Global acreage under biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops continued to expand in 2012, but the pace was a bit slow than previous year.

Interestingly, for the first time since the introduction of these crops in 1996, the developing countries now have more area under GM crops compared to their industrialised counterparts.

In 2012 an additional 10.3 million hectares (mh) came under GM crops against 12 mh in 2011.

Brazil leads

Brazil accounted for bulk of the expanded GM acreage, followed by Canada, US, India and China, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). Sudan and Cuba planted GM crops for the first time in 2012 by growing biotech cotton and hybrid biotech maize respectively.

Of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops in 2012, 20 were developing and eight industrial nations.

Developing nations accounted for 52 per cent of the GM crop area in 2012 against 50 per cent in 2011, while the developed countries led by the US accounted for the rest.

Steady growth

“The adoption of biotech crops in developing countries has built up steadily over the years. This growth is contrary to the prediction of critics, who prior to the commercialisation 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,” said Clive James, Founder of ISAAA, in a statement.

James, who authored the report – Global Status of Commercialised Biotech Crops: 2012 – 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 cycles.

The growth rate for biotech crops was at least three times as fast, and five times as large, in developing countries, at 11 per cent or 8.7 mh as against 3 per cent or 1.6 mh in industrial countries.

A record 17.3 million farmers grew biotech crops worldwide in 2012, up 0.6 million from a year earlier. Over 90 per cent 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.

(This article was published on February 20, 2013)
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