Bt eggplant field test resumes

THE field testing of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant has started in a 5,000-sq m farm at the campus of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

USM, the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation, Inc. (UPLBFI) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA) also reaffirmed their commitment to pursue the tests on the fruit- and shoot borer resistant (FSB) Bt eggplant.

During the partners’ meeting held on March 26, 2012 at the USM campus, the three institutions also strengthened their collaboration for the project “Development and Commercialization of Philippine Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB)Resistant Eggplants Containing MAHYCO Bt Eggplant Event, EE1: Multilocation Field Trials for Biosafety Assessment, Variety Accreditation and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) Registration.”

UPLB-FI executive director Dr. Cecilio R. Arboleda, USM president Dr. Jesus Antonio G. Derije and ISAAA Global Coordinator Dr. Randy A. Hautea signed an agreement to formalize their collaboration.

Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II director Dr. Frank Shotkoski and Bt eggplant Project Leader Dr. Desiree Hautea witnessed the event.

Immediately, transgenic Bt eggplants, hybrids and open pollinated varieties (OPVs), were transplanted in the fenced and isolated field at the USM campus.

Ms. Merle Palacpac, cochairwoman of the Biotech Core Team of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Plant Industry and Rakim Tantong, Plant Quarantine Service Division Chief in Cotabato City oversaw the event.

The field trial of Bt eggplant at USM is a milestone in public sector biotechnology research.

It is the first field trial of a biotech crop to be conducted at USM, a premier state university and center of excellence in Mindanao.

            North Cotabato officials and local executives also participated in transplanting the transgenic crops part of the continuing education for local government unit (LGU) awareness of the Bt eggplant development in the country.

The DA regulators and Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) members from USM also met to discuss and review the biosafety permit conditions for the field trial.

These conditions include the 200-meter radius physical isolation of the trial site from other eggplant fields and the provision of pollen trap plants around the field trial area.

USM IBC chairwoman Dr. Emma Sales said that five rows of pollen trap plants were planted around the trial site.

Derije reiterated that as part of the university’s mandate to conduct education, research, extension, and resource generation, USM will support biotechnology research and conduct the multilocation field trial of Bt eggplant.

He said USM and the project proponents will comply with the biosafety regulatory guidelines and conditions under DA’s Administrative Order No. 8 (AO8).

This order sets the rules and regulations for the release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.

Sales said the generation of facts is the main objective of the university in conducting scientific research on Bt eggplant.

“The university does not need profit, it needs factual information,” she clarified.

She added that the purpose of the field trial is to determine if Bt eggplant is indeed resistant to the destructive FSB and how it would be beneficial to farmers and to the general public.

Sales noted that the research is needed to prove that Bt eggplant would, indeed, be effective and beneficial.

Many Filipino farmers have already expressed their eagerness to plant the pest resistant Bt eggplant.

Edwin Paraluman, a biotech corn farmer from General Santos City, said that he is excited to grow Bt eggplants because he knows how much the crop would help farmers.

Speaking from experience, Paraluman said that eggplant is more profitable than corn.

Paraluman estimated that profit from a hectare of eggplant farm is equivalent to the revenues from two hectares of corn.

“If profit has increased with Bt corn, then it would increase as well for Bt eggplant,” he said.

Paraluman also stressed that with Bt eggplant, farmers would be released from the heavy reliance on the spraying of chemical pesticides.

Traditional eggplant varieties require spraying every three days to keep pests under control.“Halos mamataymatay na ako sa kakaspray (ng insecticide),” (“I almost passed out because of frequent insecticide spraying”) he said.

 “Borers will damage all eggplant fruits if farmers will not spray chemical insecticides,” said Paraluman.

With Bt eggplant technology, the use of chemical insecticides will be reduced significantly, thus cutting the risks to farmers, consumers and the environment.

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