible fruit infestations in Bt brinjal compared to 45% in the non-Bt brinjal. Farmers have realized net returns to the tune of US $2,151/ha for Bt brinjal per hectare as compared to $357/ha for non-Bt brinjal, a six-fold increase1. Farmers are reported to have saved at least 60% on pesticide cost2 compared to non- Bt brinjal farmers.
Since its commercialization, BARI has been the sole producer of seed for the four approved Bt brinjal varieties, but has recently provided breeder seed to the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) to further increase seed quantities. BADC’s seed production officers of Bangladesh expressed their excitement with the enormous volumes of Bt brinjal seeds produced from the fields, compared to the non-Bt brinjal varieties.
Bt brinjal seed producers from the Rangpur Seed Production farm of BADC have planted BARI Bt brinjal - 2 in about half an acre of land and are expecting more than double their target seed production. Even though Bt brinjal seedlings of BARI Bt Brinjal-1 were planted late in the Regional Research Station at Burirhat, Rangpur, they are expecting 10 Kg of seed from one-sixth acre (16.5 decimal) of land.
Rafiqul Islam Fakir from Rangpur district was inspired by scientific officers and assistants of OFRD, BARI and shifted to Bt brinjal cultivation in 2017. He has benefited tremendously financially. Thrilled with the huge benefits, he is not only excited to continue Bt brinjal cultivation but has started motivating other brinjal farmers to shift to Bt brinjal cultivation. Rafiqul started to grow Bt brinjal seeds in his fields to increase availability of seedlings in his area. Already he has harvested about 9000 seedlings from the 1200 seedlings of BARI Bt brinjal planted in his fields. Rafiqul has earned an additional US $90 by selling these seedlings to 5 farmers from his locality at US$ 10 per 1000 seedling. This year, he is looking forward to harvesting huge volumes of fruits of BARI Bt brinjal - 2 planted in one-fourth acre of land. Farmer’s like Rafiqul are not only enjoying the benefits of the technology, but are taking the extra effort to spread the technology among other farmers.
The Bt brinjal controls the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (BFSB) without the need for supplemental sprays to control it. Nevertheless, a few additional sprays are needed to control insects like thrips, aphids and other ‘sucking insects’ that are not susceptible to the Bt protein produced by the plant. Studies have shown that such sprays are only needed infrequently. However, another pest also not controlled by Bt brinjal is the bacterial wilt disease which lingers in many of the soils in Bangladesh. Bacterial wilt is best controlled by using plants that are resistant to the disease. Increased incidence of bacterial wilt in the last few years caused the three brothers (Proshanta Chandra Sarker, Santosh Chandra Sarher and Sangkar Chandra Sarker), from a brinjal growing family of Rangur district, apprehensive to continue with brinjal cultivation. Wilt infection in the brinjal fruits has significantly reduced the fruit yield and the earnings of the farmers. This year the scientific team of BARI grafted Bt brinjal seedlings onto bacterial wilt resistant brinjal varieties. These grafted Bt brinjal seedlings control wilt incidence and the brinjal fruit and shoot borer, thus contributing to enhanced returns for the farmers. Encouraged by scientific officers of BARI, the three brothers were excited to cultivate grafted Bt brinjal. All three of them planted grafted Bt brinjal seedlings along with non-Bt brinjal plants in three different plots. They were excited to see the promising performance of the grafted Bt brinjal fields as compared to their counterparts and are looking forward to much higher yield and returns from the grafted Bt brinjal fields.
From 20 farmers in 2014, the country has witnessed more than 27,0003 farmers cultivating and reaping the benefits of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh in 2018. Strong political will and support led to commercialization and wider adoption of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. In the coming years, the technology it is further destined to impact the lives of 150,000 brinjal growing farmers of Bangladesh.
All photos by Dr. Jahangir Hossain, Country Coordinator, FtFBP - Bangladesh
1. Rashid, MA, MK Hasan and MA Matin. 2018. Socio-economic performance of Bt eggplant cultivation in Bangladesh. Bangladesh J.Agril. Res. 43(2): 187-203.
2. Prodhan, M.Z.H., M.T. Hasan, M.M.I. Chowdhury, M.S. Alam , M.L. Rahman , A.K. Azad, M.J. Hossain, Steven E. Naranjo and Anthony M. Shelton. Bt Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) in Bangladesh: Fruit Production and Control of Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenee), Effects on Non-Target Arthropods and Economic Returns. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0205713. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0205713
3. Shelton AM, Hossain MJ, Paranjape V, Azad AK, Rahman ML, Khan ASMMR, Prodhan MZH, Rashid MA, Majumder R, Hossain MA, Hussain SS, Huesing JE and McCandless L (2018) Bt Eggplant Project in Bangladesh: History, Present Status, and Future Direction. Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 6:106. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2018.00106
The US Ambassador to Bangladesh congratulated the nation on moving forward with genetically modified food crops after viewing a demonstration plot growing pest-resistant Bt brinjal (eggplant).
“I’m pleased the [Bangladesh] Ministry of Agriculture and other bodies are working so hard to educate farmers and looking at ways to mitigate this pest, including by expediting registrations of new products – especially biological control products – to help farmers,” said Ambassador Earl R. Miller after seeing plantings of brinjal (eggplant) genetically engineered to resist the destructive fruit and shoot borer pest.
Miller was accompanied by his wife, Michele Adelman, USAID Deputy Mission Director Zeinah Salahi and other USAID officials during their Feb. 11 visit to a Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), in Jashore, where they met with Bangladeshi scientists and brinjal farmers.
USAID collaborated with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Cornell University in developing the pest-resistant brinjal under the Feed the Future Bangladesh project. It was the first GM good crop approved for commercial use in South Asia, making Bangladesh a regional pioneer in agricultural innovation. Adelman, a Cornell alumnus, was delighted to see the university’s logo at the research station.
The Bangladeshi government approved four Bt brinjal varieties for release in October 2013, and first distributed seeds to 20 farmers in four districts in January 2014. Adoption has increased dramatically since then, with more than 27,000 farmers now growing Bt brinjal across all districts of Bangladesh.
A recent BARI study, published in PloS One, confirmed that farmers could earn higher economic margins on Bt brinjal than on conventional varieties, due to reduced insecticide sprays and increased yields.
The delegation also toured key USAID agriculture, labor and food assistance programs in Jashore and Khulna, including field trials of GM maize, where the Millers expressed keen interest in the devastating impacts of fall armyworm and the ability of GM maize to resist the pest.
Mohammad Abul Hossain is living proof that farmers can reap tremendous benefits from agricultural science.
Like most of the approximately 150,000 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh, Hossain grows brinjal, a crop also known as eggplant and aubergine. And like those other farmers, he used to experience tremendous losses due to the fruit and shoot borer, a destructive pest that reduces brinjal yields and cuts into farmer profits.
Hossain had tried to fight the pest with insecticides. In Bangladesh, brinjal farmers typically spray insecticides two or three times per week — a rate that can increase to twice per day as harvest nears. Insecticides can account for 40 percent of a farmers’ total production cost, while also inflicting severe impacts on human and environmental health. Worse, they’re often ineffective, leaving farmers with yields reduced by 30 to 60 percent.
So when Hossain heard about Bt brinjal, a genetically engineered eggplant variety that is resistant to the fruit and shoot borer, he wanted to learn more. Developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in cooperation with Cornell University, USAID and other partners, Bt brinjal is the first genetically engineered crop to be commercially released in Bangladesh. It contains a protein from a common soil bacterium that has been used to fight pests in organic crops around the world for more than 70 years.
Though his curiosity was piqued by the 2014 release of Bt brinjal, Hossain decided to hold back for a year and observe its performance in a relative’s field. “Realizing its potential, I contacted BARI, met the officials and collected seed from the research station free of cost,” he recalled.
Following the suggestion of BARI scientists, Hossain planted one line of conventional, non-Bt brinjal around his field as a refuge crop to help protect the Bt brinjal from the fruit and shoot borer pest. After his first abundant harvest, he was so impressed that he began sharing what he knew with other farmers in his area.
“I have sold about 8,056 kg (17,760 lbs) of Bt brinjal from my land,” Hossain recently told a group of more than 60 local farmers. “There was no [borer] infestation in my crop, and I am expecting to harvest another 400 kg (881 lbs) of brinjal from the field with the same result.” Rather than spraying insecticides on a weekly basis, Hossain applied insecticides just two or three times during the entire season to protect against other insect pests.
In six months, Hossain earned about $1,600 growing Bt brinjal on a small piece of land. By comparison, he earned just $275 growing corn in the same field. Given the increased profits and reduced pesticide use, he thinks Bt brinjal will create hope among neighboring farmers who struggle to earn a livelihood from their land.
Hossain, 55, has been farming for 15 years, raising vegetables, rice, corn and potatoes on nearly three acres of land. He also tends fruit orchards, a pond for aquaculture and cattle. With a background in business, Hossain is considered a cutting-edge farmer who pays careful attention to production methods and crop diversity. His interest in agriculture is so keen that he encouraged his son to earn an agriculture diploma course in a local institute.
Now he sees that science and technology can also help his farm thrive. “I am a good example of a successful Bt brinjal grower,” he said. “Look in my field, all my efforts are reflected in the field with this high yielding Bt brinjal production.”
Others are now following his example. The number of farmers growing Bt brinjal jumped from just 20 in 2014 to 25,520 by 2018, with more adopting the improved crop each day. Many of them have reported a six-fold increase in their incomes. It is estimated that widespread cultivation of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh will result in a benefit of more than $200 million for the nation’s smallholder farmers.
The Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership (FTFB) in collaboration with Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Sathguru Management Consultants organized a day-long meeting titled “Bt Brinjal Project Progress Review Meeting” at the Six Seasons Hotel, Dhaka on September 13, 2018.
FTFBP project management and officials of BARI, USAID-Misson, Department of Agricultural Extension and Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation attended the meeting and shared their knowledge and experience of the successful adoption of Bt brinjal during the last three years. Participants discussed strategies for sustainable adoption of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. They also discussed the status of Bt brinjal in the Philippines and emphasized the major efforts for commercialization and adoption of the expected varieties.
Bt brinjal, Bangladesh’s first genetically engineered food crop, released earlier in 2013, has been successful with an increased adoption to about 33000 farmers in the 2017-2018 season. Studies have shown that farmers received a 6-fold increase in the net returns with no harmful effects of Bt brinjal varieties on non-target organism, allowing the growers to reduce the use of insecticide by 61-98%. BARI has applied for the release of three additional high yielding Bt brinjal varieties suitable to a wider geographic area. The institute has adopted more rigorous stewardship practices to sustain the success of Bt brinjal in the future.
The Feed the Future Biotechnology Partnership consortium offers an integrated, demand-driven approach to boost food security and economic growth by introducing and stewarding agricultural biotechnology to food cropping systems in Bangladesh and the Philippines. USAID provided a three-year (2015 – 2018) award under the Feed the Future Biotechnology Partnership to facilitate the late-stage development, deregulation, commercialization and dissemination of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh and Philippines.
After the successful release of four varieties of Bt eggplant in 2013, adoption rate of the technology among Bangladeshi farmers has increased steadfastly – from 20 farmers in 2013-14 to over 6500 towards the end of 2017. In the light of accelerated adoption by farmers through strong support and collaboration from BARI and Ministry of Agriculture, sustainability of the technology has become a priority for boosting agricultural productivity in the country.
As a part of the post-commercialization stewardship efforts through capacity building initiatives under the aegis of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership (FtFBP), a team constituting of trainers from Mahyco – Dr. Pankaj Bihani, Mr. Amalan Murugesan, Mr. Ratnapal Gandhi, and Dr. Smitha Kurup (via audio conference), with support from Dr. Vijay Paranjape and Dr. Sheetal Menon from Sathguru Management Consultants, visited Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) for conducting a four-day training on ‘Gene Equivalency and Maintaining Line Purity’. This training module was designed to expose participants on the importance of quality seed production of Bt eggplant varieties for supplying to farmers.
Twelve participants including scientific and technical staff, members from plant breeding and seed production from BARI, and officials from Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) were invited for hands-on training on advanced molecular techniques like PCR (for DNA-based detection) and Quantitative ELISA (for protein-based detection and quantification) for establishing gene equivalency for EE-1 event and maintaining line purity of Bt eggplant varieties released for seed distribution. The modules included experimental techniques and procedures for quantitative ELISA, event-specific PCR and zygosity PCR. Activities included sample preparation using DNA and protein extraction methods, electrophoresis gel preparation and sample loading, sample processing and interpretation of results. A session on ‘Maintaining Line Purity’ was conducted via audio conferencing by Dr. Smitha Kurup, Mahyco, to discuss the importance of stewardship during breeding phase.
The closing ceremony was graced by Dr. Abul Kalam Azad, Director General, BARI, along with Dr. Dil Afroza, Head of Biotechnology Division, BARI, and Dr. Vijay Paranjape, FtFBP Stewardship Coordinator for Bangladesh.
In extending his appreciation for the training, Dr. Azad said that scientists of BARI, and BADC would benefit from such hands-on initiatives to maintain quality at each stage of the product’s life cycle. This would go a long way in ensuring that farmers are distributed quality seeds of Bt eggplant, added Dr. Azad.
Dr. Vijay further explained, “The training at BARI is being organized to achieve the larger goal of ensuring long-term sustainability of the technology and maintain longevity of the product. We are hopeful that participants understand the importance of these techniques for testing presence of event and its expression in the seeds used for distribution”.
Collective efforts of Dr. Jahangir Hossain, Country Coordinator of FtFBP and Dr. Dil Afroza, Head of Biotechnology Division, BARI, led to successful fruition and implementation of the training sessions, with representation from relevant stakeholders involved in the Bt eggplant project. Dr. Pankaj from Mahyco encouraged participants to apply these techniques to regularly testing seeds for the presence of the event and quantification of protein expression in the end product. The major takeaway for the participants was the need to imbibe the culture of stewardship at every stage of the product life cycle for ensuring long term sustainability of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh.
“Political will, policy support, effective stewardship and communication are key to the successful and sustainable adoption of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries,” said Vijay Paranjape, stewardship coordinator of the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership. Using the example of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, Paranjape emphasised continuous stewardship and communication programmes in the successful adoption of genetically engineered (GE) Bt brinjal and other GE crops. He made his remarks in a panel discussion of the Bangalore Technology Summit 2017 on November 16 that brought together national and international experts, thought leaders, technocrats, researchers, investors and policy makers.
“Stewardship and regulatory practices adopted by technology developers need to be made known to all stakeholders and not just the regulators to make the technology durable,” said Paranjape. He also said that farmers in developing countries like Bangladesh who have limited resources need to focus on technological advances for better food production.
Agricultural biotechnology has the potential to provide more food and better nutrition in addressing challenges related to climate change, according to Paranjape. “Proper stewardship and behavioural changes of growers are equally important in keeping the viability and effectiveness of commercialised GE crop varieties.”
He also said that field level performance and durability of Bt brinjal will affect the success of Golden Rice, Late Blight Resistant Potato, Bt cotton, Salt Tolerant Rice and other GE crop research and development in Bangladesh.
Bt brinjal is the first commercially released genetically engineered food crop in Bangladesh. The field demonstrations conducted from 2014 to 2017 shows the benefits of Bt brinjal in controlling the fruit and shoot borer. Farmers are highly satisfied with their experiences.
The crop was initially developed in India but not permitted for commercial cultivation due to strong opposition from NGO and anti-GM activists. Realizing the need for scientific innovation and adoption of modern agricultural technologies for food security, political and agricultural leaders in Bangladesh took the bold step of commercializing Bt brinjal.
The Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership provides post commercial stewardship and communication support for Bt brinjal in Bangladesh in collaboration with Cornell University and Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), with support from the USAID.
Bangladesh is the first country in South Asia to commercialize a genetically modified food crop – Bt eggplant. Bangladesh granted approval for the release of four varieties of Bt eggplant on October 30, 2013. The number of farmers cultivating Bt brinjal in Bangladesh has risen from 20 to 108 to 250 to 5512 from 2014 to 2016 — a clear indication of the benefits of Bt technology in controlling the fruit and shoot borer and growers’ positive experience with the improved varieties. Bangladesh is planning to release other genetically modified crops currently in the advanced stages of research, including Late Blight Resistant Potato and Golden Rice.
With agrarian models undergoing a paradigm shift in Bangladesh, it is imperative that researchers, academics, seed production experts, extension professionals as well as farmers are appraised about the effective stewardship of biotech crops both pre- and post-launch as key to sustainable production. In this regard, a training program on “Stewardship for Biotech Crops” for the researchers of the key biotech projects in Bangladesh was organized under the aegis of Feed the Future Biotechnology Partnership (FtFBP) South Asia Eggplant Improvement Program in partnership with Mahyco at Dawalwadi, Mahyco from September 8–9, 2017.
The objective of the training was to expose scientists to the concept of “Excellence through Stewardship” (ETS) as a life cycle approach to product management. Once exposed to the concept, researchers are expected to make conscious efforts toward quality management through structured systems and processes to establish stewardship and maintain quality in each phase of a product’s life cycle.
Twenty people associated with the development of the transgenics of these three crops attended the two-day training program, including scientists from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), officials from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) and representative from the Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh, as well as Bt brinjal project implementers from the Philippines.
The experts oriented participants on the importance of stewardship in maintaining the plant product integrity of genetically modified crops and what aspects needed to be taken care of at each stage of development. The various modules discussed involved: research in the laboratory, breeding for trait introgression in contained facilities, trait testing, quantification and purity, confined field trials, plant and seed multiplication, commercial plant and seed distribution, quality assurance, product launch stewardship and product discontinuation, incidence response management and resistance management. Experts also oriented the participants on Quantitative ELISA and PCR testing kits and the best practices adopted in Insect Resistance Management.
The participants also attended the 5th Annual South Asia Biosafety Conference at Bangalore, where they had the opportunity to interact with leading biotech researchers and regulators in South Asia. They had the opportunity to understand the regulatory processes adopted by neighboring nations and the latest advancements in crop biotechnology in the region. During the optional workshop on “Best Practices for Public Sector Genetically Engineered Product Development Programs,” the participants were appraised about the various case-by-case challenges faced by Indian researchers.
As an outcome of the program, participants are now encouraged to adopt a stewardship culture across their biotech projects. With all the stakeholders comprehensively appraised about the process, the teams will gear up to identify areas of improvement in the life cycle of their projects. The FtFBP South Asia Eggplant Improvement Program will further guide the researchers in developing a robust and customized stewardship process for strengthening existing quality management systems to achieve and maintain plant product integrity.