Biotech crops reach 160 million hectares and can help double food production and keep food affordable for the poor

Biotech crops reached 160 million hectares, up 12 million hectares on 8% growth, from 2010, as the global population reached a historical milestone of 7 billion on 31 October 2011.

11.5% of the total arable land is used for biotech crops.
3.3% of all agricultural land.

Wikipedia – In 2008, the world’s total arable land amounted to 13,805,153 km² (1.38 billion hectares), whereas 48,836,976 km² (4.88 billion hectares) was classified as “agricultural land.

* 138 million hectares of perennial croplands
* 3,433 million hectares of pasture lands feeding the current population

The US continued to be the lead producer of biotech crops globally with 69.0 million hectares, (an average adoption rate of ~90% across its principal biotech crops) with particularly strong growth in maize and cotton in 2011 and the resumption of the planting of RR®alfalfa – alfalfa is the fourth largest hectarage crop in the US (~8 million hectares) after maize, soybean and wheat; RR®alfalfa currently occupies ~200,000 hectares and strong farmer-demand augers well for the future. Adoption could reach as high as 35% to 50% by around 2015 and higher thereafter. RR®sugarbeet, the fastest adopted biotech crop, continues to have a 95% adoption equivalent to ~475,000 hectares. Resistance to corn rootworm was reported in the US and collaborative studies to assess the event are underway. It is timely, to again stress that adherence to good farming practices including rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops. Finally, and importantly, from a regulatory viewpoint, virus resistant papaya from the US was approved for consumption as a fresh fruit/food in Japan effective 1 December 2011.

To put this into perspective, 148,460 hectares (1,485 km2) is an area roughly the size of Greater London (1,580 km2) or twice the size of New York City (789 km2), Tokyo (617 km2) and Singapore (701 km2).

Brazil ranks second only to the USA in biotech crop hectarage in the world, with 30.3 million hectares, and is emerging as a global leader in biotech crops. For the third consecutive year, Brazil was the engine of growth globally in 2011, increasing its hectarage of biotech crops more than any other country in the world – a record 4.9 million hectare increase, equivalent to an impressive year-over-year increase of 20%. Brazil grows 19% of the global hectarage of 160 million hectares and is consolidating its position by consistently closing the gap with the US.

From 1996 to 2010, Genetically modified farming increasing crop production and value by US$78 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 443 million kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2010 alone reducing CO2 emissions by 19 billion kg, equivalent to taking ~9 million cars off the road; conserving biodiversity by saving 91 million hectares of land; and helped alleviate poverty by helping 15.0 million small farmers who are some of the poorest people in the world.

The world needs at least 70% more food by 2050. For the developing countries, where 2.5 billion small resource-poor farmers survive, (representing some of the poorest people in the world), food production needs to be doubled by 2050. Current investments in agriculture in developing countries are woefully inadequate. Current expenditures on agriculture in the developing countries is ~US$142 billion per annum and it is estimated that an additional US$57 billion per year, will be required annually for a total of US$209 billion per year in 2009 dollars from now until 2050.

The major goal of ISAAA is to alleviate poverty and hunger, which pervasively pollutes the lives of 1 billion suffering people, a humanitarian condition that is morally unacceptable. Today, poverty is mainly a rural phenomenon, however, this will change in the future as urbanization continues to increase from its current level of just over half the world’s population. In 2011, approximately half of the world’s poor were small resource-poor farmers, whilst another 20% were the rural landless who are completely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Thus, 70% of the world’s poor are dependent on agriculture – some view this as a problem, however it should be viewed as an opportunity, given the enormous potential of both conventional and the new biotechnology applications to make a significant contribution to the alleviation of poverty and hunger and to doubling food, feed and fiber production by 2050.

There is considerable potential for increasing the adoption rate of the four current large hectarage biotech crops (maize, soybean, cotton, and canola), which collectively represented 160 million hectares of biotech crops in 2011 from a total global potential of 320 million hectares; thus, there are approximately 150 million hectares for potential adoption, of which 30 million hectares are in China where demand for maize as a feed crop is growing fast, as the country consumes more meat. In the near and mid-term the timing of the deployment of biotech maize and rice, as crops, and drought tolerance as a trait (first in maize and later in other crops) are seminal for catalyzing the further adoption of biotech crops globally. In contrast to the first generation biotech crops that realized a significant increase in yield and production by protecting crops from losses caused by pests, weeds, and diseases, the second generation biotech crops will offer farmers additional new incentives for also improving quality of products. For example, quality traits, such as enhanced Vitamin A in rice, soybean free of trans-fat and reduced saturated fat, and omega-3 rich soybean, will become more prevalent providing a much richer mix of consumer-friendly traits for deployment in conjunction with a growing number of input traits. Five years ago in North America, a decision was made to delay the introduction of biotech herbicide tolerant wheat, but this decision has been revisited. Many countries and companies are now fast-tracking the development of a range of biotech traits in wheat including drought tolerance, disease resistance and grain quality. The first biotech wheat is expected to be ready for commercialization around 2017.

In summary, future prospects up to the MDG year of 2015 and beyond, look encouraging: an increase of up to 10 new developing countries planting biotech crops, led by Asia and Latin America, and there is cautious optimism that Africa will be well-represented: the first biotech based drought tolerant maize planned for release in North America in 2013 and in Africa by ~2017; Golden Rice to be released in the Philippines in 2013/2014; biotech maize in China with a potential of ~30 million hectares and thereafter Bt rice which has an enormous potential to benefit up to 1 billion poor people in rice households in Asia alone. Biotech crops, whilst not a panacea, have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty in half, by optimizing crop productivity, which can be expedited by public-private sector partnerships, such as the WEMA project, supported in poor developing countries by the new generation of philanthropic foundations, such as the Gates and Buffet foundations.

Further Reading

Wikipedia – Land use statistics by country

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