Green activists yesterday demanded a halt to the government efforts to introduce genetically modified (GM) crops, mainly BT Brinjal, which they say has been proved a “failure” in the farmers' fields.
They said their investigations found that BT Brinjal was not up to the mark in terms of production and required pesticides, though the main feature of the crop was that it was resistant to pest attacks whereas traditional brinjals were vulnerable to such attacks.
They demanded that the government publish a white paper on the findings of BT Brinjal that has been cultivated in last two seasons, and assess the need for whether another GM crop, golden rice that is enriched with vitamin A, can be cultivated in the field.
The observations came at a discussion titled “Introduction of GMO Crops: BT Brinjal and Golden Rice”, jointly organised by the Alliance Against GMO and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon at the Jatiya Press Club in the capital.
In her keynote presentation, Farida Akhter, executive director of Ubinig, said Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute distributed saplings of BT brinjal to the farmers in two seasons -- in January 2014 and in November 2014.
For the first time, 20 farmers cultivated it, while in the second season 110 farmers in 19 districts cultivated the brinjal. In both seasons, she said, they had found the GM crop had been proved a “failure”.
“The farmers faced losses. The authorities told them that the brinjals will face no pest attacks, but actually pest attacks are on the leaves and hard parts of the plants,” she said.
In that case, BARI agriculturists advised them to spray pesticides.
“At least 16 farmers demanded compensation,” Farida Akhter said.
Ubinig and Naya Krishi Andolon conducted a survey on BT brinjal cultivation during the second season -- November-December 2014 and March-April 2015.
In this season, the BT brinjal plants faced various types of virus, fungus, pest attacks that damaged its leaves, hard parts of the plants and roots. In many cases, the brinjal rotted.
“Even, the supervisor agriculturists themselves often sprayed pesticides. We found 35 types of pesticides have been used in BT brinjal plants this season,” Farida Akhter said.
Farmers also faced losses by cultivating BT brinjal as the yield was lower than that of local varieties, and as its demand in the market was low.
Activists said the government is soon going to introduce another GM crop, Golden Rice, arguing it is enriched with vitamin A without assessing if it has any health hazards.
“In Bangladesh, we have ample vegetables having vitamin A. So, why should we go for GM crop for it,” said Sakiul Millat Morshed, executive director of Shikkha Shasthya Unnayan Karzakram.
He said while the developed countries were going against GM crops, multinational companies were expanding those to the poor countries and would gradually create markets for those.
“We need to be aware of it and act accordingly,” Morshed said.
BARI Director General Rafiqul Islam Mondal, however, denied the allegations, saying that all BT brinjal farmers were successful in the second season though in the first season yield was not very good because of some mismanagement.
No insecticide was used in cultivating BT brinjal, he told The Daily Star.
“We have all evidence of BT brinjal's success,” Rafiqul Islam said.
Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon Vice President Moazzem Hossain, gene scientist Dr MA Sobahan, and journalist Delowar Jahan also spoke.