Photo by: LB Times
Farmers voice support for commercial release of Bt eggplant

Farmers in Tiaong, Quezon, expressed their support for the commercial release of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant at the first-ever gathering of the Bt Eggplant Project in the Philippines, Feed the Future-Insect Resistant Eggplant Partnership (FtF-IREP) Advisory Committee, and the project’s community partners on Feb. 5, 2024 at UPLB.

Bt eggplant has a natural protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, making it resistant to the eggplant fruit-and-shoot borer (EFSB). It was developed by a team at the UPLB Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) and was granted a biosafety permit for commercial propagation on October 18, 2022.

Elson Laydia, one of the eggplant farmers from Tiaong, said that they lose half of their harvest to EFSB despite spraying their crop with insecticide regularly every three days. He said farmers also usually spray the fruits with insecticide at least four hours before harvesting to ensure minimal damage until they reach the marketplace.

According to Perfecto Atienza, president of the Tiaong Vegetable Farmers’ Association, the insecticide that they use to control insect pests like the EFSB costs farmers a lot. He said that Bt eggplant shows potential in managing EFSB and increasing farmers’ income and eggplant production. 

“We strongly support the planting of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, and we hope that we’d be the first farmer partners of Bt Eggplant PH in Tiaong and in our province,” Atienza said.

Atienza and Laydia are vegetable farmers in Quezon, the province that is the largest producer of eggplant in the CALABARZON Region. Its farmers are among those who have suffered substantial financial losses due to EFSB.

To address this issue, the Bt Eggplant PH team worked for 20 years to develop and get Bt eggplant varieties through the rigorous regulatory system. Ultimately, the project aims to give Filipino farmers access to this innovative technology to alleviate costs and reduce the impacts of frequent insecticide use on health and the environment while increasing their yield and income. 

At the committee and partners’ meeting, Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr. expressed his support for the Bt Eggplant Project and highlighted the Bt eggplant’s potential to improve farmers’ livelihoods.

Dr. Maricelis Acevedo, a research professor at the Department of Global Development at Cornell University in the United States and project director of FtF-IREP, lauded UPLB and the research team’s efforts in integrating farmers into the development and promotion of Bt eggplant. She noted that the multiple generations of researchers and scientists who have worked on Bt eggplant is a testament to their belief in its economic impact and safety.

Acevedo also gave a presentation on the success of the Bt eggplant variety in Bangladesh where it is known as Bt “brinjal.” From only 20 farmers in 2014, she said over 60,000 are now planting Bt brinjal. She also highlighted the project’s success in empowering women to lead their own seedling nurseries and engaging key stakeholders through the Farming Future Bangladesh initiative (FFB).

Later, the group discussed project updates on Bt eggplant, socio-economic studies about its benefits to farmers, legal challenges, and the future.

This was followed by parallel round table discussions about the post-commercialization activities of the project, focusing on the approved insect resistance management (IRM) plan for Bt eggplant and developing a communication plan to promote Bt eggplant locally.

Attending the series of meetings were National Scientist Emil Q. Javier; members of the Bt Eggplant Project led by Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, project leader, and Dr. Desiree Hautea, project consultant and principal plant breeder; representatives from FtF-IREP and the US Agency for International Development; and the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO).With these collaborative efforts and support from local and international partners, perhaps the Bt Eggplant Team can soon proudly declare their slogan to farmers: “Talong wait is over!” (Jessa Jael Arana)

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