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Mohammad Hafizur Rahman: Bt brinjal is needed

Mark Lynas

Mohammad Hafizur Rahman is a pioneer. An unassuming man living with his mother, brother, and sister in a small village a few hours north of Dhaka, Bangladesh, he is one of the first farmers in the developing world to grow a genetically modified food crop: so-called Bt brinjal, or eggplant.

Selected by government agricultural officers as one of only 108 farmers to grow the new crop last season, he is enthusiastic about the experience. "For the local varieties [of eggplant] I had to spray pesticide 2-3 times per week for the fruit and shoot borer pests," he says. Fruit and shoot borer is a caterpillar pest that destroys the plants and fruits. "Now I don't need to spray [for them]." With the new GMO eggplant, Rahman only spends a tenth as much on pesticides, and has noticed significant health improvements as a result.

Rahman knows the value of education. Having completed a diploma at the nearby Tangail Polytechnic Institute he considers himself an early adopter and is well educated compared to his peers in the village. "I implement my learning in the field," he says. "For this reason I think I am a progressive farmer and am trying to be self-reliant." Although he admits to not having much idea what a 'GMO' is, he knows the benefits of a pesticide-reducing crop when he sees one, and he both consumes Bt brinjal in the home and sells it at a premium in local markets.

He knows his experience is valuable too. "I hope local people will be inspired by my work and will be self-reliant. Unemployment may be banished by agricultural work. I have a younger brother who I hope will earn from agriculture." He appreciates the controversy surrounding Bt brinjal, which has been bitterly opposed by anti-GMO activist groups based in the capital. "Cultivating this variety benefits us. It should not be banned. It should be expanded across Bangladesh."

Rahman concludes: "All farmers of the country should be benefited, people in the country should be free from pesticides, and everyone should have sound health." These are sentiments that could be appreciated and shared by everyone around the world, where ecological agriculture using the latest science can both promote sustainability and reduce poverty. We should all learn from Hafizur Rahman.

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