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A Few Notes on Eggplant

March 13, 2011

We have been writing articles and doing research on the BT Brinjaal debate for over a year now and have been learning more about the history of Eggplant. We never knew why it is called Eggplant in the United States but Aubergine in many other english speaking countries until we read this:

“The African eggplant was the first of two related species that Europeans came across. It was named because the size, shape, and color of the vegetable resembled a hen’s egg. The purple Asian species retained the original, but inappropriate, African name when it became more popular in global foodways. The African eggplant is the guinea squash reported in plantation societies. It is esteemed for its bitter taste and edible green leaves.”

In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World
by Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff

One question we keep returning to is:

Why did Monsanto/Mahyco attempt to gain approval for Eggplant as opposed to any of the other transgenic frutis/vegetables that would have garnered less popular resistance?

Here are a few findings that seem to offer on explanation:

Top Eggplant Producers 2009 (millions of tonnes)
1. People’s Republic of China – 19.02
2. India – 10.37
3. Egypt – 1.25
4. Turkey – 0.81
5. Indonesia – 0.44
6. Iraq – 0.39
7. Japan – 0.34
8. Italy – 0.24
9. Philippines – 0.20
10. Spain – 0.17

It appears that Monsanto believed if they could gain approval in India, a massive market by any standard, they would dominate Eggplant production outside of China. China has its own home-grown transgenic varietals and would not likely strictly enforce Monsanto’s IP even if farmers were growing the plant. (Legally or illegally).

We have examined foodways and agricultural biodiversity a lot in this blog, and it appears that one of the rallying points for the popular resistance to the approval of this product in India is the sheer diversity of the plant, and the personal cultural and geographic connection many eaters feel to their varietals. We still have not found good documentation of which cultivars had been genetically modified or were planned to be sold.

An image from India’s Environmental Minister listening tour I attended in Bangalore:

And a fact that we finally learned about Eggplant:

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