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by Melody M. Aguiba
27-November-2005 Manila Bulletin

COIMBATORE, INDIA - Scientists are putting an end through bioengineering to the highly-devastating infestation of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) in eggplant, an extensively consumed vegetable in Asia, which may be commercialized by late 2006 in India and two years thereafter in the Philippines.

An idea emerging from world's largest brinjal (eggplant) producer, India, the genetically (GM) eggplant kills the FSB through the insertion into it of the Bt bacterial gene which is toxic to the pest.

As India needs just about two more reasons to field-test Bt eggplant, the Philippines will not be far from the genetic modification (GM) technique as it may receive the seeds early next year for local testing.

"The Philippines is getting an import permit for the seeds. We're getting an export permit. (Maybe we'll have it) by January 2006," K. Vijayaraghavan, South Asia Coordinator for a multi-country bioengineering project, said in an interview.

To world on the Bt eggplant in the Philippines are Filipino scientists from University of the Philippines-Los Baños.

The genetic engineering of eggplant aims to cut losses from FSB seeping into the vegetable's stems and pestering 54 to 70 percent of harvest.

"Even after pesticide spray, there's very limited window for farmers to protect them from the borer. The insect bores a hole into the shoot and starts feeding so productivity is cut," said Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director for research of Indian firm Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co. (Mahyco).

Mahyco originally developed Bt eggplant with US firm Monsanto.

Initial field testings in India showed pesticide spray cut by up to 50 percent and yield is increased by 10 percent given the GM, technique. Farmers' income climbs up by $450 per hectare, bringing a $600 million added revenue to millions of farmers in the region.

Product marketability picks up as the vegetable shines from being hole-free. Split in the middle, the multi-seed crop is clean without the creeping, little creatures.

What is really vital in the development of the Bt eggplant is its protection of human health from hazardous pesticides.

The crop usually requires 25 to 80 times spray within its 120 to 170-day growing period. Such intensive spray harms farmers and keeps them from eating their own produce, knowing the amount of pesticide they spray on it. Consumers will be spared from the same health risk.

Another virtue of this multi-country (India, Philippines, Bangladesh) project formed by Cornell University and funded by US International Agency for International Development (USAID) is it will make a valuable technology that requires significant capital investment available to resource-poor farmers estimated to be about 700,000 farmers in the three countries.

While private companies develop GM crops on hybrid varieties that are expensive to develop, public institutions like IPB-UPLB are developing the GM event on open pollinated varieties (inbreds) that are available to any poor farmer.

This, he can show again, without having to purchase seeds repeatedly like that in hybrids whose vigor is only on one season planting.

Present conditions require genetic engineering to combat FSB, a small larva that bores inside shoots and fruits, since no eggplant variety has so far been found to be resistant to FSB or resistance is significant low.

Farmers can practice a pest management system to control FSB - manual removal of wilted shoots, trapping of male moths using pheromones to prevent mating of the insects, and use of nylon to protect the plants.

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