The government has decided to supply free Bt brinjal seeds to 2,001 farmers in 64 districts to encourage production of the controversial genetically modified vegetable across the country ignoring environmentalists protests.
In January 2014, amid huge protests the government introduced Bt brinjal cultivation in Bangladesh.
At that time, agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury herself distributed Bt brinjal saplings among 20 farmers selected from Rajshahi, Rangpur, Pabna and Gazipur free of costs.
Now, Bt brinjal is grown by at least 5,000 farmers in 36 districts, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, in short BARI, officials told New Age.
Only BARI has been mandated by the government to produce Bt brinjal seeds and distribute them among farmers to be selected by the Department of Agricultural Extension.
While launching an incentive programme on September 10, agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury announced that government would in the rabi season distribute Bt brinjal seeds and fertilizers among 2,001 farmers in 64 districts.
She said that each farmer would be given 20 gram of Bt brinjal seeds with 15kg of DAP and 15kg of MOP fertilizers for growing the crop on each bigha of land.
The total cost of the incentive prograame, she said, was Tk 58.77 crore for boosting production of wheat, maize, mustard, summer mung, felon, peanut, sesame, khesari and mashkalai and Bt brinjal.
For growing the transgenic crop, Bt brinjal seeds are created by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars, said agricultural scientists.
They said that the inserted Bt gene effectively works only against the Shoot and Fruit Borer pest, known to be the most destructive for the brinjal crop as it causes huge production loss to the farmers.
Now, they said, four Bt brinjal varieties are grown in Bangladesh.
BARI director for research Dr M.Lutfur Rahman told New Age that the genetically modified brinjal seed technology was getting popular among the country’s farmers as saplings of these seeds need less of pesticides to grow.
‘We produced 1.5 tonne of Bt brinjal seeds, which is sufficient to meet the requirements of the farmers already selected for growing the genetically modified crop,’ he said.
He said that the seeds would be supplied according to the estimates of the DAE, as it selects the farmers for growing the GM crop.
Replying to a question, Lutfur Rahman said that BT brinjal seeds would be immune only from the Shoot and Fruit Borer Pests but not from the attacks from wilts which would be able to damage the Bt brinjal plants.
When asked, She-re-Bangla Agricultural University professor of Genetics and Plant Breeding Md. Shahidur Rashid Bhuiyan told New Age that there was no scientific proof that Bt brinjal could harm human health.
Green activists, however, raised concern over encouraging any genetically modified crop saying that they could harm human health and environment in the long run.
Poribesh Bachao Andolon chairman Abu Naser Khan said that GM crops would enormously harm the country’s bio-diversity and agriculture.
Bangladesh would lose its vegetable export markets in the EU countries as they don’t accept GM crops, he said.
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