Agricultural biotechnologies deployed around the world are transforming food systems to produce more nutritious food with less environmental impact, with positive impacts for smallholder farmers in low-income countries. Bt eggplant is one such transformative technology, and its success was recently highlighted in a new book from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The book “Case Studies of the Use of Agricultural Biotechnologies to Meet the Needs of Smallholders in Developing Countries” features 15 studies across a range of species, regions and production systems. In the book, FAO identifies four key ingredients for the successful application of biotechnologies: partnerships between local researchers and relevant institutions with advanced research institutions and the private sector; long-term sustained commitment, financial and non-financial, from stakeholders in the initiative; political and/or financial support from national and/or local governments; and effective communication with farmers and stakeholders.
Bt eggplant, which is featured in a chapter highlighting ways the bioengineered food crop has improved food security and farmer incomes in Bangladesh, has been an exemplar across those four areas highlight by the FAO:
- Research partnerships: Bt eggplant has been developed, tested and studied for more than a decade in coordination between the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Cornell University and the private-sector company Mahyco;
- Sustained funding: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has supported initiatives for more than a decade, including the current Feed the Future Insect-Resistant Eggplant Partnership (IREP);
- National support: the Bangladesh government approved the release of four Bt eggplant varieties in 2013, the first country in South Asia to approve bioengineered food crop;
- Communication between farmers and stakeholders: IREP and preceding projects embedded farmer involvement and feedback to improve research and innovation.
In the decade since Bt eggplant first became available in Bangladesh, the varieties have significantly reduced input costs for farmers, enhanced the market value of the produce, and mitigated major health and environmental concerns posed by traditional eggplant cultivation that relies on large quantities of pesticides.
The Insect-Resistant Eggplant Partnership is funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. It is the latest in a series of USAID-funded projects led by Cornell that have strengthened capacity to develop and disseminate Bt eggplant in the Philippines and Bangladesh, first through the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII) and then the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership and the current IREP project.