Bt brinjal varieties planted all over the country die from disease prematurely or fail to fruit, and fail to protect against target pest; a moratorium must now be imposed as a matter of utmost urgency to prevent the spread of new disease to indigenous varieties. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Genetically modified (GM) Bt brinjal was introduced to Bangladesh and rapidly approved for commercial growing despite widespread protest. Brinjal (eggplant or aubergine) is one of Bangladesh’s most important crops both for home consumption and export, making the cultivation of Bt brinjal a huge environmental, health and economic risk. More seriously, the region is a centre of origin and genetic diversity for brinjal, and should be protected from genetic contamination according to the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. India had imposed a moratorium on its cultivation after fierce opposition from civil society groups, top scientists, state governments, as well as citizens and environmental organizations. The cultivation in Bangladesh has drawn similar controversy, with 100 civil society organisations writing to the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in protest (see  Don’t Grow Bt Brinjal, SiS 61). A pilot scheme for commercial cultivation was introduced in 2014, and brought disastrous results, with at least 9 out of 20 farmers reporting crop failures ( Bangladeshi Bt Brinjal Pilot Scheme Failed, SiS 63).
Bt brinjal strains were distributed to Bangladeshi farmers and grown again in 2015; and the crops failed yet again, even more dismally, according to the United News of Bangladesh, which sent a reporter to investigate . He found that the plants have either “died out prematurely or fruited very insignificantly compared to local varieties”. Spot visits to 12 brinjal fields in the districts of Manikganj, Narsingdi and Comilla over the month February to March 2015 found hardly any living or properly fruiting plants.
The strains BARI Bt Brinjal 2 (Bt-Nayantara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 3 (Bt-Kajla) were cultivated by four farmers at Pouli village in Manikganj Sadar under the supervision of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). The fields belonging to Afzal Hossain and Md Mannaf were half-barren.
“We’ve removed most of the plants after those had died about 15 days ago. The officials [BARI officials] told us to do so to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite that the rest of the plants are dying out in numbers every day,” said Mannaf’s wife Lovely Begum.
In two other fields cultivated by the brothers Boltu Miah and Abul Hossain in the same village, only a few plants have died so far, but the fruiting of the plants is nowhere near satisfactory, said Lal Chand, father of the two brothers.
The same two Bt brinjal varieties were also cultivated by three farmers at Dhanua village in Shibpur upazila of Naringdi. All ended in misery.
Md Abul Hayat, a respected and successful local farmer, said, “Most of the saplings (of Bt brinjal) have died. The plants are prone to diseases. The officials said it’s due to bacterial attack and prompted by irrigation and soil-type.”
“If irrigation and soil-type had been a problem, why the local brinjal plants on my other field had not been affected?” he asked pointing to a brinjal field next to his Bt brinjal one.
Only a month ago, most of the plants in Hayat’s Bt brinjal field were looking good. The officials came and took photos and videos of the plants at the time, Hayat noted. The Bt brinjal field of Md Almgir in neighbouring Baghab village in the upazila was more pathetic. Many of the saplings had died at an earlier stage, one month into planting. The officials replaced the dead plants with fresh ones, but those have died too, Hayat said.
Harun Mirza, Dilip Kumar Das and Mohammad Ali of Burichong upazila (administrative division below distrcit) in Comilla planted BARI Bt Brinjal 1 (Bt-Uttara) and BARI Bt Brinjal 4 (Bt-ISD 006) on about 18-20 decimal plots. All three claimed that around 150-200 of the 500-700 saplings provided to them died within one month of planting. The fresh plants that replaced the dead ones failed to survive, and most of the rest are also dying out.
Mohammad Ali of Nimsar village in the upazila showed several plants of BARI Bt Brinjal 4 that were affected by brinjal fruit and shoot borer (BFSB) insects. ‘We were told that these brinjal varieties are resistant to Phol of Doga Chidrokari Poka (BFSB), but the plants on my field have come under its attack,’ he said.
Farmers in Sherpur, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Pabna, Jessore, Gazipur and Tangail districts shared similar experiences with the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) correspondent when contacted over phone. At least 25-150 of the Bt Brinjal plants died on each of the Bt Brinjal fields in these districts. The dead plants also include some of BARI Bt Brinjal 5 variety that was cultivated in Dinajpur.
Md Haminur Rahman and Md Mobarak Hossain of Sherpur Sadar upazila said they have harvested 8-10 maunds (1 maund ≈ 80 lb) of Bt brinjal three months since the planting, less than half the amount that could be harvested from a local brinjal field of the same size in the same time frame.
Ramzan Ali of Jhikargachha upazila in Jessore said most of the Bt Brinjal plants in his field had died.
When asked about the Bt brinjal plants dying in all the districts mentioned, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol replied, “We didn’t claim that the Bt brinjal plants will not be affected by diseases. Our claim was that Bt brinjal is resistant to BFSB.” When asked about the BFSB infestation in at least one Bt brinjal field in Comilla, he said, “I don’t have any such information. One or two non-Bt plants can be mistakenly grouped with the Bt plants in that field.”
It appears that a culture of denial has taken over the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute. There is no indication that that they are investigating the new ‘disease’ that has struck the Bt brinjal fields. There is a distinct danger that the disease could spread to local brinjal varieties, which would be catastrophic for this centre of origin and biodiversity. A moratorium on commercial planting must now be imposed as a matter of utmost urgency.
Article first published 20/04/15
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email@example.com Comment left 20th April 2015 20:08:14
Dear SIS, Do you have any peer reviewed science demonstrating that Bt Brinjal "failed"? Or failing that, do you have any systematically collected government data on this issue? The OP article just references two "science in society" magazine article and some are wanting an additional form of reference. I look forward to hearing back from you. Regards, Donald
dhinds Comment left 20th April 2015 19:07:47
The additional stress posed by imbalanced and evolutionarily incompatible genetic structures cobbled tiogether and imposed on the plant from external sources will inexorably contribute to the creation of a diminshed immunological system, particularly in higher (fruit bearing) plants. Therefore, this should come as no surprise.
Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 20th April 2015 20:08:02
Donald Scott, It's people like you who persist in ignoring real witness evidence in the field experienced by farmers that has given corrupt regulators the excuse that they will only count 'peer reviewed' scientific papers. In the case of glyphosate we now know, those are papers cherry-picked by industry to support the lie that glyphosate is perfectly safe. "Safe enough to drink", as Patrick Moore parroted in an interview, and got caught out refusing to drink it when offered. Real witness evidence stands up in law courts, and it is very likely a criminal offence to ignore or suppress such evidence.
dhinds Comment left 21st April 2015 18:06:21
Dear Donald Scott: Although the success or failure of agriculture depends on the existence of scientific principles (such as the one I referred to above), farmers are not scientists yet they know very well whether their crops lived and produced, or died. Furthermore, you are asking for INDEPENDENT studies and may be unaware that Monsanto et. al. REFUSES to supply seed to scientists that solicit it from them for that purpose. Perhaps they have something to hide, and I don't mean Competitive Information but rather, the presence of a pervasive and destructive HOAX foisted on a public that is increasingly less acquiescent to the very real hazards and disadvantages that the GMO fraud has generated for the environment and human health, aided and abetted by the governmental agencies charged with overseeing the public interest. Thanks to altruistic and courageous scientists and citizens like Mae-Wan Ho, the rest of us are better able to defend our legitimate rights in hopes of arriving at a future far better for the world as a whole.