Saturday, August 30, 2014


On 30th December 2013, Bangladesh approved the official release of four genetically modified varieties of insect-resistant Bt Brinjal for initial commercialization. Subsequently, on January 22, 2014, the seedlings of four Bt Brinjal varieties designated as Bt Brijal-1, Bt Brijal-2, Bt Brijal-3 and Bt Brijal-4 were distributed by Ms. Motia Chowdhury, Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Bangladesh to twenty small brinjal farmers of Bangladesh to undertake production of Bt Brinjal in a total area of two hectares to start with. Interestingly, the Government of Bangladesh was piloting the propagation of Bt Brinjal.

The authorization for limited commercial cultivation was subjected to stringent conditions to preparation of fields, maintenance of isolation distance, management of border row by planting local and indigenous non-Bt varieties, planting of a structure refuge of 5% with non-Bt varieties around the Bt Brinjal plot, marketing of Bt Brinjal as per seed leveling etc. The commercial plantation sites would be under surveillance of National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) and Biosafety Core Committee (BCC) of Bangladesh.

Earlier, the Bt Brinjal varieties were developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of Bangladesh. The release of the Bt Brijal varieties by the Honorable Minister succeeds the recommendation and approval of the four varieties by the Bangladesh Agricultural Council (BARC), Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of Bangladesh and the National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) of the Ministry of Environment of Bangladesh. The four Bt varieties developed by BARI was through back-crossing of non-Bt varieties locally known as Uttara, Kajla, Nayantara and Ishurdi/ISD006 respectively with Bt Brinjal Elite Event (EE1) obtained from the Indian seed company Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. (MAHYCO), Jalna (INDIA) through the US Cornell University-led Biotech Support Project II. BARI infiltrated the Bt genes of event EE-1 into locally adopted and commercially popular brinjals of Bangladesh through repeated back-crossing. The varieties chosen were Uttara, Kajla, Nayantara and Ishurdi/ISD006 as mentioned above.

MAHYCO donated the EE1 to BARI in 2005 in a public-private partnership arrangement. The Bt Brinjal EE1 contains Cry1Ac gene and expresses insecticidal protein cry1Ac in whole plant and fruit parts. This protein is toxic to fruit and shoot borers (FBS). In Brinjal cultivation, particularly the FBS Leucinodes orbonalis creates considerable loss to the plant and to the fruits, rendering the latter unsuitable for marketing. The Bt Brinjal developed by BARI effectively prevents attack from FBS Leucinodes orbonali.

Between the period from 2005 to 2013, extensive experimentation was carried out by the authorities of Bangladesh. From such studies, it was concluded that Bt Brinjal could elevate the yields by above 30% over the non-Bt Brinjals and would reduce the spray of insecticides by 70-90%. These benefits would result in substantial net economic gain to the growers.

After the seedlings of the Bt Brinjal varieties were distributed by the Minister of Agriculture of Bangladesh in January 2014, the produce has started to enter the Bangladesh market. Several of the twenty farmers who received the Bt seedlings have shown great satisfaction as they have started to gain economically. It has been calculated that the economic benefit could be as high as over US$ 1800 per hectare where the annual per capita income in Bangladesh is only US$ 700; the gain is therefore substantial!

It is anticipated that the initial landmark decision of the Government of Bangladesh to distribute seedlings of four Bt Brinjal varieties would go a long way and over the years more of Bt Brinjal would be grown. This is more so because the varieties are open pollinated and farmers can save seeds for re-sowing in the next seasons. If the results of the commercial cultivation started in a small area of two hectares show substantial benefits, there is no reason why this would not create a great impact in uplifting the economy of the poor cultivators of Bangladesh. Brinjal is stated to be grown in Bangladesh in about 50,000 hectares of arable land by about 150,000 farmers of the country.

Of all the diseases of Brinjal, infestation from FBS is a major cause of loss. However, the plant is also affected by several other diseases like bacterial wilt and little leaf diseases. It is anticipated that the experiment of Bangladesh started in a small way will make room for doing more research to develop varieties that are resistant to other diseases of Brinjal too.
If the above story succeeds, we can guess that Bt varieties would also be introduced in rice, sugarcane, potato, maize and several other vegetables thereby making the availability of plenty of food from the arable land.

The Bangladesh experiment shall be an eye-opener for many other countries all over the world.

Source:; B, Nasiruddin KM and Gaur K, 2014, The Status of Commercialized Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh, ISAAA Brief No. 47, ISAAA: Ithaca, NY;;