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Crop biotechnology: A ‘continuing success’ globally

CROP biotechnology has been achieving “continuing success” globally as the number of farmers who use it and the farms planted to biotech crops are increasing, recording 17.3 million farmers who planted the crops in 170.3 hectares in 28 countries in 2012, Dr. Clive James, chairman of the board of directors of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said on Thursday.

James said the trend in crop biotechnology is in favor of developing countries, which compose 20 of the 28 countries that adopt the technology.

Another significant development, he said, was that for the first time developing countries planted more biotech crops in 2012, with 52 percent, against the developing countries’ 48 percent. They registered equal production in 2011.

This, James said, “was contrary to the perception of critics that biotech crops are only for the developed countries and would not be adopted by developing countries.”

The increase in biotech farms in 2012 recorded a growth rate of 6 percent, or 10.3 million hectares more from 160 million hectares in 2011, James told a select group of journalists at a hotel in Makati City when he announced the results of the ISAAA report “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops for 2012.”

James said this development was “remarkable” because it recorded a 100-fold increase in biotech crop hectarage in the 17th year of its adoption—from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, when it was first commercialized.

“It also reflects the confidence of farmers in the technology. They make their decision on the second year [on the technology they use] based on the performance of the first year,” he said.

He noted that of the 17.3 million farmers, 15.5 million, or 90 percent, are resource-poor, thereby helping farmers increase their income.

He said biotech contributed to economic gains of $100 billion from 1996 to 2011, half of this was from reduced production cost, such as less pesticide sprays, less plowing and fewer labor, and the other half was from increased production per hectare.

Increased production, James said, resulted in increase in farmers’ income and “more money in their pockets.”

He said farmers have increased their income by $135 to $185 per hectare for each cropping season.

He also pointed out that although biotech is not a panacea because farmers have to observe good farming practice, recent developments have shown “encouraging” prospects for Millennium Development Goal in 2015 of cutting poverty by half with more farmers planting biotech and registering increasing incomes.

“The real problem is feeding the world of tomorrow. In the next 50 years, the global community will consume twice as much food as the global population has consumed since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago,” James said.

In the Philippines the ISAAA report said the area planted to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and herbicide-tolerant corn in 2012 was projected to increase to 750,000, or up by 16 percent from 675,000 hectares in 2011.

This has ranked the country 12th among the 18 biotech mega-countries with 50,000 hectares or more planted to biotech crops. The other countries are the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mexico, Spain and Chile.

The number of Filipino farmers planting biotech corn in 2012 has increased to 375,000, or up by 53,000 from 322,000 in 2011.

The farm-level economic gains from biotech corn since it was commercialized in the country in 2003 up to 2011 is estimated at $264.5 million, and $93.6 million in 2010 alone.

Other biotech crops being developed by national and international institutes in the Philippines, which the report said “continue to look promising,” are the biofortified Golden Rice; fruit-and-shoot-borer-resistant eggplant; papaya with delayed-ripening trait and ringspot-virus resistance; Bt cotton; virus-resistant sweet potato; and virus-resistant abaca.

James said two more countries adopted biotech crops in 2012: Sudan, with 10,000 farmers planting Bt cotton in 20,000 hectares; and Cuba, with 3,000 hectares of Bt corn. Other countries planting biotech crops in Africa are South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt.

Although the ISAAA report said that the US continued to be the lead producer of biotech crops globally, with 69.5 million hectares, James said Brazil, which is second to the US in biotech crop hectarage, is the “engine of growth” in biotech globally.

The report said Brazil, for the fourth consecutive year in 2012, registered a record 6.3-million-hectare increase, or a year-on-year increase of 21 percent, the highest in the world.

Of the 170.3 million hectares planted to biotech globally, Brazil grows 21 percent of it, and is “consolidating its position by consistently closing the gap with the US,” the report said.

Other leaders in biotech crop production, such as India, grew a record 10.8 million hectares of Bt cotton, while 7.2-million resource poor farmers in China grew 4 million hectares of Bt cotton, the report said.

In the European Union, five countries, led by Spain, planted 120,071 hectares of Bt corn, or an increase of 13 percent from 2011.

The ISAAA report, citing a report of Brookes and Barnum, said biotech contributed to conserving biodiversity with the use of less arable land. It said that if the 328 million tons of food, feed and fiber produced from 1996 to 2011 had not been produced through biotech, it would require an additional 108.7 million hectares of conventional crops to produce the same volume.

At the same time, it also reduced agriculture’s environmental footprint.

James said that from 1996 to 2011 it has contributed to the reduction of pesticide use at 473 million kilograms of active ingredients. This is equivalent to 9 percent of the total global pesticide market of $65 billion annually, he said.

He said that with the reduced use of fossil-based products, such as herbicide and insecticide sprays, and with less or no plowing through herbicide-tolerant crops, a total of 23 kilograms of carbon dioxide were saved in 2011—which is equivalent to removing 10.2 millions of cars off the road.

On the future prospects of biotech, the report said more developing countries are expected to plant biotech crops before 2015 in Asia and Africa.

James said the first biotech-based drought-tolerant corn is planned to be planted in the US in 2013 and in Africa possibly by 2017.

The report also made the following prospects:

• The first stacked-trait soybean that is tolerant to herbicide and insect resistant will be planted in Brazil this year;

• Drought-tolerant sugar cane is being developed in Indonesia; and

• China has the potential to plant around 30 million hectares of biotech corn, and is doing field testing on biotech rice.


In Photo: Dr. Clive James, chairman of the board of directors of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, informs journalists on the global developments in crop biotechnology at a Makati City hotel on Thursday. (Lyn Resurreccion)


 

 

 

 

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