Filipino farmers anticipate approval of Bt eggplant cultivation which will spare farmers and consumers from harmful chemical sprays even as Bangladesh already approved Bt brinjal’s commercial release in its market.
Bangladesh’s National Committee on Biosafety approved in the last week of October the commercial release of Bt Bacillus thuringiensis brinjal, a genetically modified GM eggplant.
“We envy farmers in Bangladesh. Our farmers have been waiting for Bt eggplant. Farmers in Pangasinan and even those in the Ilocos Region are ready to plant it,” said Rosalie M. Ellasus, farmer-cooperator of the San Jacinto Kasakalikasan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SJK-MPC).
Bt eggplant has the protein gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium, the Bt, that can fight the highly-infesting fruit and shoot borer. Bt has been considered an organic, environment-friendly spray.
Eggplant is the most consumed vegetable in the Philippines, much like in other Asian countries including Bangladesh and India.
As of 2009, eggplant value in the Philippines, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, reached P3.13 billion for 200,942 metric tons. It was planted on 21,170 hectares mostly found in Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Cebu, and Quezon.
There was an estimated 30,243 eggplant farmers in the country planting on an average of 7,000 square meters as of 2009.
A farmer who plants rice, corn, and high value crops, Ellasus is currently planting Bt corn which is virtually of the same technology as that of Bt eggplant. She devotes almost 12 hectares of land for Bt corn at peak season.
She is readying a farm for Bt eggplant.
“Planting eggplant is profitable. I will also plant Bt eggplant once it’s available,” said Ellasus, also a councilor overseeing committee on agriculture at the San Jacinto municipality.
“Farmers who have experienced planting Bt corn know how convenient it is not to spray compared to if they plant traditional corn. I’ve been planting Bt corn since I had two hectares for demo trial in 2002.”
Bangladesh will have four of its popular eggplant varieties contain the pest-resistant trait of Bt eggplant. Names of Bangladesh’s varieties for brinjal, eggplant in Hindi, are Uttara, Kajla, Nayantara, and Iswardi.
In the Philippines, state-run Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (IPB-UPLB) is putting the Bt eggplant’s trait in local eggplant varieties including the Dumaguete Long Purple.
Reynaldo Cabanao, a Bukidnon-based farmer and Asian Farmers Regional Network ASFARNET) president, said farmers in Mindanao now similarly await Bt eggplant.
“Farmers are just waiting for Bt eggplant to commercialize. They’re ready to adopt it,” said Cabanao.
In Naguilian, Isabela, another ASFARNET representative-farmer, Isidro Acosta, likewise foresees an auspicious future for farmers who would use Bt eggplant.
Acosta helped Isabela vegetable farmers get oriented on Bt eggplant right at the testing site in Los Banos. Some 30 of them traveled to the trial site.
“Farmers have been waiting for Bt eggplant for a long time now. When we went to UPLB a few years ago, farmers were so eager to try it. They asked right then if they could buy the seeds. But we were told it wasn’t yet ready for sale,” said Acosta.
Acosta expects reduction, if not total elimination of pesticide spraying.
Farmers are known to spray eggplant 25 to 80 times during a 120 to 170-day growing season. They are afraid to suffer loss as the borer can cause destruction of 50 to 70 percent of eggplant harvest.
“The practice of farmers in Isabela is they spray eggplant two times a week. Our eggplant becomes heavily hit by chemicals,” said Acosta.
Bt eggplant has its own field trial in Mindanao. This is in University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato.
Through the field trial, farmers are able acknowledge Bt eggplant’s advantage since “to see is to believe,” said Cabanao.
“The strategy of some antis is to block commercialization of Bt eggplant because they know for sure some of their members will plant it when it’s commercialized. But there will be no stopping farmers from planting it,” said Cabanao.
Amid the benefits of Bt eggplant that are being proven by scientists, the Court of Appeals issued in May a writ of kalikasan that stopped continued testing of Bt eggplant.
Farmers’ practice poses danger not only to farmers who are spraying but to consumers.
Farmers do not always observe internationally accepted food safety practice of stopping spraying 30 days before harvest.
Serge .R. Francisco in “Projected Impact of Agricultural Biotechnologies for fruits and Vegetables in the Philippines and Indonesia” indicated the Philippines will have a net benefit of P3.297 billion from planting of eggplant.
This is from reduced insecticide use and an increase in yield by 40-50 percent due to the absence of pests.
The greater benefit is to consumers and to the environment.
“The net present value of adopting Bt eggplant was estimated at P1.864 billion with an internal rate of return of 86.8 percent. Consumers would also be safer because of reduced insecticide residues on the product,” Francisco said.
With the technology, eggplant production in the country will be able to comply with Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food safety standard . This will enhance Filipino produce’s marketability internationally.
“It will significantly reduce insecticide residues to maximum residue limit or MRL, the allowable limit set by FAO that will not cause health related problems to humans,” according to Mario Navasero, University of the Philippines-Los Banos entomologist.
The technology is good for water resources and for biodiversity.
“The reduction in pesticide use would lessen pesticide pollution of waterways and groundwater, reduce harm to non-target organisms, improve the abundance of flora and fauna in the soil, and minimize hazards posed to farm labor and consumers,” said Francisco.
A survey conducted by Dr. Cesar Quicoy of the College of Economics-UPLB showed farmers could never grow eggplant without using pesticide spray.
In Quezon, 100 percent of eggplant farmers spray their crops. Pangasinan farmers, 96 percent, and Batangas farmers, 97 percent, admitted to using chemical spray to grow eggplant.
Spraying accounts for 30 percent of production cost equivalent to P28,000 per hectare per season. Labor cost for pesticide application ranges from P2000 to P16,000 per hectare.
Farmers use five liters to as much as 115 liters per hectare per eggplant season. These cost farmers between P1,250 to P57,500 per hectare.
Using Bt eggplant, farmers will earn an additional P50,000 per hectare as they omit excessive spraying.
Prior to market release, Bt eggplant is expected to go through local government regulators’ stringent evaluation of field trials, nutrient analysis, and food safety tests of toxicity and allergenicity. This is even after the same Bt eggplant has passed food safety regulation in.
IPB-UPLB has been developing Bt Eggplant together with a consortium called Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project. Development cost is estimated at P29 million over 10 years. It is funded by UPLB, Department of Agriculture, and the United States Agency for International Development.
For any questions, kindly contact Ms. Rosalie M. Ellasus, 0906-483-9182; Mr. Isidro Acosta, 0917-518-1904; for interview requests, Ms. Analiza C. Mendoza, 0921-338-3816.