One of the most grown vegetables in the country gets a huge yield boost thanks to biotech
Eggplant is the second most important vegetable grown in Bangladesh, with a total production of over 507,000 tons in 2018. It’s grown in almost all seasons with 100 different varieties under cultivation in the country, offering fruits of different colors, sizes, shapes, and tastes.
But crops are challenged by insect infestation, specifically the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), which causes between 30 and 60% yield loss. EFSB larvae damage the eggplant shoots and flowers but the most serious damage is caused by their boring into the fruit.
Seeking new ways to tackle the problem, farmers have started using insect-resistant and genetically engineered eggplants as part of a biotechnology support program. The modified seeds provided them with a much higher yield, leading to extended use in the country by farmers.
The four genetically engineered (Bt) varieties yielded, on average, 19.6% more eggplant than non-Bt varieties and earned farmers 21.7% more revenue, according to the results reported by Cornell University researchers in a recent study. The additional revenue per hectare is the equivalent of around $664 -- that's a lot for a country where the average salary is $150 a month.
The genetically modified eggplants were developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in an alliance with the Indian agricultural firm Mahyco, Cornell University, and the U.S. Agency for International Development – a joint effort to stop the losses from EFSB.
"Farmers typically apply insecticides more than 80 times during the four- to five-month eggplant growing season, a process that is both expensive and harmful to farmers, who spray without protective equipment,” said in a statement Tony Shelton, lead author and Cornell researcher.
The study compared the results of 600 Bt brinjal farmers and 600 non-Bt brinjal farmers living in 200 villages in four districts in the northwest of Bangladesh.
The results demonstrated that Bt brinjal farmers experienced significantly lower pesticide use, a reduction in overall production costs, increased yields, and provided higher profits.
The study showed that 83% of the Bt farmers were satisfied with the yields obtained by growing the genetically modified eggplant. Meanwhile, 80% said they were pleased with the quality of the product. Thanks to the increased revenue and fruit quality, three-quarters of the farmers said they planned to grow the crop again next season.
The data also suggested there was a notable employment impact associated with Bt eggplant production due to the increased yield of the marketable product. Across all districts, the labor required per hectare for harvesting, grading, and packaging of Bt eggplant was estimated at 113.1 days compared to 99 days for non-Bt brinjal.
"Bt brinjal varieties provide farmers a more sustainable crop that protects food security and the environment," said in a statement Maricelis Acevedo, director of the project. "This study provides more evidence that Bt brinjal is being accepted in the market, but more work is needed to develop new varieties better adapted to local conditions and market preferences."
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.