Bt Brinjal

Brinjal, or eggplant, is one of the most important vegetables in South Asia. Grown mainly on small plots of land, brinjal in Bangladesh is a vital source of income for resource-poor family farmers across the country.

However, brinjal in Bangladesh is heavily affected by a pest called 'fruit and shoot borer', an insect that burrows into the plant and damages fruits, making them inedible. More than half the entire brinjal crop is lost in a typical year, and to protect their harvests farmers are forced to spray heavily with toxic pesticides.

Brinjal farmers in Bangladesh typically spray their crop every 1-2 days, or 80-100 times during the growing season. They generally wear no protective gear, and suffer many thousands of cases of pesticide poisoning as a result. Consumers also eat a product that can be laced with pesticide residues, and aquatic and environmental health is threatened by toxic runoff.

Using a gene donated by the Indian seed company Mahyco, Bangladeshi scientists developed brinjal that is resistant to fruit and shoot borer. This Bt brinjal - using the same Bt genes already used worldwide for over a decade against similar insect pests in corn and cotton - is now being made available to selected Bangladeshi farmers at no cost as part of government pesticide-reduction efforts.

Unfortunately, NGOs based in Bangladesh are lobbying heavily against Bt brinjal, and are trying to deny Bangladeshi brinjal farmers access to an innovation developed by their own government plant scientists. Some reports suggest that insecticide companies are also trying to undermine the rollout of Bt brinjal, fearing their markets will be threatened. Bangladeshi scientists have faced court cases and scare stories spread in the media about Bt brinjal.

Bt brinjal was also developed for India and the Philippines, but has been blocked in both countries by virulent political opposition. In India the government introduced a moratorium in 2010 under heavy lobbying pressure from anti-GMO groups. Indian brinjal farmers were thus denied access to a promising crop innovation, and today remain heavily dependent on pesticide sprays as the only way to control insect pests.

In the Philippines, Greenpeace activists damaged a Bt brinjal field trial being carried out at the University of the Philippines Los Banos in 2011. Further field trials were banned after a court injunction was obtained by activist groups including Greenpeace, and Filipino scientists are awaiting a judgement by the country's Supreme Court as to whether field trials will be allowed to resume. 

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