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
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
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.