Unprecedented Growth in Biotech Crops

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Developing nations are now planting more biotech crops than industrialized countries, with 52 percent of 2012’s total genetically modified (GM), or biotech crops. This has increased food security and alleviated poverty is some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.

Biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996 with 1.7 million hectares. By 2012, biotech crops had increased to 1.7 million hectares in 28 countries.  Approximately 60 percent of the world’s population lives in these 28 countries, and more than 15 million   are small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

In 2012, China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa grew 46 percent of global biotech crops. Moreover, in the past year, Brazil was second only to the U.S. in biotech crop hectares, with a total growth of 36.6 million hectares of soybean, maize and cotton.

Brazilian biotech crops have increased farmers’ salaries and protected the rainforest. Farmers have earned an extra $100,000 over the course of the past 4 years, and more than $300,000 extra in the past 16.  Biotech crops have also protected 200 million hectares of Brazilian land, or one-third of the world’s tropical rainforests from agricultural use.

Sudan and Cuba planted biotech crops for the first time in 2012. Sudan is the fourth country in Africa to plant biotech crops. Other African countries planting biotech crops include South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt. Cuban farmers planted 3,000 hectares of genetically modified maize to improve ecological sustainability.

Why are biotech crops increasing in developing world?

Perhaps because of the difficulties and challenges faced in growing regular crops. “Increasingly, farmers face more challenges in producing high-quality foods – from extreme growing conditions, to rising consumer demand, to reduced availability of natural resources,” said Denise Dewar, Executive Director for Plant Biotechnology at CropLife International.

Contrarily, stats from 1996 to 2011 illustrate the ability of biotech crops to increase food security, sustainability and protect the environment. Biotech crops helped 15 million small farmers and their families produce quality, sustainable crops. Moreover, biotech crops are scale-neutral, meaning that farmers with all sizes of land acreage can profit.

Biotech crops are also more environmentally friendly than regular crops. Since 1996, biotech crops have decreased pesticide use by 473 million kg., and over the course of 2011, CO2 emissions were reduced by 23 billion kg., which equates to the removal of 10.2 million cars from use.

Challenges for biotech crop growth still remain. Biotech crop adoption requires regulatory, science-based systems which are expensive and time-consuming.

However, countries able to implement these regulatory systems will, with time, be able to eliminate the middle man and reap the profits.  For instance, Brazil has increasingly begun to develop its own biotech varieties rather than buy technology from Monsanto and other non-Brazilian companies. This will create new jobs and increase profits of Brazilian biotech crop companies.

The future for biotech crops is promising. Monsanto will launch the first drought tolerant biotech maize in the U.S. this year. “Drought is, by far, the single most important constraint to biotech to increased productivity for crops worldwide,” said  Clive James, veteran author of the annual report and chair and founder of ISAAA.

Monsanto and BASF have donated the same technology that produces drought tolerant traits in biotech crops to a private-public partnership that aims to develop drought tolerant maize for Africa.  This could be available as soon as 2017.

 – Kasey Beduhn

Source: Financial Post, Agricultural Professional, Financial Times
Photo: Truth About Trade & Technology

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