Biotech Crops Celebrate 20 Years

Kelly MarshallAg Group, biotechnology

ISAAAIn just 20 years the use of biotechnology has increased 100 percent, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times.  The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) celebrated the 20th anniversary with a report, The Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015.  The report shows the increate from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015.

This number reflects a landmass twice the size of the United States or China.  It is estimated that farmers have made more than $150 billion U.S. dollars in benefits in the lats 20 years, helping to eliminate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers– some of whom are the poorest people in the world.

“More farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously-tested option for improving crop yields,” said Clive James, founder and emeritus chair of ISAAA, who has authored the ISAAA report for the past two decades. “Despite claims from opponents that biotechnology only benefits farmers in industrialized countries, the continued adoption of the technology in developing countries disproves that” James added.

Developing countries are actually outpacing industrialized nations, planting 14.5 million hectares.  Latin America, Asia, and Africa grew 54 percent of the global percentage of biotech crops.  Of the 28 countries that grow biotech, 20 are developing nations.

“China is just one example of biotechnology’s benefits for farmers in developing countries. Between 1997 and 2014, biotech cotton varieties brought an estimated $17.5 billion worth of benefits to Chinese cotton farmers, and they realized $1.3 billion in 2014 alone,” explained ISAAA Global Coordinator, Randy Hautea.

India is another success story.  They have become  a world leader in cotton production, thanks to Bt cotton.

“Farmers, who are traditionally risk-averse, recognize the value of biotech crops, which offer benefits to farmers and consumers alike, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, and increased nutrition and food quality,” Hautea added. “Moreover, biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems that address concerns regarding climate change and global food security.”

Following a remarkable run of 19 years of consecutive growth from 1996 to 2014, with 12 years of double-digit growth, the global hectarage of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014, compared with 179.7 million hectares in 2015, equivalent to a net marginal decrease of 1 percent. This change is principally due to an overall decrease in total crop hectarage, associated with low prices for commodity crops in 2015. ISAAA anticipates that total crop hectarage will increase when crop prices improve. For example, Canada has projected that canola hectarage in 2016 will revert to the higher level of 2014. Other factors affecting biotech hectarage in 2015 include the devastating drought in South Africa, which led to a massive 23 percent decrease of 700,000 hectares in intended plantings in 2015. The drought in eastern and southern Africa in 2015/2016 puts up to 15 to 20 million poor people at risk for food insecurity and compels South Africa, usually a maize exporter, to rely on maize imports.

You can read more highlights from the report here.