Bangladesh plans to popularize controversial Bt brinjal

Environmentalists have been expressing serious concerns about biological and health hazards the new breed of brinjal may pose

The government plans to incentivise farmers to produce more genetically modified (GM) brinjal despite not having conducted any tests on its possible impact on human health and the environment.

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Challenges in commercializing biotech crops tackled in seminar

Challenges in commercializing biotech crops tackled in seminar

Socio-economic considerations, multiple agency review, labeling, and legal court challenges are the major obstacles in getting biotech crops to farmers, according to Senior Legal Consultant of the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) Atty. Gregory Jaffe, who presented in the Agriculture and Development Seminar Series (ADSS) of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on July 24, 2017 in his talk titled “GM Crops to Farmers: Curves in the Roads.” An example cited was the court case filed against Bt eggplant in the Philippines which is more of a procedural issue than a technical one. According to Atty. Jaffe, the key is transparent and predictable biosafety regulatory procedures that anticipate and address the said issues before a product is approved for release.

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Pangasinan stakeholders learn about Bt brinjal, affirm support for Bt talong

Pangasinan stakeholders learn about Bt brinjal, affirm support for Bt talong

Farmers, local government constituents, and other key stakeholders in the province of Pangasinan, Philippines expressed their backing for, and willingness to adopt Bt talong(eggplant) by signing a declaration of support for its commercialization during a seminar with key people involved in the development and commercialization of Bangladesh’s Bt brinjal last July 27, 2017 at Pangasinan State University (PSU)-Sta. Maria Campus.

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Bangladesh to release 3 more Bt brinjal varieties

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) will release three more varieties of the country’s first genetically modified (GM) crop–Bt Brinjal, which is infused with a pest-resistant gene.

BARI Director General Dr Abul Kalam Azad made the announcement at a workshop on “Bt Eggplant Research and Development,” at a hotel in Dhaka today.

“Bt technology is not a panacea. It works only against shoot and fruit borer. For other diseases, we must manage using other mechanisms,” he added.

Addressing the occasion, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said that government is ready to accept any advanced technology keeping in mind the safety of the people.

Currently, around 6,000 farmers in 36 districts are cultivating four Bt Brinjal verities— BARI Bt (Uttara), BARI Bt (Kajla), BARI Bt (Nayontar) and ISD006 Bt BARI.

Farmers from Rajshahi, Rangpur, Pabna and Gazipur started cultivating the Bt Brinjal for the first time in 2014. With the journey of cultivating Bt Brinjal, Bangladesh has joined a group of 29 countries that grow GM crops.

BARI Chief Scientific Officer ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan gave a presentation on “Performance of Bt Brinjal varieties at Farmers Field” and Prof Anthony M Shelton, director of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Project from Cornell University, also spoke at the function.

-Published in The Daily Star.  See original article link here.

PPPs: Planting the seeds of prosperity for Bangladeshi farmers

 
Local consumer buying eggplants at a market in Mohishaban, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

The eggplant, known in Asia as brinjal, is one of the most inexpensive and popular vegetable crops grown in Bangladesh, ranked only below the potato and onion in terms of total production. It is a major source of income for around 8 million smallholder farmers, and a mainstay in the diet of the nation’s 160 million people. However, the crop is constantly under threat from the fruit and shoot borer — a moth species whose larvae burrow into the eggplant, destroying it from within. If not controlled, the pest can damage up to 100 percent of a field of eggplants and threaten the smallholder farms that depend on it.

On his farm in northern Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman Sheikh told us that he has been growing brinjal for 10 years. While it’s not a difficult crop to grow, he said the impact of the fruit and shoot borer can be disastrous for eggplant farmers.

“Two years ago, 50 percent of my crop was lost to the borer,” he recounted. “I lost a lot of money and seriously considered giving up the crop altogether.”


Anisur Rahman Sheikh in his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Given the social and nutritional importance of the eggplant, public and private sector scientists and farmers have pooled their expertise to find both economically sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to tackle the pest.

Rahman Sheikh recently planted biotech eggplant for the first time. The biotech variety (Bt eggplant) repels or kills the fruit and shoot borer, and Rahman Sheikh is confident that it will make a difference for him and his family.

“Already, the plants look stronger and healthier,” he said. “I won’t know until the harvest, but the plants look good. I am expecting a good harvest with no losses.”

In fact, the Bt eggplant has shown close to 100 percent effectiveness in controlling pests. Not only have farmers’ incomes risen through increased yields, but the crop requires far fewer insecticide applications to reduce pests that threaten it.


Anisur Rahman Sheikh ploughing his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Rahman Sheikh explained that a good harvest will have a significant impact on his life.

“You see, my house is still not complete,” he said. “So if I get more crops, I get more profit and I can repair my house and I can contribute to my kids’ education, their health, and their safety.”

We visited plant scientist Hasan Tanbir from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the country’s public research body that helped bring the Bt eggplant to Bangladesh. BARI has been distributing saplings to farmers, and providing training on good stewardship and best practices. In a country where agriculture is so important to the economy, he said the adoption of new technology is vital.


Scientific Officer Hasan Tanbir at the On-Farm research Institute of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Bogra, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

“Over 90 percent of Bangladeshi people work in agriculture, and food security is very important to our country,” said Tanbir. “Farmers were becoming afraid to grow brinjal. But with the Bt gene inserted to fight the borer, farmers can be successful with an important crop. It is essential for these farmers.”

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The sorghum plant that could tackle blindness

Scientists in Kenya have taken a staple crop, sorghum, and enhanced its Vitamin A content to help fight chronic nutritional deficiencies that cause hundreds of thousands of children to go blind every year.

The insect-resistant Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was facilitated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Cornell University in very close collaboration with BARI. The project’s goal is to commercialize biotech crops to complement conventional agricultural approaches to help alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and boost food and nutrition security. The Bt eggplant was commercialized in Bangladesh in 2013.

Initially developed in the private sector, the Cry1-Ac protein produced in the Bt eggplant — and which repels the borer — is similar in structure to that found in nature, and is used commercially in the form of Bt-based biopesticides, often used by organic growers. Through a creative partnership and licensing agreement between private and public actors, the Bt eggplant is available to farmers who can most benefit, with no additional technology fees or royalties payable. In addition, farmers will not only be permitted, but actively encouraged, to save their seeds.

Just like the biotech sorghum plant that can tackle blindness, the Bt eggplant is another compelling example of how public and private sector expertise can pull together to meet huge global challenges such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. By harnessing our collective strengths, including research and development, manpower, resources and facilities, huge progress can be made.

-Written by Deb Carstoiu in devex,com.  See original article link here.

Second GM crop ready for release

Three years after the release of Bt Brinjal, Bangladesh is going to get its second genetically modified (GM) crop — a disease resistant potato — as scientists have sought government approval for its commercial use.

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, which has developed the blight resistant (RB) potato, applied on December 29 for the commercial release of the crop, Bari Director General Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal told The Daily Star yesterday.

GM crops are the ones whose DNA has been modified, in most cases, by introducing a new trait to the plant, thereby, giving it extra vigour either to resist diseases or withstand stress conditions.

Once released, RB potato will be farmers’ answer to late blight, one of the most devastating plant diseases caused by fungal attack. Farmers in Bangladesh spend up to Tk 100 crore a year in spraying 500 tonnes of fungicide to protect this major tuber crop from late blight.

With an annual output of nine million tonnes, Bangladesh is a potato exporting nation ranking 7th among the top potato-producing countries in the world.

Apart from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Uganda are also working on developing and releasing blight resistant GM potato.

According to the International Potato Center (CIP), potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people eat potato, and its worldwide production exceeds 300 million metric tonnes.

Late blight, responsible for the 19th century Irish potato famine that had led to one million deaths from starvation, still affects more than 3 million hectares of potato crops globally and causes economic losses estimated at $2.75 billion a year, according to the CIP, which is helping Uganda develop the GM potato.

Breeders involved in developing the RB potato since 2006 at Bari said the resistant gene was taken from wild potato varieties and was infused into a potato variety called Katahdin in the United States. They said it was crossed with Diamant and Cardinal — two popular potato varieties in Bangladesh.

After years of lab tests, greenhouse and contained field trials across the country, Bari scientists found out that RB potato succeeded in resisting the late blight. Later, they approached the Ministry of Agriculture for regulatory approval, said Md Jahangir Hossain, director of Bari’s Tuber Crops Research Centre (TCRC).

“Right in this season, I’m receiving many phone calls every day from Northern potato growers seeking advice for protecting their produces from blight attacks. Once approved, RB potato will bring them a big respite from the disease,” said Hossain.

He said farmers now have to spray costly fungicides in their fields several times during a cropping season to save their potato from late blight.

Md Abu Kawochar, a scientific officer at the TCRC, had told this correspondent that the final regulatory trials conducted at six sites in the country during the last potato season had shown positive results.

Bari developed the late blight resistant potato in cooperation with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), a USAID-funded consortium of public and private sector institutions supporting scientists, regulators, extension workers, farmers and the general public in developing countries to make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology.

Bari Director General Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal said once the Ministry of Agriculture would forward the approval application to the relevant biosafety regulatory committee, they would verify the matter. Once satisfied, the plea would be sent to the national biosafety body for approval.

He said the regulatory process would take a few more months to end.

RB potato would be the second commercially released GM food crop in South Asia after Bt Brinjal, which was also released by Bangladesh in 2013.

Empowered with a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) taken from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt Brinjal is resistant to Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), the deadliest brinjal pest.

After its release, Bari supplied Bt Brinjal plants to a limited number of farmers in 2014 and 2015. But since late 2016, the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) has been going for the crop’s large scale production across the country.

“Success with Bt Brinjal has led Bangladesh to prioritise the field testing of a new late blight resistant potato [an important crop occupying 0.5 million hectares of land in Bangladesh] which could be approved as early as 2017,” stated the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in its latest report titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech”.

ISAAA, a non-profit international organisation having three centres in New York (USA), Nairobi (Kenya), and Los Baños (the Philippines), keeps watch on production and expansion of biotech crops worldwide.

ISAAA recorded a 100-fold increase in global biotech acreage in just 20 years (from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015) making biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times and reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops.

-Written by Reaz Ahmad in The Daily Star.  See article link here.

Pinoy, foreign scientists re-tackle BT eggplant, biotech fears

You’ve heard the term biotechnology before. Defined as “any technique that uses whole or part of a living thing to make new products, improve or develop plants, animals and other organisms for specific use,” biotechnology has many applications. Biotechnology is responsible for life-saving vaccines and fertilizers.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), “Traditional biotechnology includes fermentation to produce common products such as vinegar, soy sauce and wine.”

ISAAA-SEARCA celebration
On April 29, ISAAA, together with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the global commercialization of biotech crops at a media conference in Muntinlupa City. Filipino and Bangladeshi scientists discussed advances made in the field of biotechnology in 2015. In particular, the conference highlighted the progress and acceptance of genetically modified eggplant, or Bt Brinjal, in Bangladesh.

ISAAA is “a not-for-profit international organization that shares the benefits of crop biotechnology to various stakeholders, particularly resource-poor farmers in developing countries, through knowledge sharing initiatives and the transfer and delivery of proprietary biotechnology applications.”

SEARCA is “a non-profit organization established by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) in 1966. As SEAMEO’s center of excellence in agriculture, SEARCA is mandated ‘to provide to the participating countries high quality graduate study in agriculture; promote, undertake, and coordinate research programs related to the needs and problems of the Southeast Asian region; and disseminate the findings of agricultural research and experimentation.’”

Lamenting the eggplant
In the welcome remarks, Dr. Gil Saguiguit, Jr., Director of SEARCA, commented that biotechnology is frequently bombarded by claims that it is detrimental to health. Such claims led to the Supreme Court decision to stop field tests on Bt eggplant in 2015.

In his message, Dr. Eufemio Rasco of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) said that though the Philippines was the first to develop Bt eggplant, Filipinos may never benefit from it. He compared the Philippine case to Bangladesh. “After seven years of field and greenhouse trials in various locations, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to approve the commercial planting of Bt brinjal.” Bt Brinjal was approved for release on October 30, 2013.

Rasco lamented, “The Bangladeshi people trusted their scientists, we did not (trust ours). Let us not allow temporary setbacks to dampen our commitment to help farmers and consumers.” He hoped that the concerns of farmers, and the issue of food security, would not be overlooked in the elections, or by the incoming government officials. The benefits of biotech will be enjoyed by generations to come, he prophesied.

The case of Bangladesh
Two Bangladeshi scientists spoke at the conference to share their experience with Bt Brinjal.

Dr. Gour Pada Das is the Country Coordinator of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership in Bangladesh. Das shared an analysis of published reports about Bt Brinjal, in the hopes of determining how media perceived the new crop. He explained that the media was a powerful ally in promoting the acceptance of Bt Brinjal, and he shared their efforts in helping media practitioners understand the science.

Dr. ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan is the Chief Scientific Officer and Head of the On-Farm Research Division at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). He shared that two important stakeholders were satisfied with Bt Brinjal: farmers and housewives. Farmers were interested to grow the four varieties that were approved for release, and they were rewarded with lower production cost, higher yield, and higher gross margins. Housewives were happy to have healthy fruit.

Public fears
The open forum was moderated by Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril, Program Director of Biotechnology Program Office at the Department of Agriculture. One question that arose was that of labeling. Detractors insist that biotech crops should be labeled as GMOs, and all products with ingredients that use biotech crops be appropriately labeled as well. But Das and Khan explained that Bangladeshi law makes no such requirement. Bt Brinjal, for example, is simply labeled “insect-free.”

Dr. Randy A. Hautea, Global Coordinator and Director of ISAAA’s Southeast Asia Center, explained that locally, biotech crops are sold in markets as simply “pesticide-free” or “insecticide-free.” He reasoned that labels should describe the product and its traits, providing information that matters to consumers. He further explained that almost all local tofu or “tokwa” is made from imported GM soybean. “What is the value of labeling it GM tokwa?”

Consequences of the Supreme Court ruling
Inevitably, Hautea was asked to comment on the Supreme Court ruling to stop field tests on Bt eggplant. He explained that ultimately, the case has not been decided, and that the court has entertained all motions for reconsideration.

As a representative from the DA, Mamaril quelled fears that other biotech crops would be affected by the Supreme Court ruling. He explained that previous approvals of other biotech crops were in no danger of being repealed, and farmers could continue planting them if they wished.

In closing, Hautea hoped the Philippines would learn from the experience of Bangladesh, identifying parallels in between the two countries’ developments in various fields of science and technology as well. He hoped that “we will share the same political will their government exhibited in the case of Bt Brinjal, so that we also put the weight of government behind a stronger push for science and technology in this country.”

With a new government in place, Filipino scientists can only hope for the best. — TJD, GMA News

–Written by Regina Laug-Rosero, GMA News Online.  See article link here.