Bt Talong field trial starts in North Cotabato

LOS BANOS, Laguna (MindaNews/02 April) — Field trial of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt Talong in North Cotabato has finally taken off the ground last week.

Dr. Lourdes Taylo, an entomologist from the University of the Philippines Los Banos – Institute of Plant Breeding, confirmed that Bt Talong has been planted at a trial site at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan town.

“The field trial would run for about three months,” she told MindaNews, thumbing down “possible contamination of conventional eggplants since the Bt Talong test site has been isolated.”

Jenny Panopio, special projects coordinator of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center, separately confirmed the ongoing field trial of Bt Talong at USM Kabacan.

“The planting of the Bt eggplant in Kabacan as part of the multi-location field trials in the country went on smoothly,” Panopio said.

A memorandum of agreement was signed with the management of USM, with Dr. Desiree Hautea, Bt Talong project team leader, on hand, Panopio said.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture in Region 12 also graced the launching of the Bt Talong field trial, she added.

The field trial of Bt talong in Kabacan would have started in 2010 if not for protests due to concerns on genetic contaminations.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of North Cotabato has endorsed last year the field testing of Bt Talong in Kabacan.

Dr. Frank Shotkoski, director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Market II at Cornell University, earlier said the field testing at the USM may run for three to four months, the normal cycle for eggplants to mature and bear fruit.

Shotkoski, whose group is funded by the United States Agency for International Development to help commercialize genetically modified crops for developing countries in Asia and Africa, said that Bt eggplant saplings eight to 10 inches tall will be utilized to jumpstart the field testing in Kabacan.

Once the field test becomes successful, meaning it adheres to environmental and human safety standards and the yields are economically viable, the next step is for commercialization.

“Its commercial propagation will still be subjected to further government regulation, there’s a need to get a variety approval,” he said..

UPLB has been conducting multi-location field testing of Bt Talong that is resistant to fruit-and-shoot borer (FSB), so named because it feeds on the leaves and fruits during the early vegetative stage, and feasts on the fruit during the fruiting stage.

Through biotechnology, the FSB-resistant variety was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co., Ltd. in India.

FSB, according to Dr. Serge Francisco, a scientist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute, could ruin up to 100% of eggplant output.

In a study titled “Value of Environmental Benefits of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, Mr. Franscisco et al said that Bt eggplant reduces not only pesticide use, but also risks to human and animal health.

By adopting Bt eggplant, it is expected that 48% of pesticide use will be reduced, or only 6.2 liters of pesticides per hectare compared to other eggplant varieties, resulting to a savings of P13,959, the study said.

Overall, cultivating Bt eggplant could raise a farmer’s income by about P50,000 per hectare as production cost is cut by 16%, it added. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)