2023 is very exciting in the Philippines! As a farmer, we are now allowed to plant Bt eggplant. This will give us better yields and more economic opportunity!
Last fall the Philippine government regulators finally approved the commercialization of Bt eggplant after years of evaluation. The Philippines is now the second country in the world, after Bangladesh, to allow farmers to use one of the world’s best agricultural science innovations to defeat a voracious pest that poses a constant threat to this valuable vegetable.
This is going to make a big difference to our farm’s production, to the farmers that will use this technology and to the consumers. It is a very good development for my mission farm in the Camotes Islands, where I grow crops as part of a project to alleviate poverty in this island and other places.
When my wife and I started the farm in 2010, we practiced the organic agriculture system. We grew white corn flint varieties, mostly for human consumption as corn grits, and produced about 600 kilograms of shelled corn per hectare. Not efficient or profitable with that yield, we needed to do better but I had no idea how much better until we tried Bt corn varieties that were already available.
The results amazed me: By 2016, when we had fully adopted Bt corn, we yielded about 8,400 kg per hectare.
The reason for the huge improvement is simple. Biotechnology gives our corn a special ability to fight the worm that always want to feast on our crops. If left unprotected, we can lose 30 to 60 percent of our yield.
Since then, our farm has had its ups and downs, as commodity prices have fluctuated, bad weather and a deadly pandemic have battered us, and securing credit from banks has become more difficult. Yet I’ve become a total believer in the science-based tool of biotechnology. For farmers, they are an indispensable tool of production.
In my opinion, we need to apply this technology to as many crops as possible.
Unfortunately, many governments around the world have been slow to accept GMOs. But we see a positive change as more information about GMOs are reaching farmers and regulators. In the Philippines, 2021 is the year regulators moved beyond GMO corn with the commercialization of golden rice, a GMO product that holds the potential to solve the nutritional challenge of vitamin-A deficiency, which can lead to blindness and other problems.
Now, with the approval of Bt eggplant in October 2022, we can enhance the food known in our local dialect as “talong.” With around 21,000 ha of eggplant planted each year in the Philippines, it is a staple part of diets and a major crop on many farms.
The example of Bangladesh shows that Bt eggplant both boost yields and reduces reliance on pesticides. We’re sure to see similar results in the Philippines, and I believe that we’ll reduce our input costs by as much as 30 percent. This innovation will make farming more profitable for farmers as well as food more available and affordable for consumers.
The experience of our farm demonstrates the great need for this excellent technology.
Last year, we grew about 18,000 individual eggplants on one hectare—and we would lose more than 50% of our weekly yield due to EFSB, a horrible pest that ravages crops.
In September, I recorded a video from my farm to show the threat of shoot borers. Many times, an eggplant looks healthy from the outside. Close inspection, however, betrays the presence of shoot borers. Cracking open the fruit reveals enough damage to the inside that the eggplant is no longer viable to sell.
It takes about 25 days for the fruit of an eggplant to mature, and during this entire period it’s under steady pressure from these persistent bugs. Crop-protection products can help, but they are expensive and never completely effective. An infestation of shoot borers can cause yields to drop by as much as 80 percent.
With the advent of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, we have an equalizer. We will be able to limit the damage of shoot borers to an acceptable minimum.
GMOs like Bt eggplant won’t wipe away all our troubles, as we contend with the high cost of fertilizer, the variable weather, and other types of pests—but the virtual elimination of the biggest threat to our crop will make eggplant farming more rewarding than ever before.
The University of the Philippines is charged with producing the seeds. The only question for us is how soon we can get them. The demand is strong and we’re in a long queue—but I’m hopeful that before the year is over, I’ll have access to this effective variety.
And most importantly to our mission and the farmers we serve, we will be able to lead by example, taking advantage of technology to support a profitable agriculture industry in the island as a tool to alleviate poverty.