Raktima Bose

KOLKATA: If all goes well, markets in India will be flooded with genetically modified brinjal seeds or Bt brinjal seeds within a year. They will be more resistant to pests while retaining the nutritional value of the conventional brinjal, Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director of research of Maharashtra Hybrid seeds Company Limited (Mahyco), said here on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference, Ms. Zehr said Bt brinjal would be the second genetically modified vegetable to be introduced after the success of Bt cotton, also launched by Mahyco in 2002. It is now awaiting the approval of the Centre’s Genetic Engineering Approval Commission (GEAC).

Though consumer groups and non-governmental organisations have expressed concern over the consumption of Bt brinjal, she said: “We have carried out large-scale trials of the effect of the Bt brinjal on human health, animals and environment under the supervision of the Institute of Vegetable Research in Varanasi.”

“Since the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation has cleared the data, we hope to get GEAC’s approval for its commercial launch within this year,” Ms. Zehr said.

Brinjal is grown on 5,50,000 hectares in the country at the rate of 30 tonnes a hectare. Ms. Zehr said 40 to 65 per cent of the vegetables are wasted because of fruit and shoot borer insect pests. West Bengal is the largest producer of brinjal in the country with 1,64,000 hectares under cultivation. The State accounts for 30 per cent of production.

She pointed out that with Bt brinjal, farmers needed to use 70 per cent less insecticides. There would be a 116 per cent increase in marketable yield since the Bt variety will reduce the wastage percentage to between 4 and 10 per cent. Mahyco has already collaborated with three Indian agricultural universities and universities in Bangladesh and the Philippines to share the technology and develop local Bt brinjal seed varieties, suitable to the particular region’s soil and temperature which are also affordable. The company is also developing Bt varieties of other vegetables, Ms. Zehr said.