Tons of toxic chemicals used to control eggplant pest

  • 11 January 2016, Monday

Source: The Philippine Star
11 Jan 2016

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – Expect vegetable production in the country to continue being a “pesticide-laced” industry following the Supreme Court (SC) ban on field trials of genetically modified (GM) eggplant.

Hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals are being used to control eggplant fruit and shoot borer (FSB), the most destructive pest attacking the vegetable in the Philippines and in other Asian countries.

“What you buy in the markets are newly sprayed eggplants,” a plant scientist declared in one conference.

Not long ago, a Bukidnon farmer told a science-media forum in Makati that a farmer sprays his eggplant crop 70 to 80 percent per cropping season (six to eight months) to shield it from destructive pests.

These grim facts and figures become more perturbing when one considers that about 40,000 vegetable growers today are planting eggplant in about 21,000 hectares across the country.

Eggplant is now the country’s top vegetable crop, edging out tomato a few years back. Harvest reaches 201,000 metric tons, valued at more than P3 billion.

As of 2011, five provinces – Pangasinan, Quezon, Isabela, Cagayan and Iloilo – were the biggest producers, according to the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (DA-BAS).

“Not a lowly crop by any means, it is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fibers, as well as an important agricultural commodity in the country,” said Jennifer Panopio and Sophia Mercado in a SEARCA-BIC (Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center) report titled “FSBR/Bt eggplant: A safe, more profitable biotech innovations.”

However, since the Court of Appeals (CA) – and only last month the SC – stopped research on the pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong, many farmers will continue “spreading poison and damaging our environment,” the Mindanao farmer said at the Makati forum sponsored by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and Philippine government-hosted, University of the Philippines Los Baños-based SEARCA.

A farmer usually applies in one cropping season six brands of pesticide to protect his plants from pests: five kilograms and 10 kg of two pesticides; 20 bottles (250 milliliters) each of two different brands; and 10 liters and five liters of two other separate pesticides.

Given that about 40,000 farmers use six brands of pesticides, the eggplant industry consumes in one season about 100,000 (100 tons) and 200,000 kg (200 tons) of two different pesticides; 400,000 bottles (250 mil) each of two separate chemicals; and 200,000 liters and 100,000 liters of two different brands.

Over the years, fruit and shoot borer has evolved as the most destructive pest attacking eggplant.

Farmers spend an average of P28,000/ha per season on pesticide to control FSB, equivalent to 29 percent of total production cost, according to Sergio Francisco of DA in his economic impact assessment studies.

“FSB could ruin 100 percent of output,” he said on GM or Bt eggplant.

Cesar Quicoy of UPLB also reported that chemical pesticide use is prevalent in the top eggplant-producing provinces (all the farmer-respondents in Quezon, 97 percent in Batangas; and 96 percent in Pangasinan).

Many farmers overdo their efforts (as high as 80 percent per season) to control the pest, said Quicoy, author of a chapter in the book “Socioeconomic Insects of Bt Eggplants” published by UPLB and SEARCA, with the support of UPLB, Agricultural Biotechnology Service Project II, China Academy of Sciences, Indian Society of Cotton Development, and John Templeton Foundation.