BEIJING, CHINA — The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released on Feb. 13 a report which indicates more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted biotech crops in 2013, reflecting a 5 million, or 3%, increase in global biotech crop hectarage.
Global biotech crop hectarage has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013. During this 18 year period, more than a 100-fold increase of commercial biotech crop hectarage has been reported. The U.S. continues to lead global biotech crop plantings at 70.1 million hectares or 40% of total global hectares.
"Accumulated hectarage of biotech crops planted worldwide to-date stands at 1.6 billion hectares or 150% of the total landmass of China," said Clive James, author of the report and ISAAA founder and chairman emeritus. "Each of the top 10 countries planting biotech crops during 2013 planted more than 1 million hectares, providing a broad foundation for future growth."
According to the report, more than 90%, or 16.5 million, of farmers planting biotech crops are small and resource-poor. Of the countries planting biotech crops, eight are industrial countries and 19 are developing countries. For the second year, developing countries planted more hectares of biotech crops than industrialized countries, representing confidence and trust of millions of risk-averse farmers around the world that have experienced the benefits of these crops. Nearly 100% of farmers who try biotech crops continue to plant them year after year, the report notes.
In the U.S., approximately 2,000 farmers in the drought-prone Corn Belt planted about 50,000 hectares of the first biotech drought-tolerant maize. Also, Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, developed and approved planting of the world's first drought-tolerant sugarcane (the first biotech sugarcane to be approved globally) and plans to commercialize it for planting in 2014.
"Biotech crops are demonstrating their global value as a tool for resource poor farmers who face decreased water supplies and increased weed and pest pressures -- and the effects of climate change will only continue to expand the need for this technology," said James.
Biotech drought-tolerant maize technology has been donated to Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, a public/private partnership by Monsanto and BASF, funded by the Gates and Buffet foundations and implemented through the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Planting of biotech drought-tolerant maize in Africa is expected in 2017. Drought is the biggest constraint to maize productivity in Africa on which 300 million Africans depend for survival.
Between 1996 and 2012, biotech cotton in China generated economic benefits valued at over US$15 billion, with $2.2 billion occurring during the past year. Biotech crops also provided important benefits to farmers and the environment in China, with insecticide use decreasing by 50 percent or more on biotech cotton.
"China has already experienced the benefits of biotech cotton for fiber, and could also benefit from biotech maize through increased and improved grain production for animal feed," said James. "China could also benefit from the approval of biotech traits for rice, the staple food crop in Asia."
Some observers speculate China might be paving the way to approval of a major biotech crop, like the phytase-maize that received biosafety clearance in 2009, when two biotech rice traits were also approved. The feed demand of sustaining China's 500 million swine and 13 billion poultry is causing the country to become increasingly reliant on imported maize, to supplement the 35 million hectares of maize it grows.
Growth in developing countries continues to expand. Latin American, Asian and African farmers collectively grew 54% of global biotech crop hectares (up 2% from 2012), thereby increasing the hectarage gap between industrial and developing countries from approximately 7 to 14 million hectares between 2012 and 2013, respectively.
South America collectively planted 70 million hectares or 41%; Asia collectively planted 20 million hectares or 11%; and Africa collectively planted just over 3 million hectares or 2% of the global biotech hectarage.
"Growth in industrial countries and mature markets in developing countries continued to plateau in 2013 as adoption rates were sustained at 90 percent or more, leaving little room for expansion," said James. "During the past year, growth was led by developing countries, namely Brazil, which posted an impressive 3.7 million hectare or 10 percent increase, reaching 40.3 million total hectares. During the next year, growth is expected to continue in developing countries -- and Brazil will continue to lead the way, consistently closing the gap with the United States."
Success in developing countries can often be attributed to public/private partnerships. For example, Brazil, in cooperation with BASF, has developed and approved an herbicide-tolerant soybean that is ready for commercialization, having successfully completed all steps necessary for development and deployment of the product. Such partnerships instill pride which generates confidence and incentive necessary for success.