For noncommercialization of Bt eggplant, Filipino farmers losing P33.85 billion

Filipino farmers are losing as much as P33.85 billion annually due to noncommercialization of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant as the genetically modified (GM) crop could double their net income, according to an economist.

Cesar Quicoy, associate professor at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) College of Economics and Management, studied the cost of delaying the commercialization of Bt eggplant in the country in three different adoption rate scenarios.

The first, pegging the adoption rate of Bt eggplant at 15 percent of the total production; the second, at 30 percent; and the last, at 50 percent.

At 15-percent adoption rate, Quicoy estimated that farmers are missing out P10.155 billion in potential earnings in the first year of commercialization and would cumulatively increase to P112.466 billion by the 10th year.

At a 30-percent adoption rate, eggplant farmers could have earned at least P20.311 billion annually. After 10 years, they could have already earned a total P224.933 billion.

At a 50-percent adoption rate, eggplant producers could have earned at least P33.852 in potential revenue at the first year of Bt eggplant commercialization. The figure would steadily increase and cumulatively total to about P374.889 billion by the 10th year of market approval.

At net percent value, the eggplant farmers should have already earned between P86.072 billion to P286.907 billion if the Bt eggplant was commercialized a decade ago.

“It’s been 10 years since Bt eggplant was started and introduced in the country. Just imagine that lost in money, that’s more than P300 billion,” Quicoy told reporters in a recent interview.

“If we assume a 60-percent adoption rate [imagine the impact]. And if we double the cropping, which some provinces do, then can you imagine the impact. That’s a lot of money,” Quicoy added.

He said the additional revenue that eggplant farmers would get from using Bt eggplant would offset additional costs they would incur. Furthermore, Bt eggplant seeds would drastically cut the farmers’ spending for pesticides as the GM crop is 100-percent resistant to fruit and shoot borer (FSB).

Quicoy estimated that the farmers’ total cost of production per hectare would reduce by at least P2,480.18 through Bt eggplant. Farmers would drastically reduce their expenditure for fertilizers by nearly P7,000.

However, farmers would have to spend an additional P1,244.81 for using Bt eggplant, as the GM crop cost nearly double than the current price of seeds sold in the market.

Despite this, Quicoy said the overall added return would offset the total added costs incurred by farmers in using Bt eggplant as the GM crop produces more yield compared to traditional seeds due to the elimination of FSB.

A farmer who would use Bt eggplant in a hectare of land would be able to nearly double his net income to P71,060.33 from the current P35,746.06 with an additional yield 2.12 metric tons per hectare.

Quicoy pegged the costs and return estimates at P14.38 per kilogram farm-gate price.

“This is small relative to other sectors, but considering the status of eggplant farmers, especially those with less than a hectare of farm, the additional P35,000 would be a big amount for them,” he said.

“Their additional income would come from lesser cost of production, and lesser damage in crops resulting in more marketable produce,” he added.

Local studies found out that eggplant farmers spray their crops 60 to 80 times over a four-month period to eradicate FSB, which damages at least 20 percent to as much as 80 percent of their total crops.

Bt eggplant, which contains Cry1Ac BT protein, has been observed to have the ability to stamp out FSB by up to 100 percent, according to field-trial reports conducted by the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) in UPLB.

Cry1Ac effectively functions as the insecticide that kills the moth FSB when it is ingested by the pest.

“These results demonstrate that Bt eggplant lines containing Cry1Ac event EE-1 provide outstanding control of FSB and can dramatically reduce the need for conventional insecticides,” said the IPB scientists, led by Dr. Desiree M. Hautea.

“Bt eggplant lines demonstrated high levels of control of FSB shoot damage [98.6 percent to 100 percent] and fruit damage [98.1 percent to 99.7 percent] and reduced FSB larval infestation [95.8 percent to 99.3 percent] under the most severe pest pressure during Trial 2,” they added in a news release.

In contrast, the non-Bt eggplant suffered 41.58-percent FSB-damaged shoots, 93.08-percent damaged fruits and 16.15 larvae per plot per harvest.

The Bt eggplant project in the Philippines is being conducted by the IPB-UPLB, a public-sector research institution with the mandate of developing quality plant varieties for Filipino farmers.

Researchers have been conducting field trials for Bt eggplant when groups petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to stop efforts to commercialize the GM crop in 2012.

The SC has reversed in 2016 its 2015 decision stopping field testing of GM crops. However, the commercial propagation of Bt eggplant remains stalled at the regulatory level.

The resulting crafting of Joint Department Circular has put in place new requirements for GM organisms, including Bt eggplant—step-by-step approval from the regulatory agencies from laboratory tests to contained and confined use, to field testing and commercial propagation.

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