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Biotech plantings continue to increase

ISAAA report details how biotech crop plantings have increased about 113-fold since 1996.

A total of 70 countries adopted biotech crops through cultivation and importation in 2018, the 23rd year of continuous biotech crop adoption, according to the "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018" report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Twenty-six countries (21 developing and five industrialized countries) planted 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, which added 1.9 million hectares to the record of plantings in 2017. The continuous adoption of biotech crops by farmers worldwide indicate that biotech crops continue to help meet global challenges of hunger, malnutrition and climate change, ISAAA said in its report (Brief 54).

Biotech crop plantings have increased approximately 113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, showing that biotechnology is the most rapidly adopted crop technology in the world. In countries with long years of high adoption rates, particularly the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India, adoption rates of major crops are at levels close to 100%, indicating that farmers favor this crop technology over the conventional varieties.

More diverse biotech crops with various traits that address farmers’ and consumers’ needs became available in the market in 2018. These biotech crops include non-bruising, non-browning, reduced-acrylamide and late blight-resistant potato traits, insect-resistant and drought-tolerant sugarcane, non-browning apples, high-oleic acid canola and safflower, insect-resistant eggplant and low-lignin alfalfa, among others.

In Asia, Indonesia planted its first drought-tolerant sugarcane developed through a public/private partnership between the University of Jember and Ajinomoto Ltd.

With the continuously increasing adoption of biotech crops worldwide, farmers are at the forefront of reaping numerous benefits. "We were fed up with weeding and spraying pesticides to control bollworms and weeds. When the technology was introduced, we rapidly picked it up," said Frans Mallela, a farmer from Limpopo province in South Africa.

Le Thanh Hai, one of the early adopters of biotech maize in Vietnam's Vinh Phuc province, said biotech maize has helped revive maize farming in the province and emphasized that many farmers now grow biotech maize because of its benefits.

Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer from Pangasinan, Philippines, said she adopted Bt maize because she gained more yield at less production cost compared to conventional maize varieties. “There was not even a trace of pests, considering that we did not apply insecticide. Furthermore, we no longer need to visit our maize field every day, and this gives us peace of mind,” Ellasus added.

Biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption rate worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.

Dr. Paul S. Teng, chair of the ISAAA board, said biotechnology "has contributed to all facets of food security. By increasing yields and reducing losses, it contributed to food availability for more families. By enabling farmers to improve their processes and join the modern supply chain, it improved physical access to food. Through raising farmer and rural incomes, it improved economic access to food. Through rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene programs, it contributed to better food utilization. While agricultural biotechnology is not the only key in enhancing global food security, it is an important scientific tool in the multidisciplinary toolkit.”

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