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Archive for the ‘GMOs’ Category

Nigeria grants approval for genetically modified maize

The approval allows for open cultivation in the country.

ByPress Release October 10, 2021 3 min read

The government of Nigeria has granted environmental approval for evaluation and open cultivation of TELA Maize, a new maize variety developed by researchers at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, that resists fall armyworm, stem borers, and tolerate moderate drought.

The government’s decision was contained in a certificate issued to IAR by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the federal government agency mandated to regulate genetically modified products in the country.

The Certificate dated October 8, 2021, with permit code no. NBMA/CM/003, was issued to IAR for General\Commercial Release of TELA Maize Genetically Modified for Drought Tolerance, Resistance to Stem Borer and Fall Armyworm. It comes into effect from October 8, 2021, to October 5, 2024.

A decision document accompanying the certificate from NBMA said that in arriving at the decision to grant the permit, the agency took into consideration the advice of the National Biosafety Committee, the National Biosafety Technical Sub-Committee, and the risk management report provided by the applicant.

“The Agency was convinced that there are no known adverse impacts to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, taking into account risk to human health. The permit, pursuant to this decision, is without prejudice to other extant legal requirements.

“This permit authorises the permit holder and persons covered by the permit to commercialise the TELA Maize genetically modified for drought tolerance and insect resistance,” the decision document from the NBMA stated.

Reacting to the decision, Professor Ishiyaku Mohammed, Executive Director, IAR, said It is really inspiring for IAR to secure NBMA approval for the commercial release of the drought-tolerant and insect-resistant Maize (TELA MAIZE).

“This goes to further highlight IAR’s capacity and commitment to providing effective solutions to agricultural problems facing our farmers and optimizing food security for Nigerians. The approval will open the way to combating the devastating effects of both drought and insect pests through the deployment of this new variety of maize into our farming system.

“The next step is to further evaluate the performance of this new variety by farmers on their fields in all the major maize growing belts in Nigeria. Thereafter we shall seek another approval by the National variety release committee before making the seeds commercially available for farmers to plant in the 2023 cropping season.

Canisius Kanangire, AATF Executive Director, said the approval has shown that Nigeria is really the giant leading the way in Africa and ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from life-changing technologies that have transformed farming in other parts of the globe.

“The approval by the government of Nigeria is a sign that we are making good progress especially in our quest to expand the options for smallholder farmers on the continent to profit from their labour by using affordable technologies that enhance productivity and reduce incidents of insect pests’ infestation.

“TELA Maize is coming at a time when farmers are spending so much to reduce insect and pest attacks as well as battling with the issue of drought. With TELA Maize, farmers in Nigeria will have relief from frequent constant chemical sprays which affect their health. The saving from chemical use can be converted to address other family needs,” Mr. Kanangire added.

Sylvester Oikeh, AATF TELA Maize Project Manager, said this is the beginning of a new era for maize farmers in Nigeria who have suffered greatly from the twin problem of drought and devastating insect pests occasioned by climate change. The resources and time spent in protecting maize against insect pests will be used for other operations. The maize produced will provide healthier grains for farmers and consumers alike.

Rabiu Adamu, the TELA Maize Principal Investigator, said with the deregulation, the institute is now permitted to conduct multilocation trials to evaluate the yield and adaptability of the TELA hybrids across the different agro-ecologies in Nigeria.

“The highest yielding hybrids exhibiting tolerance to drought and resistance to stem borer and fall armyworm will be released to farmers for cultivation. We hope to register some of the outstanding hybrids to commercialize through Nigerian seed companies for farmers to grow in the 2023 rainy season.

Prof. Adamu added that: “The deregulation will fast-track our work to achieve the mission of the project to avail farmers with transgenic maize to solve the challenges of drought, stem borer, and fall armyworm.

TELA Maize Project in Nigeria is part of an international Consortium coordinated by AATF, involving Bayer, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and the National Agricultural Research Systems of seven countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda since 2018. The Project builds on gains from a decade of excellent breeding work to develop conventional climate-smart drought-tolerant maize known as DroughtTEGO varieties.

About AATF

Founded in 2003 to address Africa’s food security prospects through agricultural technology, AATF believes that the agricultural sector is a key foundational pillar as Africa consolidates its economic growth and carves out its new position as a major global economic powerhouse and the next growth market in the world. It was formed in response to the need for an effective mechanism that would facilitate and support negotiation for technology access and delivery and formation of appropriate partnerships to manage the development & deployment of innovative technologies for use by smallholder farmers in SSA:

About IAR

The Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Samaru was established in 1922 as the research division of the Department of Agriculture for the defunct Northern region of Nigeria. IAR was formally transferred by law to the later established Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) on October 14,1962. It is the Institute in Nigeria with the mandate for genetic improvement of crops such as Maize, Sorghum Cowpea, Castor, Cotton, Jatropha, Sunflower, Artemisia and Groundnut and overall farming systems of all crops in Nigeria.

For more information and photos contact:

Alex Abutu,

Communications Officer, West and Central Africa,

AATF.

a.abutu@aatf-africa.org

+234 8068701960

Yakubu Dodo

Information Officer,

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Guardian Today

Why we introduced GM maize to farmers, by agric experts.

By  Cornelius Essen, Abuja11 October 2021   |   3:25 am

GMO maize. PHOTO: euobserver.com

Experts have called on smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to adopt genetically modified maize, saying its introduction is capable of boosting food production.

Maize is a multipurpose crop serving as a whole-grain food for humans, industrial raw material for food processors and number one energy-source ingredient in animal feeds in the country.

They spoke at a public presentation of some improved varieties in Abuja, saying the conventional maize varieties showed low yields, and adopting ‘Tela maize hybrid technology’ would make it possible for farmers to produce more food to feed the people.https://d181deb304cb80517de9d288e6af6d2c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The Director-General, the National Biosafety Management Agency, Dr. Rufus Ebegba, said the genetically modified maize would go through scientific processes to ascertain its potency, safe standard for human consumption and agro-economic values.

Ebegba said: “Maize is one of the most widely grown and consumed cereal because of its wide adoption, ease of cultivation, processing, storage, transportation and income generation. It contributes to nutrition security, accounting for 20 per cent of calories and 16 per cent of national protein needs.”

Also, Prof. Ishaku Mohammed of the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, Kaduna State, said the institute was partnering with international organisations to adopt genetic engineering to meet national and regional food needs.https://d181deb304cb80517de9d288e6af6d2c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Mohammed added: “We have developed crops like BT. Cotton, cowpea, groundnut, and now, we are presenting genetically modified maize to Nigerian farmers, and the government can leverage on science and technology to move the country out of its present state.”

Contributing, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, of National Biotechnology Agency of Nigeria, explained that the Tela maize project was very important, noting that Nigerian farmers’ production challenges were solved by emerging technologies to address drought and pests.

According to him: “We are employing modern science to make changes in the world. We are using conventional methods to change the narratives in agriculture, and we still have more genetically modified crops underway. They will help us to achieve food security.”

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World Cotton Day – Bt Cotton’s advent into making India World’s largest producer

SPOTLIGHTPublished : Oct 7, 2021, 1:09 pm ISTUpdated : Oct 7, 2021, 1:09 pm ISThttps://cdn.vuukle.com/widgets/powerbar.html?version=2.9.3

Bt cotton controlled all the bollworms very effectively and continues to do soMr Ram Kaundinya, Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) and Dr. Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) Mr Ram Kaundinya, Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) and Dr. Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII)

In nature, pests keep on evolving to survive and try to attack the plants and especially crops. Plants on the other hand, develop their own defence mechanisms to keep these pests at bay. The genes responsible for these defence mechanisms either can be present in the crop plants itself, their wild relatives or in other organisms which are sexually non-compatible.

Scientists try to find the genes that can help plants to supplement their defence against these pests. In most crops, the host defence genes are reassembled and added to the crops so that the development of resistance by the pests can be prevented. In some crops, there are no or very limited genes which can provide resistance. Cotton is a major example, in which host genes for resistance against cotton pests are not there. Therefore, development of transgenic Bt cotton which provide resistance against major bollworms has provided a major relief to farmers for more than two decades. Bollworm pests on the other hand, have evolved and tried to develop resistance against Bt cotton. Therefore, the argument that Bt Cotton has led to resistance development in insects is simply not true.

Resistance development in insects is an age-old phenomenon which was observed with many pesticides used before the advent of Bt Cotton in the country. Those who read about the history of cotton in India would know about the evolution of insecticide technology which was essentially targeted at the dreaded bollworm. There are three types of bollworms – the most dangerous American bollworm, the Pink Bollworm (PBW) and Early shoot borer. Army worm was also not uncommon. The farmer is always in search of ammunition with which he can fight the bollworm in cotton.

Hybrid cotton came in early 70s and the first ten years we fought against bollworms using organophosphates. In early 80s synthetic pyrethroids were introduced, which were more effective and much safer to human beings compared to organophosphates.  It was PBW which was the major pest then in Punjab and Haryana while it was the American bollworm in West and South. So, PBW is not something which has come after Bt Cotton introduction. Extensive and intensive use of synthetic pyrethroids led to outbreaks of white fly and other sucking pests in late 80s. There was a crisis in then Andhra Pradesh and Punjab with white fly in 1986 and 1987 which resulted in farmer suicides and with the insistence of the then Chief Minister of AP Shri NT Ramarao the then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi ordered some emergency measures including a rapid approval of four new insecticides to fight the menace of white fly. Situation came under control in a couple of year with proper education of farmers and adoption of some agronomic practices in fields.

Secondary pest flare up happens when the main target is controlled very effectively. Lack of competition gives rise to proliferation of secondary pests which become main pests under such situations. This is natural dynamic for populations competing in an ecosystem. We have to understand that farmers have a continuous fight against pests and armchair ideologues have to get into farmer fields to understand this.

Insect resistance management is a much-studied subject among scientists in the world.  The key is to use products with different modes of actions and follow many other agronomic practices. Despite a lot of education and extension work on this front, the adoption of such practices by farmers is always less than adequate because they are compelled to use whatever immediate solution, they think is needed to fight the menace in the fields.

Continuous upgradation of technology is needed to keep fighting emerging challenges in crops. Stagnation of technology lets insect populations evolve and does not give us enough ammunition to fight the new challenges.

Bt cotton controlled all the bollworms very effectively and continues to do so. Pink Bollworm outbreak could be a result of very good control of other bollworms, but it is also because we have not introduced more advanced upgrades of Bt technology, thanks to the activism and regulatory logjam. The needs of the farmers have been neglected. In many states implementation of proper package of agronomic practices have provided good relief from PBW.

To say that use of Bt Cotton led to outbreak of PBW is too simplistic an argument. Many factors influence the outbreaks of pests. PBW existed and was controlled with chemical pesticides and other practices even before Bt Cotton came into the country.   Many measures related to ginning of cotton, movement of cotton seed for oil extraction, transportation of cotton from infected areas to other areas, destruction of plant residues from cotton fields are needed to control the spread of infestation.

To argue that use of Bt cotton has not resulted in yield increases is a fallacious argument. Cotton yield in the country was 300kg/ha in 2002 when Bt cotton was introduced. It went up to 554kg/ha by 2007 which was a CAGR of 11% which is much higher than the 1% CAGR in the previous 12 years from 1990 to 2002. Was this not because of better pest control through Bt Cotton that the yields increased? The fact that yields stagnated after 2008 is to be seen in the context of lack of technology upgradation, price control by governments which made it impossible for seed companies to invest in research to improve the quality of seed varieties.

GM technology goes beyond Bt Cotton and Herbicide Tolerant cotton. It has many other applications like Water Use Efficiency which reduces the use of water in cultivating crops, Nitrogen Use Efficiency which reduces the use of nitrogenous fertilizers in crops, Heat tolerance which helps crops to grow under higher temperatures, improving the nutritional profile of crops, etc. Many of these applications help us in preserving natural resources and improving nutrition of the poorer sections of the society. Rejecting all of them under the umbrella of GM crops is completely irrational and dangerous.

We must realize that no technology gives permanent and complete solutions. In fact, for a technology to last 15-20 years without upgradation and still give good results is major achievement. Instead of criticizing the technology, we should advocate for the upgradation and integrated management of the technology. The failed experiment of Sri Lanka with forcing organic cultivation by banning the import of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers is an example of how not to promote organic farming. Each option should be used in specific applications where it gives the best value to the farmer. We need a basket of technologies including organic, crop protection chemicals, fertilizers, biotechnology interventions and breeding improvements for the farmers to have the awareness and freedom of choose the best and long-lasting solutions.

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Alliance for Science

Nigerian farmers just can’t get enough of GMO cowpea seeds

BY JOSEPH OPOKU GAKPO

OCTOBER 4, 2021

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Nigeria is witnessing a shortage of genetically modified cowpea seeds as farmer demand for the insect-resistant crop dramatically outstrips supply.

Public sector scientists who developed the high-yielding variety have struggled to produce enough certified seeds to meet the huge demand as farmers who planted it in trials last year spread the news about how it helped protect their fields from attacks by the voracious pod borer pest. Nigeria approved commercial use of the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea in December 2019.

Hajia Dijesaidu, coordinator of the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization, said she first planted the GM cowpea seeds last year and got higher yields and reduced pest pressure. After she invited some members of her association to see the fields, they all demanded the new variety.

“They see that it gets more yields, and it didn’t consume money [on insecticide sprays]. It gives less work and less spraying. I sprayed the farm only twice. Our previous seeds, we spray about 10 to 12 times before we harvest it,” she told the Alliance for Science during a recent visit to her farm in Nigeria.

But Dijesaidu and other members of her organization, which has about 27,500 members, have been unable to secure as much PBR cowpea seed as they’d like to plant this year. “I want these [seed] companies to bring more PBR seeds to us next time because our people like it,” she noted. data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw==

Ahiaba M. Sylvanus, a smallholder farmer in Kaduna State, had a similar experience. The 63-year-old farmer typically spends about 20,000 Naira (US$50) buying pesticides for his farm every season — a cost that he said reduces his profits. But he spent only about 25 percent of that amount on pesticides when he grew GM cowpea last year.

“I started regretting that the GM beans (cowpea) should have been out before this time,” he observed. “There are so many benefits… We spend less on labor and buying chemicals to spray. We spray two to three times for the GM beans. But the others, we spray up to eight times.”

Asked whether he will be growing the Bt cowpea again this year, he replied, “I don’t have it yet” because the seeds are no longer available on the market. He said he is considering growing some of the Bt cowpea seeds he saved from last year if he doesn’t get certified ones.

As the planting season got underway this past July, the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), which developed the variety at the Ahmadu Bello University, distributed tonnes of the GM seeds to three indigenous Nigerian seed companies and some farmer cooperative groups for sale to farmers. But that supply has run out and farmers are demanding more of the PBR cowpea, known commercially as SAMPEA 20-T.

Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, executive director of the IAR, said the shortage was expected because the process of introducing GM seeds in Nigeria is still in its teething stages. “They have now run out of the seeds because this is the beginning. The demand for the seed has far, far, far outweighed the supply that we can make which is very expected. It is just the beginning. So, the next step is for us to expand the foundation seeds multiplication and then the seed companies can produce ore certified seeds to satisfy the demand of farmers,” he said.

Seed industry stunned by demand

Onyibe Onyisi John, managing director of Gold Agric Nigeria Ltd., one of the local seed companies contracted to help distribute the GM seeds to farmers, said his industry has not previously encountered a more popular variety. But they didn’t receive sufficient seeds from the IAR and all available stock was quickly sold. 

“At the time of the launching, they gave us 2.5 metric tonnes for the trials. It was too small. The 2.5 tonnes couldn’t last for one month and it was exhausted,” John told the Alliance for Science. “We the seed companies have a lot to do… We have not had a variety that has been subscribed like the PBR cowpea.”

Bala Dari Kayi, general manager for Tecnic Seeds, said the 2.5 metric tonnes of PBR cowpea allocated to his company didn’t last for even two weeks. “The farmer is always after any means of cutting cost in production,” he said. “The PBR cowpea is outstanding compared to other cowpea.”

Benjamin Ameh Abraham, administrative officer at Maina Seeds, said his supply also sold out quickly, though farmers pay 1,000 Naira (US$2.4) per kilogram for PBR cowpea compared to 800 Naira (US$1.9) for the same quantity of its conventional counterpart. “We believe a lot of farmers will still want this particular variety because of what they get from it,” Abraham said.

Reaping ‘huge benefits’ 

Cowpea is a high-protein staple food crop consumed by an estimated 200 million people in Africa daily. It’s usually cooked and eaten with carbohydrate sources like plantain and rice. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of cowpea (popularly called beans), its annual production deficit stands at more than 500,000 metric tonnes.

Much of the shortfall can be attributed to the destructive Maruca pod borer pest, which can cause 100 percent yield loss. The insects are particularly devastating because they damage not only the flowers and the buds, but also destroy the pods of cowpea, resulting in huge grain loss.

PBR cowpea provides inherent protection from the pest due to the introduction of a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring soil bacteria widely used in organic agriculture. Nigeria is the first country in the world to commercialize Bt cowpea, with similar projects under way in Ghana and Burkina Faso under the auspices of the Kenya-based AATF (formerly called African Agricultural Technology Foundation).

Ishiyaku said farmers who grow GM cowpea reap huge benefits because they can significantly reduce pesticide costs and achieve better harvests. The PBR cowpea variety has a yield potential of 2.9 tonnes per hectare, compared to 1.9 to 2 tonnes for non-GM varieties.

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Viewpoint: Cornell prof Anthony Shelton’s personal account of the sustainability and economic success of GMO eggplants in Bangladesh

Anthony Shelton | October 7, 2021

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Farmer Hafizur Rahman, resident of Tangail district north of Dhaka, is now on his second year of growing pest-resistant Bt brinjal. Credit: Feed the Future
Farmer Hafizur Rahman, resident of Tangail district north of Dhaka, is now on his second year of growing pest-resistant Bt brinjal. Credit: Feed the Future

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Ihad the opportunity to work on a project that helped transform the lives of resource-poor farmers in Bangladesh and improved the environment in which they farm. The project had its own challenges and frustrations, but the benefits to those in Bangladesh have been immense. Like many entomologists before me, I have benefitted from the experiences and friendships of working in a country whose people sorely need the knowledge that entomological sciences can provide.

This is the story of the development and adoption of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant, Solanum melongena Linn. (Solanales: Solanaceae) in Bangladesh, where it has been grown commercially since 2014. It is also the story of how the use of this technology has been stifled in other countries, where it is urgently needed.

An extension meeting in Bangladesh

Working in developing countries requires patience. In March 2018, I was in a minivan on my way from Dhaka to Shibganj, Bangladesh. Traveling a distance of about 180 km would take more than seven hours on paved and dirt roads in stop-and-go traffic through villages typical of rural Bangladesh. We were going to an extension meeting to discuss eggplant (or brinjal, as it is called in Bangladesh and India) that had been genetically engineered to express insecticidal proteins from Bt.

As an entomologist at Cornell University with research and extension responsibilities, I have attended my fair share of extension meetings, and I was anxious to participate in an extension meeting in Bangladesh. Remarkably, the meeting was similar, despite the more exotic location, and it was in a language (Bengali) I could not understand. The local extension leader gathered about 75 farmers under a colorful tent (Fig. 1) for a meeting about a new line of brinjal resistant to the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). This borer is the main constraint to brinjal production in Bangladesh, India, and many other countries in Asia.

Fig. 1. An extension field meeting about Bt brinjal held at the farm of Md. Abul Hossain in Shibganj in Bogra district, Bangladesh. Credit: Md. Arif Hossain.

The meeting was held on the farm of Mohammad Abul Hossain, who had grown traditional brinjal for years. After recently seeing Bt brinjal production in a relative’s field, he decided to try it himself, a typical adoption scenario seen worldwide. After formal introductions, Hossain took us to one of his fields. His enthusiasm for Bt brinjal was infectious. He told the audience, “I have sold about 8,056 kg of Bt brinjal,” and “there was no [borer] infestation in my crop. I am expecting to harvest another 400 kg of brinjal from the field with the same result.” In six months, he had earned about US $1,600 growing Bt brinjal on 0.6 ha of land and still had fruit in the field to harvest and sell for a higher price during the holy month of Ramadan. This was a princely sum for a small-holder Bangladeshi farmer. In addition to the money, he was pleased that he did not spray for the borer.

Back under the colorful tent during the meeting, Hossain and others told their stories about growing Bt brinjal to the rapt audience. At the end of the meeting, one of the organizers asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to grow Bt brinjal next year. Nearly all hands went up.

A previous field visit

The experiences of Hossain were not unique. In 2016, I had inspected another field of Bt brinjal farmed by Milon Mia and his family. Accompanying me were members of our team: Joe Huesing from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Usha Barwale Zehr from the India-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Pvt. Ltd. (Mahyco); Steve Naranjo from USDA ARS, and Jeff Wolt from Iowa State University (Fig. 2). Zehr was particularly excited to be in the field because her company produced the Bt eggplant “event” used to generate the plants we were examining. None of us could find any EFSB-infested fruit in the Bt field. When I asked Mia how many times he had sprayed it, he said, “Twice.” When I checked one of his non-Bt brinjal fields, every fruit I inspected was riddled with the borers. When I asked Mia how many times he had sprayed the non-Bt brinjal field, he replied, “About 100.”

Fig. 2. Project personnel inspecting Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. The woman in yellow is Usha Barwale Zehr, whose company (Mahyco) developed ‘EE-1,’ which was incorporated into BARI-developed brinjal lines. She is holding a Bt brinjal fruit and explaining its characteristics to Jeff Wolt (red hat), Steve Naranjo (far left), Joe Huesing (tan hat), and the author (far right). Credit: Md. Arif Hossain.

How the Bt eggplant project began

In 2005, I became a member of Cornell University’s Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program II (ABSPII) funded by USAID. The goal of ABSPII was to use bio-engineered crops to help boost food security, economic growth, nutrition, and environmental quality in selected countries. Project partners identified pest problems that warranted biotechnology approaches, and eggplant was chosen because it is an important vegetable in the targeted countries (India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines), and its main constraint is the EFSB.

EFSB larvae bore into the petiole and midrib of brinjal leaves and tender shoots, resulting in wilting and desiccation of stems. Larvae also feed on flowers, leading to flower drop or misshapen fruits. But the most serious economic damage is caused by larvae tunneling in fruits and contaminating them with frass, which makes the fruit unmarketable and unfit for human consumption (Fig. 3). Despite decades of traditional breeding, no brinjal lines with sufficient resistance to these borers have been produced.

Fig. 3. Non-Bt brinjal fruit infested by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer, Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée. Credit: Anthony Shelton.

The insecticide problem in eggplant production in South Asia

In January 2005, I visited brinjal fields in India and heard how farmers tried to control EFSB, using frequent insecticide spraying (sometimes twice a day). Thinking I had misunderstood the frequency, I asked a farmer again and again in different ways, but each time, the answer was the same. The farmer further explained that he often sprayed on the day of harvest. When asked what insecticides he used, he replied it was usually a cocktail of insecticides that included organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethroids. I learned later that this farmer’s practices were not unusual for the 1.4 million small-scale, resource-poor brinjal farmers in India who incur losses of 60 to 70%, even with frequent spraying (Choudhary and Gaur 2009). On average, 4.6 kg of insecticidal active ingredients per hectare per season are applied on brinjal at a cost of Rs 12,000 (US $163) per hectare, not to mention the health and environmental costs.

During my visits to Bangladesh and the Philippines, I heard similar stories and found them documented in the literature. In Bangladesh, EFSB was estimated to cause yield losses of 86% or more (Prodhan et al. 2018), despite frequent insecticide sprays targeting the borers. In the Jessore region of Bangladesh, more than 60% of farmers sprayed their eggplant crop 140 times or more during the season (Rashid et al. 2003). A survey among vegetable growers in southwest Bangladesh found that every farmer considered EFSB the most damaging pest of brinjal, and 98% reported that they relied on insecticides as their main method of control (Rashid et al. 2003). Such practices result in high residues on marketable fruit and affect the health of farmers. In a survey carried out in several districts in Bangladesh, only 4% of farmers reported receiving basic training on the safe use of pesticides, and 87% admitted that they did not wear any protective equipment when mixing and handling pesticides (Dasgupta et al. 2020). The same survey revealed that farmers usually sprayed their crops bare-footed, and only 1% wore sandals, 2% wore gloves, 3% wore protective eyeglasses, and 6% wore home-made cotton masks. As a result of this widespread exposure, 26% reported experiencing multiple health effects, including headaches, eye and skin irritation, vomiting, or dizziness (Dasgupta et al. 2020).

In the Philippines, EFSB damage can reach 80% loss in yield, and farmers spray a mixture of insecticides more than 70 times per season to prevent such losses (Hautea et al. 2016). The most commonly used insecticides are organophosphates, followed by carbamates and synthetic pyrethroids (Lu et al. 2010). Exposure of young children was of particular concern. They are often employed in vegetable production as young as 6 to 9 years old (Lu et al. 2010). Their roles involve pesticide preparation and application, in addition to watering and other tasks. After the use of pesticides, children reported health symptoms including headaches, skin irritation, and abdominal pain.

Development of the Bt eggplant project

Managing the EFSB by spraying insecticides was a losing proposition from the standpoint of control, human and environmental health, and economic costs to growers (Islam and Norton 2007). Consequently, ABSPII partners focused on eggplant as a crop for which biotechnology might provide part of the solution.

Shelton et al. (2018) described the story of Bt eggplant development. In short, development of the Bt eggplant technology was initiated in 2000 by Mahyco using the cry1Ac gene that had already been widely used in Bt cotton, Gossypium spp., in India. A partnership was formed in late 2003 between Mahyco, Cornell University, USAID, and public sector partners in India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines under ABSPII. All three countries used the resistant EE-1 event created by Mahyco and incorporated it into local eggplant lines.

The ABSPII project ended in 2014 and then USAID reduced the scope to focus on eggplants and potatoes. In September 2015, Cornell University was awarded a three-year, $4.8M cooperative agreement with USAID that focused on eggplant and created the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership (bteggplant.cornell.edu). I became the partnership’s director. The focus in Bangladesh included capacity building, seed production, stewardship, and post-commercial communication. The focus in the Philippines was to prepare for commercial release of Bt eggplants through the creation of regulatory dossiers, communication, and advocacy efforts. Although India had been included in ABSPII, it was left out of the new project for the reasons described below. After the initial term, the project received funded extensions from USAID through September 2020. In March 2020, I stepped down as director and became an advisor before my formal retirement from Cornell in September 2020. During my involvement with the project from 2005 to the present, I have had a wild ride on the biotechnology roller coaster.

Regulatory systems, politics and Bt eggplant

In order for farmers to grow a biotech crop, a country must first have biosafety laws and regulations in place. India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines had a National Biosafety Framework in place when Bt eggplant was being developed, but each country varied dramatically in its laws, local challenges, and experiences with biotech crops.

India has a multi-tiered regulatory framework for evaluating the safety of biotech crops with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) as the highest statutory body for review and approval. GEAC approved production of Bt cotton in 2002, resulting in India becoming the second largest cotton producer and the leading exporter in the world. However, despite the success of Bt cotton and more than 20 other biotech crops in various stages of research and field trials in India, Bt cotton remains the only biotech crop cultivated in India at the time of writing this article.

Mahyco had developed and field-tested Bt brinjal lines for the Indian market. Field trials revealed good performance, and GEAC approved the cultivation of Bt brinjal in India in October 2009. The approval immediately elicited opposition from anti-biotech activists and forced the government to delay commercial release until public discussions were held. Opposition groups showed up in force at public discussions, leading the Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, the last gatekeeper on the regulatory road to commercialization, to overrule GEAC and impose a moratorium on 9 February 2010, which remains active at the time of writing this article.

In the Philippines, the regulatory system for importation, field trials, and cultivation of biotech crops has been operational since 2002, and Bt maize, Zea mays L., has been commercially cultivated since 2003. In March 2010, the Bureau of Plant Industries issued a two-year Biosafety Permit for field-testing Bt eggplants. Studies revealed that Bt eggplants were virtually immune to EFSB damage (Hautea et al. 2016) and did not have harmful effects on non-target arthropods (Navasero et al. 2016). However, field trials were vandalized in 2011 by anti-biotech activists who forcibly entered the confined field trials and illegally uprooted the plants. These actions were followed by legal challenges in courts over four years, which has delayed the development and commercialization of Bt eggplant in the Philippines.

Bangladesh has a National Biosafety Framework that provides the regulatory basis for the management of biotechnology products. However, unlike India and the Philippines, Bangladesh had no prior experience with biotech crops before Bt brinjal. Bt brinjal lines were tested under confined and open-field conditions for seven consecutive seasons before the Bangladesh government granted approval of four lines on 30 October 2013.

Politics and science meet in Bangladesh

Why was Bt brinjal approved in Bangladesh while it is still under a moratorium in India after 11 years, and not yet commercialized in the Philippines? Two important leaders in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Minister of Agriculture Begum Matia Chowdhury, provided strong support to move Bt brinjal toward commercialization through the Bangladesh regulatory framework. Such high-level political support, absent in India and the Philippines, was vital to commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh.

I first met Matia Chowdhury in June 2011 when she visited Cornell University. She spoke of the importance of brinjal in Bangladesh, where 150,000 farmers grow brinjal and the public consumes it daily. We discussed the Bt brinjal project, and she requested continued cooperation with Cornell. This was just a year after India had placed a moratorium on Bt brinjal’s cultivation. When I mentioned this to her, she acknowledged this fact but added that Bangladesh is an independent country with its own rules. When I pressed the issue of anti-GMO groups that might disrupt the project, she responded, “My job as Minister of Agriculture is to feed 160 million people and protect the environment, and if Bt brinjal will help us achieve this, we will move forward with it. Besides, we do not have strong anti-GMO groups in Bangladesh because we are a poor country, and these groups have difficulty raising funds.”

Meanwhile, back in Bangladesh, things were ramping up for the first commercial planting of Bt brinjal. Seeds were being multiplied, agencies were being assigned various responsibilities, and farmers were being trained.

The first commercial plantings

In January 2014, Matia Chowdhury distributed Bt brinjal seedlings to 20 Bangladeshi farmers in four districts. This was a major milestone for the project and biotechnology. However, as the plants were growing in the field, challenges soon appeared. In a Bangladeshi newspaper article published on 7 April 2014, reporters claimed they had visited some of the Bt brinjal fields and found that “25 to 30 percent of the plants were dead” and that the “field now required more pesticides” (Wardad 2014).

Joe Huesing and I were in Bangladesh when the article appeared, and we scrambled to visit one of the fields on 9 April 2014. At first sight, we were concerned when we saw about 10 to 15% of the plants dying. However, it soon became apparent that they were not suffering from EFSB, but from bacterial wilt caused by Ralstonia solanacearum, a common disease of brinjal in Bangladesh. Other fields we inspected had similar levels of diseased plants, a discouraging beginning for our project.

During this initial year, Bt brinjal became the target of increasingly active anti-biotech organizations, both domestic and international. Project partners pushed back on their false claims. An important advocate was Mark Lynas, a journalist and former anti-biotech activist, now turned biotech advocate, who was a visiting Fellow at Cornell. Lynas used his earlier experiences working for Greenpeace to fight back by publishing articles and blogs based on his visits and interviews with Bt brinjal farmers in Bangladesh, including an opinion piece in the New York Times (Lynas 2015). These and other educational efforts were especially important during the early phases of the project to document the benefits of Bt brinjal.

Adoption of Bt brinjal grows in Bangladesh

From the initial 20 farmers in the 2013–2014 growing season, adoption grew to 108 farmers in the 2014–2015 season and to 250 farmers in 25 districts in the 2015–2016 season (Fig. 4). During the 2016–2017 season, 6,512 farmers in 36 districts grew Bt brinjal. Seed availability was limited, but it improved when the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) began to multiply seed. In the 2017–2018 season, BADC sold seeds to 19,430 farmers, for a total of 27,612 farmers growing Bt brinjal in 40 districts. The following year, seed was still limited, but there were 20,602 Bt brinjal farmers, and by the 2019–2020 season, 26,913 farmers in 64 districts grew Bt brinjal. Preliminary data collected by our project in the 2020–2021 season indicated that >65,000 farmers grew Bt brinjal nationally. In addition to these figures, a survey we conducted (unpublished) indicated that 15 to 20% of farmers use seed saved from the previous season or provided it to other farmers. This rate of adoption over seven years is truly remarkable.

Fig. 4. Number of farmers growing Bt brinjal in Bangladesh by year (* indicates preliminary data). Farmers received seed from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), and the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC).

Documenting the success of Bt brinjal

Studies in Bangladesh have demonstrated the economic and health benefits of Bt brinjal. In a study conducted by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in 35 districts during the 2016–2017 cropping season, net returns were US $2,151/ha for Bt brinjal, compared with US $357 per ha for non-Bt brinjal: a six-fold difference (Rashid et al. 2018). The same study indicated that Bt brinjal farmers saved 61% of pesticide costs. The International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted a survey during the 2017–2018 season in four districts (Ahmed et al. 2020), focusing on one of the four commercial Bt lines. Farmers were provided either Bt brinjal or its isoline (same variety but without the Bt gene) to produce their marketable crop. The survey showed the Bt brinjal line provided excellent control of EFSB, a 51% increase in yield, a 128% increase in net revenues, a 37.5% reduction in pesticide costs, and an 11.5% decrease in reports of pesticide poisonings. A study conducted in the 2019–2020 season confirmed the enhanced performance of the four Bt eggplant lines in the field and their increased acceptability in the market (Shelton et al. 2020). Compared to non-Bt brinjal lines, the Bt lines had a 19.6% higher yield and obtained 21.7% improved revenue. Furthermore, 80.6% of the 195 Bt brinjal farmers were satisfied with the quality of their fruit, compared with 28.0% of the 196 non-Bt farmers whose fruit was infested by the borers. The survey also revealed that nearly 40% of the non-Bt brinjal farmers had not yet heard of Bt brinjal, but 71.4% of them said they intended to grow Bt brinjal the following year after they had learned about it.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”

This phrase, attributed to the French writer Voltaire, occurs to me when I think about this project. The four approved Bt brinjal lines are not suitable for all the climatic conditions or regional preferences in Bangladesh. However, their use has helped curtail the serious environmental and health concerns caused by intensive insecticide practices farmers have used against EFSB, and has helped farmers provide a fresh supply of abundant harvests and improved quality. Bangladeshi farmers are pleased with their harvests (Fig. 5), but will these benefits last?

Fig. 5. Bangladeshi farmer Md. Khalilur Rahman with a fresh harvest of Bt brinjal in Hijulii of Tangail district, Bangladesh. Credit: Md. Arif Hossain.

Host-plant resistance is a foundation of an integrated pest management (IPM) program, and for the first time, its application has resulted in effective resistance to EFSB. However, as with resistant plants bred through traditional means, there is a threat that insects will overcome such resistance. Our studies on insect resistance management (IRM) have shown the value of using non-Bt refuges (Tang et al. 2001), pyramiding Bt genes (Zhao et al. 2003), and preserving natural enemies on Bt plants (Liu et al. 2014) to delay the evolution of insect resistance. Additionally, Zhao et al. (2005) showed the enhanced durability of introducing two-gene plants, but Bangladesh has commercialized only single-gene Bt brinjals. Furthermore, Bangladesh has no prior experience with the commercial use of Bt cotton or Bt maize, so this is new technology for this developing country. Thus, although Bt brinjal expressing the Cry1Ac protein has helped solve a serious problem, will it be sustainable?

Emphasizing sustainability

Since 2015, the project has introduced practices to enhance the durability of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. The project partners work with BARI on a quality assurance program to ensure that seeds have proper protein expression before being multiplied and distributed. The seed distribution process is now accompanied by information about planting a border of non-Bt brinjal (refuge) as part of an IRM program, and the need to control mites, thrips, and leafhoppers, which can reduce plant vigor. Although farmers can save seed, they are discouraged from doing so because of the potential of outcrossing that could disrupt IRM. Populations of EFSB are being monitored for changes in susceptibility to the Cry1Ac protein (Prodhan et al. 2019), a fundamental component of an IRM program. At present, only four Bt brinjal lines are commercialized, but many dozens of non-Bt lines are grown that serve as an “unstructured” refuge to maintain Bt-susceptible alleles in EFSB populations. Although no evidence of resistance has been observed, farmers and researchers must remain vigilant.

The future

The Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership has ended. At the time of writing this article, it is not clear if USAID funding will continue for Bt brinjal, although a new proposal has been submitted. Although the private sector (Mahyco) donated the original transgenic event, it has not received any financial benefit or played a role in developing new Bt varieties. BARI remains the only producer of Bt brinjal seed in Bangladesh, with BADC multiplying the BARI-produced seed. Whether BARI or other Bangladeshi government agencies can properly oversee the project without the technical and financial support of USAID, or another outside organization, is a topic of current discussion.

Sustaining continued adoption of Bt brinjal requires the development of agronomically superior lines, including second-generation lines with multiple Bt genes, resistance to bacterial wilt, and suitability for different growing regions and consumer preferences. The Bangladeshi government needs to enhance laboratory and field-testing programs, resistance monitoring, and farmers’ technical training. Furthermore, the government should create a better enabling environment by promoting an efficient event-based approval, rather than variety approval, to ensure that products move through the regulatory system safely, smoothly, and rapidly. Finally, given the difficulties in securing government funding for the expensive development and safe deployment of new Bt lines, consideration should be given to obtaining private-sector funding. I believe it would be in the best interest for the Bangladeshi government to allow the private sector to play a larger role in commercializing Bt brinjal, as the private sector already does for other crops in Bangladesh.

The studies cited herein demonstrate that Bt brinjal has improved the lives of resource-poor farmers in Bangladesh, which should be an indication of the benefits it can bring in other countries. In the Philippines, regulatory dossiers for food-feed and cultivation of Bt eggplant are being submitted to allow it to be grown and consumed there. These dossiers are being developed not only to meet the specific requirements of the Philippines, but also to serve as templates to meet international standards for other countries. India, which produces a quarter of world’s eggplants, remains a challenge because of the current political climate. However, Indian farmers have become frustrated with the moratorium, leading to public demonstrations and the illegal planting of Bt eggplant (Deshpande 2019).

Concluding remarks

Bt crops have revolutionized agriculture, but their benefits have largely been confined to field crops such as maize, cotton, and, more recently, soybeans and chickpeas. I believe we need to move forward and use biotechnology—including Bt, other insecticidal proteins, and gene editing—to improve IPM in other crops, especially “orphan” crops such as fruits and vegetables. These are high-value cash crops essential for farmers’ income, but with high cosmetic standards and hard-to-manage pest complexes. These crops are also essential for a healthy and diverse diet because they contain nutrients that fight hunger and the hidden threat of malnutrition (Maberly et al. 1994), a major problem in developing countries like Bangladesh. However, farmers of these crops have historically relied on intensive insecticide treatments for their production, with negative effects on humans and their environment. I hope the success of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh will help pave the way forward for other insect-resistant, genetically engineered food crops which can serve as cornerstones in IPM programs.

Acknowledgements

The author thanks the many people who have been involved with ABSPII and the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership over the years. This long list includes Bangladeshi farmers, consultants, and representatives from Cornell University, Mahyco, Sathguru, USAID, University of the Philippines Los Baños, and BARI and other Bangladeshi agencies.

Anthony (Tony) Shelton is an international professor emeritus in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. Among the Entomological Society of America awards he has received are the National Award for Excellence in IPM (1997), National Recognition Award for Research (2005), election as Fellow (2010), and the National IPM Team Award (2013). In 2020, he received the International IPM Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence.

References

Ahmed, A.U., J. Hoddinott, N. Abedin, and N. Hossain. 2020. The impacts of GM foods: results from a randomized controlled trial of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh. American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

Choudhary, B., and K. Gaur. 2009. The development and regulation of Bt brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine). ISAAA Brief 38–2009.

Dasgupta, S., C. Meisner, and M. Huq. 2020. Health effects and pesticide perception as determinants of pesticide use: evidence from Bangladesh. Policy Research Working Papers.

Deshpande, A. 2019. To protest ban, farmers to plant GM cotton, brinjal seeds today. The Hindu, 10 June 2019.

Hautea, D.M., L.D. Taylo, A.P.L. Masanga, M.L.J. Sison, J.O. Narciso, R.B. Quilloy, R.A. Hautea, F.A. Shotkoski, and A.M. Shelton. 2016. Field performance of Bt eggplants (Solanum melongena L.) in the Philippines: Cry1Ac expression and control of the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée). PLoS One 11: e0157498.

Islam, S.M.F., and G.W. Norton. 2007. Bt eggplant for fruit and shoot borer resistance in Bangladesh, pp. 91–106. In C. Ramasamy, K.N. Selvaraj, G.W. Norton, and K. Vijayaraghavan (eds.). Economic and Environmental Benefits and Costs of Transgenic Crops: Ex-ante Assessment. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, India.

Liu, X., M. Chen, H.L. Collins, D.W. Onstad, R.T. Roush, Q. Zhang, E.D. Earle, and A.M. Shelton. 2014. Natural enemies delay insect resistance to Bt crops. PLoS One 9: e90366.

Lu, J.L., K.Z. Cosca, and J. Del Mundo. 2010. Trends of pesticide exposure and related cases in the Philippines. Journal of Rural Medicine. 5: 153–164.

Lynas, M. 2015. How I got converted to G.M.O. food. The New York Times: Opinion, 24 April 2015.

Maberly, G.F., F.L. Trowbridge, R. Yip, K.M. Sullivan, and C.E. West. 1994. Programs against micronutrient malnutrition: ending hidden hunger. Annual Review of Public Health 15: 277–301.

Navasero, M.V., R.N. Candano, D.M. Hautea, R.A. Hautea, F.A. Shotkoski, and A.M. Shelton. 2016. Assessing potential impact of Bt eggplants on non-target arthropods in the Philippines. PLoS One 11: e0165190.

Prodhan, M.Z.H., M.T. Hasan, M.M.I. Chowdhury, M.S. Alam, M.L. Rahman, A.K. Azad, M.J. Hossain, S.E. Naranjo, and A.M. Shelton. 2018. Bt eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) in Bangladesh: fruit production and control of eggplant fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée), effects on non-target arthropods and economic returns. PLoS One 13: e0205713.

Prodhan, Z.H., D.K. Shirale, Z. Islam, J. Hossain, V. Paranjape, and A.M. Shelton. 2019. Susceptibility of field populations of eggplant fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis Guenée) to Cry1Ac, the protein expressed in Bt eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) in Bangladesh. Insects 10: 198.

Rashid, M.A., S.N. Alam, F.M.A. Rouf, and N.S. Talekar. 2003. Socio-economic parameters of eggplant pest control in Jessore District of Bangladesh. Technical Bulletin no. 29, Asian Vegetable Research Station, Shanhua, Taiwan.

Rashid, M.A., M.K. Hasan, and M.A. Matin. 2018. Socio-economic performance of Bt eggplant cultivation in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Journal of Agricultural Research 43: 187–203.

Shelton, A.M., M.J. Hossain, V. Paranjape, A.K. Azad, M.L. Raham, K. ASMMR, M.Z.H. Prodhan, M.A. Rashid, R. Majumder, and M.A. Hossain. 2018. Bt eggplant project in Bangladesh: history, present status, and future direction. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 6: 106. doi:10.3389/fbioe.2018.00106

Shelton, A.M., S.H. Sarwer, M.J. Hossain, G. Brookes, and V. Paranjape. 2020. Impact of Bt brinjal cultivation in the market value chain in five districts of Bangladesh. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 8: 10.3389/fbioe.2020.00498

Tang, J.D., H.L. Collins, T.D. Metz, E.D. Earle, J.Z. Zhao, R.T. Roush, and A.M. Shelton. 2001. Greenhouse tests on resistance management of Bt transgenic plants using refuge strategies. Journal of Economic Entomology 94: 240–247.

Wardad, Y. 2014. Pest-resistant Bt brinjal comes under pest attack. Financial Express, Financial Newspaper of Bangladesh: Metro/News, 7 April 2014.

Zhao, J.-Z., J. Cao, Y. Li, H.L. Collins, R.T. Roush, E.D. Earle, and A.M. Shelton. 2003. Transgenic plants expressing two Bacillus thuringiensis toxins delay insect resistance evolution. Nature Biotechnology 21: 1493–1497.

Zhao, J.-Z., J. Cao, H.L. Collins, S.L. Bates, R.T. Roush, E.D. Earle, and A.M. Shelton. 2005. Concurrent use of transgenic plants expressing a single and two Bacillus thuringiensis genes speeds insect adaptation to pyramided plants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102: 8426–8430.

Anthony M. Shelton is an emeritus Professor of Entomology at Cornell University. The focus of Anthony’s research and extension program is to develop sound insect management strategies for vegetables, with spin-offs for others crops, using a sound understanding of insect ecological principles. Find Anthony on Twitter @IPMguy

A version of this article was originally posted at American Entomologist and is reposted here with permission. 

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.The GLP Needs Your HelpIt is easier than ever for advocacy groups to spread disinformation on pressing science issues, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. No, vaccines are not harmful. Yes, the use of biotechnology, GMOs or gene editing to develop antigens for treatments including vaccines are part of the solution. To inform the public about what’s really going on, we present the facts and challenge those who don’t. We can’t do this work without your help. Please support us – a donation of as little as $10 a month helps support our vital myth-busting efforts.DONATE

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‘Doing nothing is no longer an option’: 15 agriculture experts assess England’s long-awaited decision to ease restrictions on gene-edited crops

Science Media Centre | October 4, 2021

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Credit: Si Barber/Financial Times
Credit: Si Barber/Financial Times

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

The government have published a press release on new plans to unlock the potential benefits of gene editing as part of their response to the gene editing consultation.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Prof Nick Talbot, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, said:

We welcome the government’s announcement on genome editing. This technology will help plant breeders create new crop varieties to provide healthy and nutritious food in a sustainable way.  In the face of the climate emergency, we need new innovation in agriculture. We have to work together to make agriculture more sustainable and much less dependent on fossil fuels. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Prof Dale Sanders, Director of the John Innes Centre, said:

I’m pleased that the Government is acting to change the regulation of gene edited plants and I welcome today’s announcement. But while DEFRA’s announcement is a step forward for crop trials, it is disappointing that the decision applies only to research and development.

“We will only see the benefits of these technologies if crops developed this way are able to reach supermarkets and customers.  It is frustrating when scientific breakthroughs cannot lead to genuine improvements to the foods that we eat.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here.Related article:  Global scientists assess homeopathy-funded Séra

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Feature: Kenya’s cotton industry on revival trajectory as farmers embrace improved varieties

Source: Xinhua| 2021-09-11 21:00:28|Editor: huaxia

NAIROBI, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) — When white-fluffy balls held by shrubby plants started to disappear from farms in Kenya’s eastern lowlands almost three decades ago, so did processors, cooperatives alongside other key value chain actors who had kept the wheels of the cotton industry turning.

As time progressed, the scenario would extend to the rest of the 24 cotton-growing regions in the country, rendering farmers destitute amid lost income.

Fortunately, despite the previous sorry state of affairs, the white cash crop is looking to reclaim its position among Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners thanks to sustained efforts to scale up the adoption of improved varieties.

“I am currently growing the new hybrid seed made available by the government last year. It is high yielding and fast-maturing, better than the conventional HART 89 variety,” said Milton Katia, a veteran cotton farmer.

Farmers hailed the rollout of new certified seeds to replace the long-standing conventional seed in the past year even as they anticipate the end of misfortunes that had bedeviled the cotton sub-sector for decades.

The government in 2019 approved the commercial cultivation of genetically modified cotton, after recording positive results from field trials carried out within five years.

Subsequently, last year, an initial one metric tonne of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) seed and 16 metric tons of hybrid variety imported from India were distributed to farmers in traditional cotton growing zones.

The new varieties are envisioned to stimulate the dormant textile and apparel industry in addition to contributing to growth of the local manufacturing sector. The average production of cotton is also forecast to climb up from 20,000 bales (about 4,340 metric tons) per year to around 200,000 bales.

The improved seeds are costing farmers like Katia less in terms of farm inputs, making the trade attractive again. “With the old seed, I would need to spray more than ten times to protect the plant but the hybrid cuts that down to just 3-4 sprays saving me on farm inputs,” said Katia.

During his last harvest around August, Katia attained 30 bags of cotton each weighing 35 kg on a tract of 0.41 hectare on his farm. He affirmed that the yield was a great improvement from what he normally received from the non-Bt hybrid.

The farmer said that the crop is indispensable to farmers in the region due to its ecological ability to endure hot weather conditions.

Peter King’oo, manager of a ginnery in southeastern Kenyan county of Makueni, said the new cotton varieties will steer the sector toward a profitable path. He commended the government’s efforts geared toward reviving cotton growth but noted that more needs to be done to realize the full potential of the industry.

“To ensure the industry remains robust, the government needs to guarantee farmers favorable prices, in addition to engaging farmers on good pesticide practices. For instance, some cotton Bt farmers assume the plant should not be sprayed at all,” said Kingo’oo.

The genetically modified seed has been improved with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene to provide inherent resistance to a damaging caterpillar pest popularly known as bollworm. African bollworm has been unanimously identified as the biggest headache for cotton farmers.

Kenya joins South Africa, Eswatini, Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Sudan in allowing for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified cotton.

The cotton supply chain started experiencing difficulties around 1990 when trade was liberalized rendering the agency tasked with cotton management ineffective. Since then, farmers have been grappling with poor seeds, low prices, and chronic pest attacks, while ginneries have been running with obsolete machines and insufficient material to match operation capacity.

Meanwhile, Kenya has announced its intention to start producing Bt cotton seeds to meet soaring local demands.

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The Conversation

The fall armyworm invasion is fierce this year – and scientists are researching how to stop its destruction of lawns, football fields and crops

September 17, 2021 8.15am EDT

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  1. Scott D. StewartProfessor of Entomology and Director of the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, University of Tennessee

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Scott D. Stewart’s research and extension programs at the University of Tennessee are partially supported by grants and contracts from Tennessee cotton, corn and soybean commodity boards, the USDA, and from various seed and pesticide companies for evaluation of their technologies.

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Across the Northeast, Midwest, South and Southwest United States, homeowners are watching with horror as their lawns turn from green to brown, sometimes in less than 48 hours, and wondering, “What happened this year – and how did it happen so fast?”

The culprit: the fall armyworm.

As an entomologist, I can attest that their appearance is nothing new: They’re an annual problem, but the scale of this year’s invasion is unprecedented. These voracious feeders are destroying lawns and grasses, attacking golf courses, pastures, football and soccer fields – and they can completely defoliate rice, soybean, alfalfa and other crop fields within days. They are called armyworms because of their habit of marching across the landscape.

The invader

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, isn’t a worm. It’s a striped caterpillar, the larvae of an ordinary and benign brown moth. It’s native to the Americas and is extremely adaptable, thriving everywhere from lush forests to arid regions and in pristine, disturbed and urban landscapes.

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The armyworms’ impact on lawn grass can be dramatic. Scott D. Stewart, Author provided

This moth survives year-round in warmer locales, from the tip of South America to the southern U.S. Each year they invade more northern regions until cold weather ends their occupation.

From larvae to moth, its entire life cycle is about 30 days during the summer and 60 in spring and fall. Adult moths survive just two weeks. During that time, a female lays up to 2,000 eggs, deposited underneath leaves in clusters of 100 to 200.

The moths aren’t the problem; it’s their larvae. When eggs first hatch, the tiny caterpillars are barely noticeable, about one-sixteenth of an inch long. By the time the caterpillars reach full size – an inch and a half – they’ve become ravenous eaters.During its short life cycle, the fall armyworm can devastate important crops.

Depending on the season, the armyworms eat and grow for 14 to 30 days. Initially, they chew holes in leaves, sometimes reducing them to a lacework skeleton. If they run out of food, they become cannibals, with the larger armyworms preying on the smaller ones.

Then they burrow into the ground, encase themselves in a cocoon and pupate. When they emerge as moths, the cycle repeats, with the next generation propelling their expansion across the country.

An invasive species

Meanwhile, fall armyworms have spread across the globe as an invasive species, reaching the Near East, Asia, Australia, Africa and India. Without its native complement of parasites, predators and diseases to control it, these rapacious caterpillars pose a serious agricultural threat to these newly invaded countries.

Farming practices have fueled their proliferation. Most of these countries do not grow armyworm-resistant GMO crops and many have limited access to newer insecticides and modern application equipment.

Armyworms have been particularly destructive in sub-Saharan Africa, where they devour maize, the continent’s staple crop. Damage is estimated at US$2 billion per year. It also causes major damage to corn, rice, sorghum, sugar cane, vegetable crops and cotton.

This year’s ‘perfect storm’

Entomologist David Kerns sounded the alarm in June, warning that armyworms in Texas were bad and heading north and east. They’d gotten off to an early start, aided by good weather in their winter home range.

Once the moths are on the move, they leave their natural enemies behind, taking their new territories by surprise. They can migrate hundreds of miles, riding the winds to reinfest the northern part of their domain. But with an early start this year, they rode the winds farther than normal. By the end of August, much of the southern U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains had suffered serious assault, akin to a plague of locusts.

An adult armyworm moth (genus Spodoptera) Scott D. Stewart, Author provided
Newly hatched armyworms. Scott D. Stewart, Author provided

How do we control the invasion?

There are two ways to deal with an infestation: Wait it out, or fight. For those concerned about lawns, waiting may be the answer. Armyworms don’t feast on all grasses, and a well-established lawn will often recover, though it may not look great for a while. However, armyworms particularly love freshly laid sod, which may sustain irreparable damage.

Waiting it out isn’t an option for farmers. Applying insecticides is the only way to save crops, which may prove difficult as pandemic-fueled disruptions have left some insecticides in short supply. Success is a numbers game: Killing 80% of a group of 100 armyworms controls them, but with larger numbers of armyworms, killing 80% still means many crops will be devastated.

Some evidence also suggests that fall armyworms may be developing more resistance to certain insecticides, and it wouldn’t be the first time. This pest is infamous for developing resistance to the insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis produced by genetically modified crops. My colleague Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes is trying to understand how the fall armyworm becomes resistant to Bt toxins in Bt corn and cotton.

His work is also revealing how insecticidal protein-resistant armyworms are spreading their genes across the Americas. We are currently collaborating on a project using gene silencing to help control outbreaks of fall armyworm. The technique can turn off specific genes, including those that make the fall armyworm resistant to insecticides. The goal is to develop extremely specific and effective insecticides that have minimal impact on the environment and other wildlife species.

Fall armyworm on damaged corn. ossyugioh/Getty Images

The cost – and the future

The economic costs of fall armyworm invasions are high. This year alone they have preyed upon millions of acres of crops, hayfields, lawns and turfgrass. Farmers, homeowners and businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars on insecticide applications. Some farms have suffered major crop losses.

The battle is not quite over. It will continue for a few more weeks as the fall armyworm continues to spread farther north and east.

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Was this “year of the armyworm” a fluke? Will they be back? The answer to both questions is probably yes. We don’t know why fall armyworms started off en masse in 2021, but the extreme infestations were hopefully a rare anomaly. There is concern, however, that a warming climate will allow these and other subtropical and tropical insects to expand their territories northward.

We do know that armyworms will reinvade much of the Southern U.S. every year as they always have, and northern states should expect more frequent incursions from insect neighbors to the south.

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GlobalData : Philippines golden rice can usher in new age of GMO food in Asia, says GlobalData

09/21/2021 | 05:42am EDT21 Sep 2021
Philippines golden rice can usher in new age of GMO food in Asia, says GlobalData 
Posted in Consumer

Over the years, genetically modified organism (GMO) crops have faced considerable resistance from the farming community in Asia. However, the scenario may soon change with the Philippines government gearing up for the commercial production of GMO ‘Golden Rice’ in an effort to stem vitamin A deficiency (VAD) diseases. Subsequently, this step can lead to a new age of GMO food revolution in Asia, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Though the GMO golden rice is approved by the US, Canadian and Australian authorities, the Philippines is the first country to approve its commercial farming. In July 2021, the government issued a biosafety permit, officially declaring the golden rice as safe as ordinary rice.

VAD, a leading global cause of child blindness, weak immunity and mortality, affects about 17% of preschoolers in the Philippines. Additionally, rice is the staple food in the country, with total consumption pegged at 5,985 million kilograms in 2020. In line with this, most Filipino respondents in GlobalData’s Q2 2021 consumer survey affirmed that they buy rice in large portions. or purchase it more frequently*.

Owing to these two factors the Philippines Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) worked with the domestic agro-research institution, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), to develop the golden rice plant. The new rice strain naturally produces more beta carotene, a substance that the human body can convert into Vitamin A. The red-orange pigment of beta carotene endows the rice grains with its characteristic golden hue.

The IRRI claims that a single cup of golden rice can deliver about half of the estimated average requirement (EAR) of Vitamin A. Thus, the fortified rice can be a life-saving intervention against VAD in Asian countries where a sizable section of the population who live below the poverty line subsist mostly on rice. However, there is no scientific study proving that the beta carotene in the rice can be fully assimilated by the human body.

Moreover, given the controversies pertaining to GMO crops from Monsanto and Syngenta, GMO golden rice can face resistance from Filipino farmers who fear that it will make them dependent on private corporations for seeds. The golden rice had already met with resistance from Bangladeshi farmers in early 2019.

Bobby Verghese, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Now, it remains to be seen whether consumers who are accustomed to the color and flavor of white rice will accept the new golden rice. Moreover, as the golden rice is intended for the low-income households, product pricing and subsidies will play a critical role in driving adoption.”

“The success of the program in the Philippines can pave the way for the GMO golden rice makers to foray into Bangladesh, China, India, and other Asian countries with high VAD prevalence. This can open the gates for more GMO foods brands into the burgeoning Asia-Pacific (APAC) food industry.”

* Data taken from GlobalData Q2 2021 Consumer Survey – the Philippines (June 2021) with 648 respondents

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GlobalData plc published this content on 21 September 2021 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 21 September 2021 09:41:02 UTC.
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Alliance for Science

GMO eggplant is documented win for resource-poor farmers

BY JOAN CONROW

SEPTEMBER 16, 2021

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Insect-resistant brinjal, or eggplant, is arguably the most impactful project to bring agricultural biotechnology to resource-poor farmers.

Studies show that Bangladesh farmers, who began growing Bt brinjal  commercially in 2014, have enjoyed a sizable increase in income, a receptive market and significantly reduced pesticide use. It is now on its way to commercialization in the Philippines, where it was recently approved for human food and livestock feed.

The crop has been genetically modified to contain a protein from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring soil bacterium used widely in organic agriculture. It reduces pesticide use by providing inherent protection against the destructive eggplant fruit and short borer (EFSB). Field trials conducted in Bangladesh, the Philippines and India demonstrated that Bt eggplant is virtually immune to EFSB, safe for humans and the environment and welcomed by farmers.

While a number of studies have been published on Bt brinjal topics ranging from reduced pesticide use to market and farmer acceptance, a comprehensive documentation of the history and success of the project can only be found in Bringing Bt Eggplant to Resource Poor Farmers in Bangladesh and the Philippines. Thirteen authors, led by Cornell entomologist A. M. Shelton, offer a unique and detailed assessment of the project from its inception to the present.

Their account, recently published in a book titled Genetically Modified Crops in Asia Pacificdiscusses the environmental and human health damage of using frequent insecticide sprays — sometimes twice daily — in a futile attempt to control EFSB. It also documents the development and commercialization of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh, where it was the first GM food crop adopted in South Asia, and how its use was stifled in India and slowed in the Philippines because of anti-GMO activities.

The project is unique because it represents a collaboration of the public and private sector to address a serious food security and production issue in Asia, where eggplant is one of the most important, inexpensive and popular vegetables grown. However, the EFSB is a persistent and destructive pest throughout the region, resulting in reduced yield and high pesticide use.

After the EFSB moth lays its eggs on the plant, hatching larvae can bore into stems, causing the plant to wilt, or into the fruits, making them unmarketable. Losses of 70 to 80 percent are common in Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, even with very frequent spraying.

Traditional breeding efforts have failed to produce plants resistant to EFSB. However, the Indian seed company Mahyco used common techniques of genetic engineering to incorporate the cry1Ac gene into an eggplant line that was then bred into local varieties for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. This resulted in eggplant lines that were virtually immune to EFSB attacks — without the use of any additional sprays.

Cry1A genes have been used globally for more than 25 years to protect millions of hectares of corn and cotton plants from insect attack. Equally important, numerous published studies have demonstrated that the proteins produced by Cry1A are safe to humans and the environment.

With funding provided by USAID, Mahyco, Cornell University and public sector partners in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines formed a partnership in 2003 under the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program II (ABSPII) to use biotech to help solve critical food problems, including insect damage to eggplant.

Though ABSPII ended in 2014, research on Bt eggplant continued with USAID funding under the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership.  The project ended this past March after shepherding considerable advancements for Bt eggplant.

Following the crop’s adoption in Bangladesh, efforts there focused on capacity building, seed production, stewardship and outreach communications. Work in the Philippines centered around facilitating commercialization by creating regulatory dossiers that meet international standards and communication and advocacy efforts. Activities in India stalled out after the government, under pressure from anti-GMO forces and an associated misinformation campaign, imposed a moratorium on the commercial planting of Bt eggplant. Though India’s biosafety body recommended commercialization of Bt eggplant, the moratorium remains in effect.

The success of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh is perhaps best quantified by its rapid adoption by farmers. Just 20 farmers grew it in the first 2013-14 season, a number that soared to 27,612 farmers by the 2017-18 season. Newly released figures indicate that more than 65,000 farmers grew Bt brinjal in the 2020-21 season. An estimated 15-to-20 percent of farmers planted seed saved from the previous season or shared by other farmers.

The documented benefits are equally noteworthy. Farmers growing Bt brinjal enjoyed a six-fold increase in net returns, according to a study conducted during the 2016–17 cropping season. It documented net returns of US$2,151 per hectare for Bt brinjal, compared with US$357 per/ha for non-Bt brinjal. A study conducted the following year documented a 51 percent increase in yield, a 128 percent increase in net revenues, a 37.5 percent reduction in pesticide costs and an 11.5 percent decrease in reports of pesticide poisonings.

The most recent study, conducted in the 2019–20 season, showed that Bt lines gave brinjal farmers a 19.6 percent higher yield and 21.7 percent improvement in revenue. Furthermore, 80.6 percent of the 195 Bt brinjal farmers surveyed were satisfied with the quality of their fruit, compared with just 28 percent of the 196 non-Bt farmers, whose fruit was infested by the borers. The survey also revealed that while nearly 40 percent of the non-Bt brinjal farmers had not yet heard of Bt brinjal, after learning about it, 71.4 percent said they intended to grow it the following year.

“Seeing is believing” — the phenomenon of farmers wanting GM crops after seeing or hearing about their benefits — sums up the way forward for Bt eggplant, so long as governments simultaneously exercise the political will required to support the legal cultivation of the crops.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Minister of Agriculture Begum Matia Chowdhury provided strong support to move Bt brinjal toward commercialization through the Bangladesh regulatory framework. Such high-level political support, absent in India and the Philippines, was vital to commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh.

The political climate seems to be warming in the Philippines, given recent decisions by regulators there to allow both the cultivation of GM Golden Rice and the use of Bt brinjal for food and feed. Farmers are anxiously awaiting Bt brinjal’s full adoption.

But farmers in India have become increasingly frustrated as they continue to be denied access to a crop that their own regulatory body has deemed safe — and that their neighbors in Bangladesh been successfully growing for seven years now.  Though Indian scientists continue their research into GM crops that both consumers and farmers would value, such as higher-yielding mustard and peanuts with low aflatoxin content, a hostile political environment has prevented the adoption of these crops.

Image: Bangladesh farmer Khalilur Rahman shows off his harvest of Bt brinjal. Photo: Arif Hossain


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Ghana’s first GM crop will help country deal with protein deficiency challenges – CSIR Scientist

Participants at the stakeholders meeting

Senior Research Scientist at the CSIR Dr. Richard Ampadu – Ameyaw says Ghana’s first genetically modified crop – the pod borer resistant cowpea (beans), will help the country deal with protein deficiency challenges among the population.

Dr. Ampadu – Ameyaw who works with the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) says the variety will offer the country a lot of benefits when it is eventually approved for the benefit of farmers and consumers.

“In a lot of places, being able to buy fish or meat is a challenge… More beans will help ensure more proteins for the people,” he observed.

“If it is well managed and well farmed, it could help a lot of people move away from poverty,” he added.

Dr. Ampadu – Ameyaw who is also Country Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), was speaking at a stakeholders meeting in Accra organized by Alliance for Science Ghana (AfS Ghana) on ongoing efforts by the CSIR to introduce the improved GM cowpea varieties in the country.

Scientists at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the CSIR have completed trials on the pest-resistant cowpea (beans) and will soon apply for environmental/commercial release of the GM variety. The GM crop is expected to help farmers dramatically reduce their use of pesticides on cowpea farms, while also enjoying better quality yields of this important staple food. Cowpea popularly called beans is a popular delicacy which people consume in their waakye, gorbe (rice and beans), among several diets.

A destructive pest known as maruca pod borer has been responsible for highly low yields of the protein rich cowpea crop, forcing farmers to spray their fields with pesticides for up to 8 times in the 12-week life cycle of the crop. But the GM cowpea resists the pest which can cause destruction to about 80% of all cowpeas on farmers’ fields. They are particularly devastating because they damage not only the flowers and the buds, but also destroy the pods, resulting in grain and yield loss.

The pod borer resistant cowpea (PBR cowpea) as it is called, helped farmers cut down pesticide use on their farms by up to 80% during field trials supervised by scientists from SARI. The resistance is the result of the introduction of a gene from a naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis that has the capacity to control the pest. The scientists are confident the variety will help ensure more residents in rural areas have access to more protein-rich beans to help avoid cases of kwashiorkor and other protein deficiency diseases in children across the country.

Executive member of Alliance for Science Ghana Joseph Opoku Gakpo called for increased education on the varieties to ensure members of the public better understand what it’s all about and the objective for its development.

He disclosed the National Biosafety Authority will invite public comments from the public when it receives a request from the CSIR scientists for its approval and urged members of the public to take interest and contribute to the discussions.

“These decisions will be made based on whatever the available scientific data is. But the National Biosafety Authority is obliged by law to invite public opinion and factor that in the decision it makes. So, let no one sit on the fence. Especially the scientific community, Make your voices heard, This country is for all of us and we all have every right to be part of the key decisions that will eventually shape our agricultural sector,” Mr. Gakpo told the meeting.

Collins Oppong, an agricultural officer with the Directorate of Agricultural Extension Services of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture urged the scientists working on the variety to avail themselves to the public for proper education on the improved variety.

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