Globally the seed industry is undergoing significant transformation due to rapid strides made in trait development, trait convergence, and smarter reach of products to growers and application of information analytics for strategic business growth. There is a need for the Bangladesh seed sector to prepare themselves for the changing dynamics of markets, technology flow, regulatory frameworks and the strategic convergence of the Agri input industry to ensure complete solutions to farmers. Most of the plant breeding activities in Bangladesh take place in the public domain. However, to meet the growing demand of smallholder farmers for good-quality and better-performing varieties, NGOs and private companies are also getting involved in plant breeding activities. In this context, “Seed Industry Program”, the first of its kind in Bangladesh was organized by Cornell University, USA and Sathguru Management Consultants, India under the aegis of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership (FtFBP) at Dhaka, Bangladesh from January 19-20, 2020. The program was based on the thematic areas of seed technology, regulations, quality, markets, and strategy. In Bangladesh, the private sector is currently growing and dominating the supply of hybrid rice, maize, potato, jute and vegetables whereas the public sector is leading in inbred rice, minor cereals, pulses, oilseed and horticultural crops. But the supply of quality seeds is a major cause of concern and is inadequate when compared to the demand. The program facilitated discussions focusing on the possible ways in which public and private seed sector may enhance their contributions in seed delivery through innovative delivery models.
Ronnie Coffman, Director, IP-CALS, made the opening remarks to the session and the program was officially inaugurated by Md. Nasiruzzaman, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was chaired by Dr. Shaikh Mohammad Bokhtiar, Executive Chairman, BARC, Dhaka. John Smith- Sreen, Director-Feed the Future, EGO, Dhaka, USAID was the Guest of Honor for the event. Md. Nasiruzzaman during his inaugural talk was supportive of the introduction of Bt corn in the country to combat the challenges faced by the corn pest, fall armyworm. The workshop was an opportunity for the Ministry of Agriculture to interact with the public and private sector and to hear out the opportunities and challenges.
The two-day seed program provided comprehensive exposure to global and Bangladesh perspectives on biotech crops, quality seed production and suitable marketing strategies to professionals associated with private public seed systems. The program also provided valuable insights into research and technology management, technology licensing, access and dissemination approaches, seed production, processing, testing, certification, driving diversity and striving for market dominance. The faculty included international experts from industry and public sector who gave presentations on range of topics that included:
Biotechnology trends and impact on technology advancements
Global seed markets and opportunities for Bangladesh companies
Steps in developing and testing GM products
Biotech research policy and regulations in Bangladesh
Technology licensing, development, access and dissemination approaches
Bangladesh Seed Industry - Current state and trend in Variety Development
GM Crops - Opportunities and constraints in product development for private sector in Bangladesh
Patents and Plant Variety Protection intricacies, and its impact on trait development and delivery
Supply chain dynamics of seed industry
Quality control, testing and delivery criteria for seeds of vegetable and field cropsand regulatory requirements for quality seed delivery
Seed certification system of Bangladesh
Mobile Agri & IT solutions in Seed Industry
Golden Rice - Product development perspective
Way forward towards building sustained Bt eggplant adoption in farmer fields of Bangladesh
Case Study – Delivering Genetic Gains in Wheat (DGGW) Model (Genetic gains through seed access
The program was attended by more than fifty seed professionals from private and public sector representing research, quality assurance, marketing, sales, supply chain and regulatory functions. The Bangladesh seed industry was represented by participation from companies that included Supreme Seed Company, Lal Teer Seed Ltd, Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI), Bayer Crop Sciences, Metal Agro Ltd and Ispahani Agro. The public sector was represented mainly by participants from Ministry of Agriculture, BARI, BADC, DAE, BRRI, BARC and Universities. The participants got an opportunity to learn about the approaches and strategies for quality seed production and also gained exposure aligning to various forces influencing seed industry dynamics and prepare themselves to gain and retain a competitive advantage.
The Program concluded by a panel discussion moderated by Ronnie Coffman and Dr. Vijay Paranjape. The Panelists represented public and private sector, USAID and Ministry of Agriculture. The topic of the panel discussion was “Driving diversity and self-sufficiency for seeds in Bangladesh”. The discussion identified the necessity for better forecasting mechanisms for seed production. Bangladesh’s private sector emphasized the importance of PPPs and linkages to strengthen the seed sector of the country. They also expressed a need to promote the private sector and to involve more in R & D activities in collaboration with the public sector and extension services in different elements of seed value chain. The outcomes of the entire program were very fruitful as expressed by several participants. To summarize, there was a pertinent enthusiasm and positivity from the Bangladesh seed industry for implementing GM crop seeds and improvising their seed system.
A new study confirms that genetically modified pest-resistant eggplant (Bt brinjal) has successfully reduced pesticide use and improved livelihoods among the Bangladeshi farmers who grow it.
Conventionally grown brinjal is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in South Asia. Historically, brinjal farmers have sprayed as many as 84 times in a growing season to protect their crops. This prompted scientists at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) to develop a pest-resistant variety as an alternative to insecticide use.
The study, prepared for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) with support from BARI and Cornell University, found that Bt brinjal has met that goal. It documented a 39 percent reduction overall in the quantity of pesticides used and a 51 percent reduction in the number of times that farmers applied pesticides to their brinjal crop.
Though an earlier study found that Bt brinjal confers almost total protection against eggplant fruit and shoot borer (FSB), the crop’s most destructive pest, farmers are still using some pesticides to control other harmful insects.
Though Bt brinjal was engineered specifically to resist the FSB, it also helps to reduce infestations of other harmful insect pests, the study found. Populations of harmful leaf-eating beetles, mites and mealy or leaf wing bugs were lower in Bt brinjal than the non-Bt varieties.
Other studies are currently under way to identify ways of controlling some of the crop’s secondary pests, such as mites and white fly, so that brinjal farmers can further improve their gross returns and minimize insecticide use.
The IFPRI study also found that cultivation of Bt brinjal resulted in a 41 percent reduction in the toxicity of pesticides applied, as measured by the Pesticide Use Toxicity Score (PUTS), and a 10 percent reduction in the likelihood of reporting symptoms consistent with pesticide poisoning.
In addition to human and environmental health benefits, farmers who grow Bt brinjal have experienced financial gains from their decreased use of pesticides. The study documented a 47 percent reduction in the cost of applying pesticides and a 31 percent reduction overall in the cost of growing brinjal.
Meanwhile, farmers enjoyed a 41 percent increase in net yields from growing Bt brinjal. Higher yields and lower production costs resulted in a 27 percent increase in gross revenues per hectare, with Bt brinjal farmers realizing a gain of 38,063 taka (US$450) per hectare in net profits.
This is significant in Bangladesh, where the average annual household income per capita was just $600 in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available.
The partnership is a collaboration between USAID, Cornell University, BARI, the Cornell Alliance for Science and the University of the Philippines at Los Banos, which is preparing to submit a regulatory dossier to support commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal so farmers in the Philippines can enjoy similar benefits.
Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to approve commercial cultivation of a genetically engineered food crop. Smallholder farmers have rapidly adopted Bt brinjal, from just 20 when it was first introduced in 2014 to more than 27,000 across all districts of Bangladesh.
The IFPRI study was conducted in 2017-18 and involved more than 1,200 farmers in the Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions.
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.