Biotech crops increase globally, led by Asia, says report

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biotechnology

The second decade of the commercialization of genetically modified
crops has seen a strong start, with developing countries leading
the growth of biotechnology in 2006, according to a new report.

Released last week by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the annual report reveals that biotech crop area jumped 12 million hectares or 13 percent to reach 102 million hectares last year.

And with countries becoming increasingly less skeptical of the technology, these adoption rates are expected to continue accelerating throughout the second decade of commercialization, said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA and author of the new report.

According to ISAAA, a non-profit organization designed to promote biotechnology in developing countries, interest in and acceptance of biotechnology is rapidly increasing as countries become increasingly convinced of its benefits on an environmental and economic level.

The number of farmers planting GM (genetically modified) crops in 2006 reached 10.3 million, up from 8.5 million farmers in 2005. By 2015, ISAAA predicts more than 20 million farmers will plant 200 million hectares of biotech crops in about 40 countries.

Most growth in biotechnology during the next ten years is expected to occur in key developing countries of Asia, led by China and India, as well as in Pakistan and Vietnam. This shows a marked global expansion from the previous decade's focus on the Americas.

Indeed, according to the report, 2006 saw a 21 percent increase in biotech crop adoption in developing countries, compared to a 9 percent increase in industrialized nations. Developing countries now account for 40 percent of the global biotech crop area.

In the Americas​, the United States continues to drive growth in North America and globally, accounting for the greatest absolute acreage increase in 2006 with the addition of 4.8 million hectares, said ISAAA. Brazil leads growth in South America with an increase of 22 percent to total 11.5 million hectares of soybeans and biotech cotton, the latter commercialized for the first time in 2006.

India is emerging as a key leader in Asia​, said the report, with the country revealing the most substantial percentage increase at 192 percent or 2.5 million hectares to total 3.8 million hectares. This brought it up two spots in the world ranking to make it the fifth largest producer of biotech crops in the world, surpassing China for the first time.

South Africa almost tripled its biotech crop area last year, a step likely lead other countries in Africa​ to begin planting biotech crops, including Egypt, Burkina Faso and Kenya, where field trials have already been conducted. The increase in South African biotech farming came from biotech white maize, primarily used for food, and biotech yellow maize used for livestock feed.

Growth also continues in Europe​, where Slovakia became the sixth EU country out of 25 to plant biotech crops. Spain continues to lead the continent, planting 60,000 hectares in 2006; however, the other five EU countries reported a five-fold increase in plantings from 1,500 hectares in 2005 to about 8,500 hectares in 2006, said ISAAA.

While a total of 22 countries planted biotech crops last year, the report indicated an additional 29 countries have approved biotech crops for import for food and feed use and release into the environment.

"More than half of the global population of 6.5 billion people now live in countries where biotech crops are grown, allowing 3.6 billion people to benefit from the economic, societal and environmental advantages generated through biotech crops. With 51 countries in total gaining experience with biotech crops, acceptance will continue to grow,"​ said James.

"The commercialization of biotech rice alone could drive adoption of biotech crops well beyond the conservative estimate of 20 million farmers up to 80 million farmers. This is based on an adoption rate of one third by the world's 250 million rice farmers, most of whom are small resource-poor farmers, 90 percent of whom are in Asia.,"​ he added.

To access an executive summary of the report, click here​.

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