A new report finds that more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted biotech crops in 2013, representing a 3% increase from 2012.
The report, issued by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, also noted that 2013 marked the first-ever commercial plantings of drought-tolerant biotech maize in the U.S.
"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, report author and ISAAA Founder and Chairman Emeritus. "Each of the top ten countries planting biotech crops during 2013 planted more than one million hectares, providing a broad foundation for future growth."
According to the report, 175.2 million hectares of biotech crops were grown in 2013; the United States continues to lead global biotech crop plantings at 70.1 million hectares, or 40% of total global hectares. One hectare represents about 2.47 acres.
Of the global plantings, about 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-adverse farmers around the world that have experienced the benefits of these crops," ISAA said.
Nearly 100% of farmers who try biotech crops continue to plant them year after year, the report notes.
Two new drought-tolerant crops
In the United States, approximately 2,000 farmers in the Corn Belt planted about 50,000 hectares of the first biotech drought-tolerant maize. And Indonesia in 2013 developed and approved planting of the world's first drought-tolerant sugarcane – the first biotech sugarcane to be approved globally. The country 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," James noted.
Status and opportunities for biotech crops in China
Between 1996 and 2012, biotech cotton in China generated economic benefits valued at over $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% or more on biotech cotton, the report found.
"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," James said. "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, the report found.
Increased hectarage in developing countries
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, the report shows.
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 two% 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% or more, leaving little room for expansion," James said. "During the past year, growth was led by developing countries, namely Brazil, which posted an impressive 3.7 million hectare or 10% 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," James added.
Breaking the impasse to approve biotech crops
Developing countries are continuing to push forward with biotech research/development and commercialization, and have demonstrated the political willpower to approve new biotech crop traits, the report noted.
Approvals in 2013 include:
• Bangladesh approved its first biotech crop, biotech eggplant (Brinjal). Bangladesh is also pursuing approval of Golden Rice and biotech potato.
• Indonesia approved drought tolerant sugarcane for food use, with plans to cultivate in 2014.
• Panama approved planting of biotech maize.
Continued developments in biotech crop technology combined with increased adoption by small and poor farmers are important factors in the future of global biotech crop adoption.
Substantial developments in 2013 include:
• In Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan increased biotech cotton hectarage by an impressive 50% and 300%, respectively. Also, seven additional countries are conducting biotech crop field trials as the penultimate step to approval for commercialization. These countries include: Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda.
• The Philippines is nearing the completion of its field trials with Golden Rice.
Status of biotech crops in the European Union
The modest hectarage in the European Union was up 15% between 2012 and 2013. Five EU countries planted 148,013 hectares of biotech maize, up 18,942 hectares from 2012. Spain led the EU with a record 136,962 hectares of biotech maize, up 18% since 2012. Romania maintained the same hectarage as 2012. Portugal, Czechia and Slovakia planted fewer hectares of biotech maize than 2012, which the report attributed to burdensome EU reporting procedures for farmers.
Benefits to food security, environment
The report shows that between 1996 and 2012, biotech crops have made positive contributions through: decreased production costs and increased productivity (estimated at 377 million tons) valued at US $117 billion; environmental benefits by eliminating the need for 497 million kg of pesticides; reduced CO2 emissions by 27 billion kg in 2012; conserving biodiversity by saving 123 million hectares of land from being placed in agricultural production during the period 1996 to 2012; and alleviating poverty for 16.5 million small farmers and farm families, totaling more than 65 million people.
By the numbers
• United States continued to be the lead country with 70.1 million hectares, with 90% adoption across all crops.
• Brazil ranked second for the fifth consecutive year, increasing its hectarage of biotech crops more than any other country with a record increase of 3.7 million hectares or 10% from 2012.
• Argentina retained its third place with 24.4 million hectares.
• India, which displaced Canada for the fourth place, had a record 11 million hectares of biotech cotton with an adoption rate of 95%.
• Canada was fifth at 10.8 million hectares with decreased plantings of canola but maintained a high adoption rate of 96%.