Fungi-resistant potato to save Tk 100cr a yr
Farmers in Bangladesh grow near 10 million tonnes of potato every year, well surpassing the domestic demand of the tuber crop, and export the surplus to 20 countries.
But to save the prime vegetable from fungal attacks (potato late blight), farmers in Bangladesh have to foot Tk 100 crore yearly bills on fungicide sprays.
Aiming to give the growers a relief from high fungicide expenditure and increase the output of potato, otherwise damaged by late blight, the government has embarked on a project to infuse the country's most popular potato variety -- Diamant -- with three resistant genes to fight the late blight.
All of these three genes -- taken from some of potato's wild species -- once engineered into the homegrown potato would make the new GM variety resistant to fungi and thereby, make the hazardous fungicides redundant, expect scientists.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury was present in the auditorium of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) in the capital on Wednesday where Prof Dr David Douches from Michigan State University (MSU), a potato breeder for past 30 years, presented the plan before a scientific audience.
Bangladesh's premier farm research organisation -- Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) -- teamed up with the MSU, University of Minnesota and Simplot Plant Sciences of Idaho, USA, to breed the GM (genetically modified) potato expectedly in three years. The USAID is financing the US$ 5.8 million research venture.
Once released, the triple-gene late blight resistant potato will be Bangladesh's second commercial GM agro product since the country's first one -- Bt brinjal -- released in 2013.
BARI, meanwhile, has also developed another fungi-resistant potato line and waiting for a regulatory approval. Scientists concerned, however, told the news agency that the line that BARI developed was infused with single resistant gene. They see much more potential in staking up of triple genes into potato so that it can withstand even strongest of fungal attacks.
Starting with just 20 back in 2013, as many as 7,000 farmers across 64 districts of the country are cultivating Bt brinjal this year, Matia said.
She also informed the audience that after brinjal and potato, several other GM product lines are up in the pipeline, which include, genetically modified varieties of rice, cotton, chickpea and tomato.
The government is exploring biotech technology's potentials in addressing challenges like submergence, drought, high temperatures and other climatic stresses as well as pests and fungi, she added. Matia further said, "We need GM rice that will be tolerant to salt as we have got over a million hectares of saline-prone farmlands in 18 coastal districts of the country." She assured that all biosafety regulations are being thoroughly followed in pursuing the frontier science in agriculture.