MANILA, Philippines – Some farmers are asking President Benigno S. Aquino III to allow them to start planting the banned Bt eggplant believing it will reduce health-harmful pesticide spraying and will improve consumers’, farmers’, and environmental health.
The Declaration of Support (DOS) was signed during a public dialogue together with scientists and farmer resource persons at the South East Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, Los Baños, Laguna.
By signing a DOS, farmers mostly planting eggplant from San Pablo City, Laguna and Sariaya, Quezon assert they need the Bt eggplant seeds to become more successful.
“We realize that Bt eggplant, which contains the gene similar to the insect resistant Bt corn, can bring benefits to their respective farming communities such as higher yield and income, reduced chemical pesticide use, and improved environmental health,” they said in the signed DOS.
The Bt eggplant by state-run University of the Philippines Los Baños, has the gene Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis that combats the infesting Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) without harming humans. The plant has proved its safety as food based on tests on allergenecity and toxicity and based on international standards such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization CODEX Alimentarius Risk Analysis of Food Derived from Modern Biotechnology. Above all, it has all the nutrients equivalent to common eggplants.
Eggplant farmer Henry Rucafor of Barangay San Cristobal, San Pablo City, who has been planting eggplant for 20 years said he hopes the seeds will be made available sooner.
Based on his experience, the pest FSB infestation could wipe out 50 percent of harvest and income.
Farmers are known to spray 60 to 80 times during a 120-day eggplant season. They may spend as much as 50 percent of around P50,000 per hectare production cost just to battle pests. That includes labor and spray.
Moreover, availing pesticides is costly because you cannot use the same brand of pesticide again and again because one kind may not always be effective.
“You have to try different ones every now and then,” said Rucafor.
In addition to the burden in their pockets, the farmers’ health is also at risk. Since protective gears are very expensive and hard to find, most of the farmers expose themselves directly to the mists in spraying.
The farmers are currently up against a Writ of kalikasan with Temporary Environmental Protection Order against the genetically modified Bt eggplant issued by the Court of Appeals (CA). They expect the Supreme Court to reverse the CA order which effectively banned Bt eggplant field trials, consequently the seeds’ commercial release.
In Sariaya, Quezon, Tomas Villamin, eggplant farmer of the San Roque Farmers’ Assn., said he believes government should first let farmers use the Bt eggplant seeds before concluding that it is harmful.
Rosie Reyes, an eggplant sorter laments that because of the pest FSB, many eggplants cannot be sold in the market. Moreover, she is certain that Bt eggplant seeds will be sold out once released.
National food security can be achieved in the Philippines given the use of science to solve food problems, according to the DOS. It can even be the solution to reduce hunger and poverty in the Philippines.