Farmers on the frontiers of prosperity are choosing GM seeds.
They’re embracing this technology so much that 54 percent of the global cropland devoted to GM technology is in the developing world, in countries such as Brazil, India, and South Africa as well as Bangladesh, Honduras, and Myanmar.
That may be the most significant finding in the new annual report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), which has tracked GMO plantings for more than two decades.
GMOs, says the report, are “the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times.” They accounted for fewer than 2 million hectares in 1996, when they were first commercialized, to nearly 192 million hectares last year.
Although large farms in the United States and Canada have driven much of this growth—I’ve planted and harvested biotech crops in Iowa for years—farmers who choose GMOs overwhelmingly come from poor countries. These farm folks chose biotech to improve their finances and food security. The additional results include less chemicals and tillage which are great environmental outcomes. This choice is improving prosperity for families and communities.
The ISAAA’s press release quotes Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer in the Philippines whom I got to know a number of years ago. She’s a member of the Global Farmer Network and I was on the panel that selected her as the first recipient of the GFN’s Kleckner Award for Trade & Technology Advancement.
“There was not even a trace of pests considering that we did not apply insecticide,” she said of her GMO corn. “Furthermore, we no longer need to visit our maize field every day and this gives us peace of mind.”
Last year, farmers like Rosalie planted GMOs in record numbers. GMOs comprised 191.7 million hectares, to be exact. That’s about 474 million acres, or more than 740,000 square miles; a massive area. A total of 70 nations have adopted biotech crops, through either cultivation or importation, according to the ISAAA. This includes every country in the European Union.
Since 1996, scientists have studied GMOs, regulators have scrutinized them, and political activists have hollered about them. All while farmers and consumers have chosen them.
Sensible environmentalists have recognized the advantages of biotech crops. The ISAAA calculates that over the last generation, the productivity of GMOs have saved 183 million hectares of land. This has relieved the pressure to convert rainforests and other wilderness into cropland. GMOs also have cut carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to removing nearly 17 million cars from the road for an entire year.
We’re seeing lots of other innovations, too. Last year, Indonesians planted drought-tolerant sugarcane for the first time. More GMO crops feature traits designed to appeal specifically to consumers, such as non-browning apples and non-bruising potatoes. Golden rice, which fights a particular kind of malnutrition in the developing world, is also moving toward general acceptance.
Biotechnology is a permanent part of agriculture right now—and as farmers in developing countries gain more access to them, those folks are going to become an even bigger part of solving our food security and climate challenges. Good for farmers; great for all of us.