Farmers growing a landmark genetically modified food crop in Bangladesh – Bt brinjal, or aubergine – have found themselves at the centre of a power struggle between the government and activists trying to prevent the technology getting a hold in the region. The growers say they have been subjected to intimidation and misinformation about the safety of their produce by anti-GM campaigners. But in an effort to get the crop out to farmers quickly, the Bangladeshi government agency behind the project appears not to have followed some stipulations of its license to release the crops.
The $600,000 (£357,920) pilot scheme – which is owned and run by a Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) with support from USAid and Cornell University – is a pivotal moment for GM technology in south Asia. “Activists and many others are fighting over these farmers to try to get them to say what is most convenient to their viewpoint,” said Mark Lynas, communications adviser to the Bt brinjal project. “The powerful anti-GMO lobby knows that if Bangladeshi farmers successfully adopt this new crop, other GMO crops in the pipeline such as golden rice (also being developed in Bangladesh) will be advantaged and their cause of banning the technology permanently will be harmed,” he wrote in a blog about the project.
The 20 farms in four regions of the country have become the focus of intense interest. Farmers have received frequent visits and inquiries from green activists, researchers and journalists. “They come, take photographs of the field and leave but we don’t know what they are doing with it,” said Babul Khan, a Bt brinjal farmer in Jamalpur. Bari has tried to prevent farmers from speaking about their crops. “I am scared to even talk to anyone about my field. I don’t know what would put me into trouble,” said Haidul Islam, 44, in Gazipur. Some of the farmers have found it difficult to sell their produce at market because of rumours that the fruit are dangerous to eat.
The Guardian has visited or spoken to all but one of the 20 farmers growing the Bt brinjal crop and established that it has so far had mixed results. While it appears to have successfully repelled the fruit and shoot borer pest as expected, some of the fields have succumbed to other ailments including bacterial wilt and drought. Of the 19 farmers, nine said they had had problems with the crop, with a failure rate of four out of five farms in Gazipur, the region closest to Dhaka. Visits to the two farms in Jamalpur, over 124 miles north of the Bangladeshi capital, show the contrast in results. The region is a patchwork of meadows and green fields where the locals are largely farmers growing a variety of crops that are mostly trucked to the capital for sale.
Read the full, original article: Bangladeshi farmers caught in row over $600,000 GM aubergine trial