For the first time since the introduction of biotech/GM crops almost two
decades ago, developing countries have grown more hectares of biotech
crops than industrialized countries, contributing to food security and
further alleviating poverty in some of the world’s most vulnerable
Developing nations planted 52 percent of the global biotech crops in
2012, up from 50 percent a year earlier and above the 48 percent
industrial countries grew last year, according to a report released
today by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Last year also marked an unprecedented 100-fold increase in biotech crop
hectarage to 170 million hectares from 1.7 million in 1996, when biotech
crops were first commercialized. “This makes biotech crops the fastest
adopted crop technology in recent history,” said Clive James, veteran
author of the annual report and chair and founder of ISAAA.
Adoption of biotech crops in developing countries has built up steadily
over the years, finally turning the corner and surpassing industrial
countries in 2012, a milestone once thought impossible by some, James
said. This comes about as the world grows more biotech crops than ever
“This growth is contrary to the prediction of critics, who prior to the
commercialization of the technology in 1996 prematurely declared that
biotech crops were only for industrial countries, and would never be
accepted and adopted by developing countries,” James said.
The report underscores rising awareness in developing countries about
the benefits of planting genetically modified crops, which not only have
increased yields, but also bring savings in fuel, time and machinery,
reduction in pesticide use, higher quality of product and more growing
From 1996 to 2011, biotech crops contributed to food security,
sustainability, and climate change by: increasing crop production valued
at US$98.2 billion; providing a better environment by saving 473 million
kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2011 alone reducing CO2 emissions
by 23 billion kg, equivalent to taking 10.2 million cars off the road;
conserving biodiversity by saving 108.7 million hectares of land; and
helped alleviate poverty by helping >15.0 million small farmers and
their families totaling >50 million people who are some of the poorest
people in the world. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea
and adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance
management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional
Globally, farmers grew a record 170.3 million hectares of biotech crops
in 2012, up 6 percent, or 10.3 million hectares more than in 2011,
boosting farmers’ income worldwide due to enhanced productivity and
“There is one principal and overwhelming reason that underpins the trust
and confidence of farmers in biotechnology: biotech crops deliver
substantial, and sustainable, socio-economic and environmental
benefits,” James said.
Resource-Poor Farmers Benefit the Most
ISAAA’s report also confirmed that the rate and scale of biotech crop
adoption in developing countries dwarfs that of industrialized nations.
The growth rate for biotech crops was at least three times as fast, and
five times as large, in developing countries, at 11 percent or 8.7
million hectares, versus 3 percent or 1.6 million hectares in industrial
A record 17.3 million farmers grew biotech crops worldwide in 2012, up
0.6 million from a year earlier. Over 90 percent of these farmers, or
more than 15 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing
countries. “Global food insecurity, exacerbated by high and unaffordable
food prices, is a formidable challenge to which biotech crops can
contribute,” James said.
Sudan and Cuba Make History
Sudan and Cuba planted biotech crops for the first time last year. By
growing biotech cotton, Sudan became the fourth country in Africa, after
South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, to commercialize a biotech crop.
Meanwhile, Cuban farmers planted 3,000 hectares of hybrid biotech maize
as part of an initiative to bolster ecological sustainability and remain
Of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops, 20 were developing and
eight were industrial countries, compared to 19 developing and 10
industrial countries in 2011. Approximately 60 percent of the world’s
population, or about 4 billion people, live in the 28 countries planting
Brazil Biotech Crops Grow 21 percent
China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, which together
represent approximately 40 percent of the global population, grew 78.2
million hectares or 46 percent of global biotech crops in 2012.
For the fourth consecutive year, Brazil was the engine of growth
globally in 2012, fortifying itself as a global leader in biotech crops.
Brazil ranks second only to the U.S. in worldwide biotech crop
hectarage, growing at a year-to-year record 6.3 million hectares, or a
substantial 21 percent, to reach 36.6 million hectares in 2012 compared
to 30.3 million in 2011.
A fast-track science-based approval system allows Brazil to adopt new
biotech crops in a timely manner. For instance, the South American
country was the first to approve the stacked soybean with insect
resistance and herbicide tolerance for commercialization in 2013, James
India cultivated a record 10.8 million hectares of biotech cotton with
an adoption rate of 93 percent, while 7.2 million small resource-poor
farmers in China grew 4.0 million hectares of biotech cotton with an
adoption rate of 80 percent.
U.S. Remains the World’s Largest Grower
The U.S. continued to be the lead country with 69.5 million hectares,
with an average of 90 percent adoption across all crops. The report
notes that the devastating 2012 drought hit various crops. The most
recent estimates indicate that due to the drought, average yields in
2012 were 21 percent less for maize and 12 percent less for soybeans
compared with 2011 yields.
Canada, on the other hand, had a record 8.4 million hectares of canola
at a record 97.5 percent adoption. The EU countries grew a record
129,071 hectares of Bt maize in 2012, but Germany and Sweden could not
continue to plant the biotech potato Amflora because it ceased to be
marketed; Poland discontinued planting biotech maize because of
regulation inconsistencies in the interpretation of the law with the EU
maintaining that all necessary approvals were already in place for
planting, whereas Poland did not.
The lack of appropriate, science-based and cost-time-effective
regulatory systems continues to be the major constraint to adoption of
biotech crops. Responsible, rigorous but not onerous, regulation is
needed for small and poor developing countries, James said.
“Biotech crops are important but are not a panacea,” he added.
“Adherence to good farming practices, such as rotations and resistance
management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional
The near-term looks encouraging with new improved products such as the
first biotech drought tolerant maize approved for planting in the USA in
2013 and also the first planting of the stacked soybean in Brazil and
neighboring countries in South America in 2013. In the Philippines,
Vitamin A enhanced Golden rice could be released in 2013/2014 subject to
regulatory approval. Going forward, global growth of biotech crop
hectares is likely to be more modest due to the already high rate of
adoption in all the principal crops in mature markets in both developing
and industrial countries, James noted.
For more information or the executive summary, visit www.isaaa.org.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an
international network of centers designed to contribute to the
alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop
biotechnology applications. Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA,
has lived and/or worked for the past 30 years in the developing
countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to
agricultural research and development issues with a focus on crop
biotechnology and global food security.