Friday, August 23, 2019

ISAAA 2018 Report Reveals Biotech Crops Continue to Provide Solutions to Hunger, Malnutrition, and Climate Change

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 (ISAAA Brief 54) released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) on August 22, 2019. Twenty-six countries (21 developing and 5 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.

In 2018, biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.

In 2018, it was reported in the United Nation’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World that hunger is growing year after year for three consecutive years, and at the levels equivalent to the records a decade ago. Furthermore, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that hunger and malnutrition continue to rise, with around 108 million individuals in 48 countries at risk or in severe food insecurity. Biotech crops, developed with improved traits such as increased yield, more resistance to pests, improved nutrition, among others, are undeniably necessary to address these global challenges affecting the lives of so many families globally.

“GM technology 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,” said Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Board Chair. “While agricultural biotechnology is not the only key in enhancing global food security, it is an important scientific tool in the multi-disciplinary toolkit.”

Biotech crop plantings have increased ~113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, showing that biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. In countries with long years of high adoption, particularly the USA, 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 farmers’ and consumers’ needs, more diverse biotech crops with various traits became available in the market in 2018. These biotech crops include potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; non-browning apples; and high oleic acid canola and safflower.

In 2018, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries.

The ISAAA report also highlighted the following key findings:
  • The top 5 countries with the largest area of biotech crops planted (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) collectively occupied 91% of the global biotech crop area.
  • Biotech soybeans reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.
  • The area of biotech crops with stacked traits continued to increase and occupied 42% of the global biotech area.
  • Farmers in 10 Latin American countries planted 79.4 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • Nine countries in Asia and the Pacific planted 19.13 million hectares of biotech crops.
  • In Asia, Indonesia planted for the first time a drought tolerant sugarcane developed through a public (University of Jember) and private (Ajinomoto Ltd.) partnership.
  • The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) joined South Africa and Sudan in planting biotech crops in Africa, with the introduction of IR cotton. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi granted approvals for planting IR cotton opening Africa to biotech crop adoption.
  • In Europe, Spain and Portugal continued to adopt biotech maize to control European corn borer.
  • More area planted to biotech crops for farmer and consumer needs included potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; non-browning apples; insect resistant eggplant; and low lignin alfalfa, among others.
  • New crops and trait combinations in farmer fields include insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; high oleic acid canola and safflower.
  • Various food, feed and processing approvals for Golden Rice, Bt rice, herbicide tolerant cotton, low gossypol cotton, among others.
  • Cultivation approvals for planting in 2019 include new generation herbicide tolerant cotton and soybean, low gossypol cotton, RR and low lignin alfalfa, omega-3 canola, and IR cowpea, among others.

Photo Source: ISAAA Image Gallery

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, South Africa. Le Thanh Hai, one of the early adopters of biotech maize in Vinh Phuc Province, Vietnam, said that biotech maize has helped revive maize farming in their province and stressed that many farmers now grow biotech maize because of its benefits. Rosalie Ellasus, a farmer from Pangasinan, Philippines, said that she adopted Bt maize because she gained more yield with 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.

The Brief 54 Executive Summary is downloadable for free from the ISAAA website. To purchase a copy of full Brief 54 (print or electronic), send an e-mail to

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Science and She: Dr. Ma. Monina Cecilia Villena

Science and She is an online campaign of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and its network of Biotechnology Information Centers which aims to empower women in science. Scientists and science communicators tell their stories and aspirations for science and society with the hope that the stories will help bridge the gap between science and the public.

For one week, a female scientist or science communicator serves as the curator of the Science and She social media pages on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. One of the previous curators was Dr. Maria Monina Cecilia Q. Arcelo-Villena, former Special Projects Coordinator & Network Administrator of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center or SEARCA BIC (February 2014 to June 2018). While still working on the objectives of the BIC, Dr. Villena eventually took a bigger role as head of SEARCA's Knowledge Management Department. As Head, she leads the implementation of KMD's projects geared towards the promotion of a learning culture, knowledge creation, and knowledge sharing and use among key actors in agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia.

A graduate of BS Development Communication from the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los BaƱos, she also completed MA in Communication Research, and PhD in Communication from the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines, Diliman. According to Dr. Villena, doing development communication work has always been her dream because it allows people to construct reality using different lenses.

“Destiny is not by chance. It is a choice. I chose to study communication because I want to tell stories and influence people. Communicating science enables me to change the existing narrative and touch people's lives,” Dr. Villena shares.

She has 26 years of work experience in editorial and market research from the private sector and specializes in public relations, public advocacy, and knowledge management. She’s also an expert in the fields of science communication (biotechnology, climate change, and food security and nutrition), message framing, message priming, and information and communications technology. She said that science communication is difficult when done in an environment where there is a low appreciation for science. But when people begin to listen that's when all efforts are made worthwhile.

Dr. Villena's work on biotech communication began at ISAAA as a Communication Specialist when she joined the team of Dr. Mariechel Navarro and Dr. Napoleon Juanillo who conducted stakeholder perception studies on understanding and attitude towards biotechnology in five countries in Southeast Asia. Later on, Dr. Villena joined Dr. Navarro as one of the science writers for the Crop Biotech Update.

From 2004 to 2012, she held several positions in the private sector, particularly at Global Sources (Ediserve Advertising & Exhibitions). Global Sources is one of the leading business-to-business media companies worldwide and primarily facilitates trade with Greater China. As a senior member of the editorial department, Dr. Villena developed and implemented editorial strategies that facilitated global trade through multimedia platforms.

The call for science communication came in again in March 2014 when Dr. Villena started to lead the SEARCA BIC. Through her leadership, the BIC has penetrated the legislative and judicial branches of government and initiated engagements with key personalities to bring forward the biotech dialogue in the country. The BIC was also able to reach out to farmers, consumers, and other key stakeholders to inform them through public briefings on the new biotech and biosafety regulations in the Philippines. This was mainly through Dr. Villena’s initiative, with the hope to lead the Filipinos to make informed choices involving biotechnology. Dr. Villena also led the introduction of biotech in social media with SEARCA BIC's Know The Science project. Know The Science uses multi-platform campaigns to educate the Filipino public about biotech crops and technology by understanding the science behind them. Through this project, Dr. Villena promoted the creation of biotech champions from different stakeholders.

On June 29, 2019, Dr. Villena passed away at the age of 48, but her contributions to science communication live on, inspiring more women in science to press on to make science and communication a powerful combination towards the upliftment of lives and sustainable national development.

Friday, May 31, 2019

ISAAA's New Journey Begins

Message from ISAAA's Global Coordinator, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Every time I have problems with the plants in my garden, my thoughts go to all the farmers who struggle in their farms facing a myriad of challenges from climate change, pests, diseases, and chemical hazards to all kinds of other biotic and abiotic stresses. This community relentlessly face these challenges to put food on our table. There is one more huge hurdle - access to modern agri-innovation, especially superior seeds. Farmers are just like us who want the latest technologies to do their job excellently. However, many countries do not have the political will and know-how to embrace modern agri-biotechnology, coupled with activism by critics of this technology.

ISAAA was created almost three decades ago to ensure farmers have access to agri-innovation. ISAAA played a key role in ensuring that biotech crops reach the poorest farmers in the developing world. ISAAA coined the word “biotech crops” as all foods that we eat are “genetically modified” (GM). GM is a legal term and not scientific.

ISAAA is the 1st organization that documented the statistics of biotech crops, their traits, and adoption in our annual publication, “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops,” which is the most cited literature in modern agri-biotechnology.

The work done by ISAAA translates into increased farmer income which means better socioeconomic benefits for this community; sustainable development where more food could be produced with reduced environmental impact; reduced trade barriers; regulatory reform to ensure increased approval and adoption of biotech crops; and enhanced public understanding of modern agribiotechnology that enables them to make informed decisions.

The impact created by ISAAA in all major continents makes me extremely proud to be at the helm as its Global Coordinator.

We, at ISAAA, are steadfast in modernizing and customizing our approaches, be it our publications, capacity building programs, workshops, or trainings. We feel this is important as we move into the era of new media, emerging gene technologies, and the need to reach out to a wider audience, including the millennials.

My mission is to make ISAAA the “go-to resource center” for information on agri-biotechnology and as a strategic partner to support the adoption of gene technologies in many parts of the world. Our GM Approval Database is a testament for this and our experienced team in all three continents (Asia, Africa, and and the Americas) have been instrumental in changing the landscape to be more receptive towards biotech crops.

We are now putting more efforts to customize and modernize our data. We are eagerly and effectively translating our data into knowledge for ready use by all key stakeholders.

Join our journey as we realize the full potential of modern biotechnology to achieve agricultural sustainability and development.


Dr. Arujanan is also the Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC), the Malaysian node of ISAAA's global network of Biotechnology Information Centres (BICs). MABIC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the understanding of biotechnology in Malaysia at all levels of society.