The Biotech Crops Story is More Than Just Increased Acreage


When the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its report on plantings of biotech crops around the world in 2007 (ISAAA Brief 37-2007: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2007 at, increased plantings of 30 million acres from the 2006 level, an 11.9 percent increase, to 282.4 million acres grabbed most of the attention. Equally important are the growth in biotech crops with Òstacked traits,Ó plantings of biotech cotton in India, plantings by small and resource-poor farmers and further expansion of biotech crops.

“”The U.S. continued to have the largest acreage of biotech crops at 142.5 million acres, 50.5 percent of the world total. Argentina and Brazil, two developing countries with large scale agriculture, had the second and third largest acreages at 47.2 million acres and 37.1 million acres, respectively. Canada was the fourth largest at 17.3 million acres. Two developing countries with large numbers of small and resource-poor farmers, India and China, were the fifth and six largest countries at 15.3 million acres and 9.4 million acres, respectively. The next three largest were developing countries – Paraguay at 6.4 million acres, South Africa at 4.4 million acres and Uruguay at 1.2 million acres. Developing countries had 43 percent of the acres of biotech crops in 2007, up from 40 percent in 2006.

Double and triple stacked varieties which combine herbicide tolerance with insect resistance increased to 53.8 million acres in 2007, up 66 percent from 2006. Acreage with just insect resistance totaled 50.1 million, up 7 percent from a year earlier. Herbicide tolerance alone was used on 178.5 million acres, up 3 percent from last year, mostly in large scale agriculture. When each trait is measured separately, total trait acres increased by 22 percent. Stacked products were used in 10 countries Ð the U.S., Argentina, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, Honduras, Chile, Columbia and Mexico. In the U.S., stacked varieties accounted for 78 percent of biotech cotton acreage and 63 percent of biotech corn acreage.

Planting of Bt cotton in India continued its rapid growth. In 2002, 54,000 farmers grew 124,000 acres. By 2007, 3.8 million farmers grew 15.3 million acres, a 63 percent increase from 2006 and about two-thirds of the cotton planted. For the past two years nine out of ten farmers who planted Bt cotton the previous year chose to plant it again. Yields have increased by up to 50 percent and insecticide spraying has been reduced by half. India has replaced China with the largest acreage of Bt cotton. Chinese farmers on average have less than half as much cotton land as Indian farmers, and China continues to lead in the number of farmers growing Bt cotton at 7.1 million in 2007.

ISAAA estimates that 12 million farmers worldwide planted biotech crops in 2007, with 11 million of those being small and resource-poor farmers. In addition to those in China and India, another 100,000 were corn growers in the Philippines, cotton, corn and soybean growers in South Africa and growers in eight other developing countries. The ISAAA report quotes World Bank data that 70 percent of the worldÕs poorest people are small and resource-poor farmers and rural landless labor who depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for income. Biotech crop varieties have a track record of increasing farmer incomes by several hundred dollars per year which can be a 20-40 percent increase in income. The experience of small and resource-poor farmers growing biotech corn for human consumption in South Africa has shown yield increases of 25-100 percent, better nutrition from an increased food supply, additional income spent in local communities and opportunities for increased education for children.

Use of biotech crops in developing countries continues to be constrained by the lack of regulatory systems that match the current knowledge about biotech crops. Most regulatory systems were designed for ten years ago when biotechnology was still in the early commercialization phase. The technology had proven safe in research and development in industrial countries and in early commercialization, but governments where concerned about adopting the new technology without local testing and regulatory controls. After 12 years and 1.7 billion acres planted in developed and developing countries the technology has proven to be safe. The task now is to design regulatory systems that are responsible and rigorous within the financial and scientific capabilities of resource constrained governments.

In addition to the 23 countries that planted biotech crops in 2007, another 29 countries have adopted regulations for imports for feed and food use. This includes Japan and the EU, which allows planting of biotech corn and imports of biotech corn and soybeans. The Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales have removed four year bans on biotech canola, and drought tolerant wheat is being tested in Australia. Brazil has given initial approval of biotech corn varieties that may be available for planting in the 2008/09 production year. Burkina Faso, a cotton producing country in West Africa, Egypt and possibly Vietnam may be the next to allow commercial plantings. On the downside, Bt rice in China which is ready for release continues to be caught in the regulatory process. Drought tolerant biotech rice may be commercially available by 2011 and could open the rice market.

Biotech crops have become a standard part of production agriculture in many developed countries and developing countries. Use is expanding among small and resource-poor farmers. South Africa and China have been early researchers and adopters of the technology. India has advanced rapidly in recent years and now has field trials in Bt eggplant grown by 2 million farmers. Brazil has been a late comer to biotechnology, but has the financial and research capabilities to provide major advances. These countries will continue to lead in the second decade of commercial use of biotech crops.

Ross Korves

Ross Korves

Ross Korves served Truth about Trade & Technology, before it became Global Farmer Network, from 2004 – 2015 as the Economic and Trade Policy Analyst.

Researching and analyzing economic issues important to agricultural producers, Ross provided an intimate understanding regarding the interface of economic policy analysis and the political process.

Mr. Korves served the American Farm Bureau Federation as an Economist from 1980-2004. He served as Chief Economist from April 2001 through September 2003 and held the title of Senior Economist from September 2003 through August 2004.

Born and raised on a southern Illinois hog farm and educated at Southern Illinois University, Ross holds a Masters Degree in Agribusiness Economics. His studies and research expanded internationally through his work in Germany as a 1984 McCloy Agricultural Fellow and study travel to Japan in 1982, Zambia and Kenya in 1985 and Germany in 1987.

Leave a Reply