Friday, December 18, 2015

Crop Biotech Update's Trending Stories in 2015

ISAAA presents the top 10 trending news on crop biotech based on the most number of Facebook shares from the website, providing insight into what people find interesting about biotech in 2015.

News such as farmers approval of GM crops, research advancements, GMO safety, biotech event approvals, and beauty queens made it to the list. So sit back and read these fascinating stories that you might have missed.

Photo source: UBIC
biotechnology residential internship for Miss Uganda, together with nine other regional queens was held at the National Crops Resources Research Institute on March 9-12, 2015. The beauty queens were trained on the basics of modern agricultural biotechnology and science communication. Read more.

Miss Uganda 2015/2016, Zahara Nakiyaga, impressed judges and the public with her answer when asked about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This was during the crowning of Miss Uganda 2015/2016 last July. Read more.

Around 100 farmers from different towns in the province of Camarines Sur, Philippines, as well as local agriculture officers, faculty, students, and staff of the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) were enlightened on the science, safety, and potential benefits of the fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant developed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) during the Public Dialogue on Bt Eggplant held on March 27, 2015 at CBSUA, Pili, Camarines Sur. Read more.

Facebook shares: 265

Photo source: Thinkstock
Why does opposition to biotechnology continue to spread? This was answered by Belgian philosophers and plant biotechnologists from Ghent University using cognitive science in their paper published in Trends in Plant Science. Read more.

ISAAA conducted a study on the trends and factors that affect GM approvals in the last 23 years (1992-2014). The study also provides the rationale for factors affecting approvals, and their implications in GM crop adoption. The results of the study are published in GM Crops and FoodRead more.

Some 50 farmers in the Japanese cities of Iwamizawa and Kitami in the island of Hokkaido signed a petition to support biotech/GM crops, their field trials, and cultivation, in two separate fora on March 26 and 27, respectively. Read more.

Photo source: AfriCenter
Farmers from Kilifi County in the northern part of Kenya have voiced their support for agri-biotech and called on the government to lift the ban on GMOs so as to allow them access to products of modern biotechnology. Read more.

Photo source: Thinkstock
The Ministry of Agriculture of China through its website has issued a statement saying that all certified genetically modified foods that are sold on the Chinese market are safeRead more.

Researchers from the University of Florida have developed genetically modified citrus trees with enhanced resistance to greening, which has the potential to resist canker and black spot. Read more.


Photo source: Thinkstock
India's premier agriculture research body Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has emphasized the importance of genetically engineered crops in bridging the demand and supply gap for food grains in the future. Read more.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Biotech and the Fear of the Unknown

The American author H.P. Lovecraft said that “The oldest and strongest emotion is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

Many innovations and inventions being used today had to undergo a stage of doubt, resistance, and fear before they were accepted or adopted. The idea of the first automobile was met with much resistance at a time when the horse and buggy was the main mode of transportation and thus considered more safe and reliable. Political, health, religious, and scientific issues were raised against the use of vaccines until its use eventually resulted in the eradication of smallpox and similar childhood diseases. Even pasteurization took more than 30 years for its acceptance after objections were raised such as public health, safety, and perceived economic effects.

Now we see that the scenario of fear remains even on the use of modern scientific tools such as biotechnology. “Fear of (biotechnology) is drowning out its potential benefits,” says Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor of life sciences and biotechnology, and former Science and Technology Adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. She adds that almost all the food we consume is genetically modified (GM) and that “genetic modification is the basis of all evolution and that we have devised ways to accelerate the process.”

All the food we consume is genetically modified, according to Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff.

Unfortunately, Dr. Fedoroff notes: “Contemporary GM crops are being blamed for farm suicides in India, tumors in rats, autism, obesity, and even infertility – even after 25 years of government research and a European Union report stressing that crop modification by GM techniques is no more dangerous than conventional products. The fear is being fuelled by electronic gossip and organizations that exploit GM fears for profits.”

Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, World Food Prize awardee and currently Graduate School professor emeritus of Cornell University was amazed as to “why something as promising as this (biotechnology) was met with opposition by certain advocacy groups.” He took interest in studying the evidence that the advocacy groups were forwarding on GM organisms. He opined that they were reasons other than their concerns for health and the environment. “I believed then and I believe now that the misinformation and the resulting action (or lack of action) were and are harmful to low-income people’s incomes, food security, and nutrition, he said.

Prof. Zerubabel Mijumbi Nyiira, State Minister for Agriculture and elected Member of the Uganda Parliament has this to say on the issue. “Our people have been manipulated and misinformed by anti-science activities and have been led to believe that nothing good can come out of biotechnology. This is short changing the many people who need the technology and disarming the fight against poverty and development.”

In exasperation, Dr. Ingo Potrykus, co-inventor of Golden Rice, a GM rice that contains high beta carotene, articulates his disappointment with all the negativity. “There is not a single documented case of harm since its use! It is, therefore, insane not to use it efficiently and prudently. It is immoral to prevent its use for public good. And it is criminal to prevent it from contributing to food-and nutrition security.”

Regular rice (left) and Golden Rice (right).
Photo courtesy of

Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor of the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign questions why there is opposition to and criticism of biotechnology after almost 20 years of successful use on billions of hectares of farmland. “It is not unusual for humans to be cautious and concerned about new technologies… but society will need to move past this opposition in order to capture the benefits offered by biotechnology.”

Mr. Chris Kakunta, a development journalist working for the National Agricultural Information Services in Zambia also shares his thoughts. “As someone who has seen GMO crops in the lab and on the farms and who has witnessed the benefits accruing to farmers, I would say that the media, the industry to which I belong, must work extra hard so that every farmer hears the facts and makes the right decision... It is essential that this information be as pure and untainted as human beings can make it. If the press errs, then the whole of society lives with the same mistake,” the Zambian journalist avers.

The most daunting challenge of biotechnology, according to Professor Wayne Parrott of the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at the University of Georgia, may not be climate change or pests, but “fear and emotions that do not respond to reason and logic.” Indeed, as Mr. Jon Entine, the founding director of the Genetics Literacy Project and senior fellow at the World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis, cautions: “We can face a perilous future if we strangulate biotechnology advances because of misplaced fears.”

The success of modern biotechnology is seen in the millions of hectares of farmlands planted with biotech crops.

Indeed, issues have gone beyond the realm of science. Thus, many experts, be they scientists, policy makers, or media practitioners, have made their life mission to empower the public to make crucial decisions regarding acceptance and adoption of biotech that is based on evidence. Scientists, for example, now realize that it is not enough to just provide information to a public which wants a more active role in science by having their voices heard. And to a public that relies on information about biotechnology from mass media, the role of journalists is important for they set the agenda and tone for the topic.

As the Polish scientist Marie Curie succinctly said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Read more on experts’ views on biotechnology from ISAAA Brief 50: Voices and Views: Why Biotech? available at:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Of Beauty Queens and Biotech

Beauty contests are popular whether in the big cities or villages. Beautiful, intelligent, and talented ladies vie for the different awards at stake, while audiences get an experience of second guessing the choices of judges. While winning local pageants is already an achievement, those who qualify to represent their respective countries in international events get the limelight and a head-start in careers often related to entertainment and media. Such is the case of women who represent their countries in international contests such as Ms. Universe which began in 1952. The logo of Ms. Universe or “the woman with stars” represents beauty and responsibility, hence, a shift from being merely a pretty face to a woman with the potential to influence and spread messages to the global community.

Since the ladies all look pretty and model their costumes and gowns with similar flair, the question and answer portion often becomes the make or break moment. Finalists, often the remaining five contestants, are asked a final question before one is chosen to go overseas to spread messages that span world peace, education, health, and public awareness of current issues and concerns. Just being a representative of women in a global context enables powerful statements to be voiced out and listened to by a captive audience.

Miss Uganda 2015/2016
Zahara Muhammed Nakigaya
The question “What are GMOs (genetically modified organisms)?” would not be a typical question, but wait, it was exactly the one asked of the finalists for the Ms. Universe representative of Uganda. With ease and confidence, 23-year old Zahara Muhammed Nakiyaga of Kampala said, “GMOs are genetically modified organisms made from joining tissue and DNAs of plants to produce more resistant and long lasting crops.” This, she explained after noting that she would use social media positively to sensitize the youth and the public at large about the different projects I want to do to promote rural development.”

The confidence to answer the biotech question was a result of participation of the pageant finalists, in an agriculture-focused bootcamp, supported by among others, the Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) and the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Kampala. The lady candidates spent a three-week activity-filled event on “Promoting agricultural entrepreneurship among the youth” which was the pageant’s theme. They engaged in sessions with scientists, visited laboratories and field trials and demonstrations, and were exposed to evidence-based research in agriculture. In an interview with Uganda’s newspaper, Daily Monitor, Zahara said, “I learnt so many things, including the benefits of modern agriculture, which I want to pass on to other youth during my reign.”

Lady candidates learn about agricultural machineries at the bootcamp.

The innovative approach to making biotech more mainstream in public narratives was the brainchild of the UBIC team led by Dr. Barbara Mugwanya Zawedde. UBIC, a member of ISAAA's information network, is committed to fostering greater awareness and understanding of biosciences in a country that is open to modern agricultural technologies to address productivity and population issues. Dr. Zawedde, however, notes that the “openness of the pageant organizers to have their candidates attend the bootcamp and to include a question for the candidates on biotech, opened up the opportunity to get the public interested in a topic often marginalized from daily conversations.” But more importantly, the pageant candidates found the experience very useful and an eye opener.

The contestants at the NaCRRI laboratory.

Indeed the challenge for biotech communicators is how to encourage public engagement, but not on a playing field that is unfamiliar with the latter. Science and its applications do not have to be robustly tested within the confines of the laboratory or field alone. Rather, efforts must be made to engage the public in new conversations that allow them to view science and technology as integral part of their daily life and incorporate public values into decision-making. UBIC can also be commended for popularizing biotech among the youth in Uganda, through essay contests, internships, and science fairs.

Meanwhile, this event is a unique strategy, one of many other possibilities to jumpstart public engagement that can hopefully make a positive difference. 

For more information about agricultural biotechnology in Uganda, send an email to:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunrise of Hope for Small-Scale Biotech Farmers

The poet Jean Marble makes a plea in behalf of farmers:

Make sunrise early and the sunset wait;
Make summer early and the winter late!
Allow the crops to sprout and thrive
And give hope to man the drive.

Indeed, farming is a profession that builds on hope and optimism – that pests and diseases, vagaries of weather, and other challenges to growing plants will not stop farmers from experiencing higher yield, better productivity, and enhanced quality of life for their families and communities. A cotton farmer, for instance, waits for about 4 to 5 months for the seed to grow and mature into a plant bursting with bolls. He is uncertain whether nature will reward or punish him for his effort, time, and investment. He can only wait and pray.

But scientists have been seeking alternative and modern solutions to overcome such a scenario. These include biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops that have improved attributes such as insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. The first biotech crops were planted in 1996. Currently, over 17 million farmers are planting biotech soybean, maize, cotton, and canola, among others. While it is generally perceived that only farmers from developed countries are reaping the benefits of modern biotechnology, about 85% of farmers planting biotech crops are actually small landholders in the developing countries of China, India, and the Philippines.

The Adoption and Uptake Pathways of Biotech Crops by Small-Scale, Resource-Poor Asian Farmers: Comparative Studies in China, India, and the Philippines project was spearheaded by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in collaboration with the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Indian Society of Cotton Improvement (ISCI) and the College of Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (CDC-UPLB). The study sought to answer the following questions: Who are the biotech farmers? What are the factors that farmers consider in adopting biotech crops? How have they benefitted from adopting the technology? Who influenced them in adopting biotech crops?

The three-country research looked at farmers from Hebei, Shandong, Anhui, and Henan provinces in China located in the Huang-Huai-Hai cotton production zone; cotton-growing states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab in India; and maize-growing provinces of Pampanga, Iloilo and South Cotabato in the Philippines.

Who are the farmers using GM crops?

The study provides insights on a new breed of farmers as a result of biotech crops. While Bt cotton production is still a male-dominated activity in China, more and more women are getting involved in planting operations, They are attracted to the benefits of growing Bt cotton as there is less labor involved than would otherwise be needed for pesticide applications.

Filipino males dominate the planting process, but wives are major decision makers in the choice of crop to plant and farming methods to adopt since they control the input costs and spending. In Indian households, planting of Bt cotton has become a family affair with the household head, taking the more strenuous activities and mothers and children helping to pick and clean cotton bolls.

In India, it is a significant sign that Bt cotton is attracting the young with over 50% in the 21-40 age bracket among those surveyed in the cotton-growing areas of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharasthra.

Interestingly, in the Philippines, even college graduates are venturing into GM maize production as it has become a viable income-generating alternative. Farmers in China and the Philippines report two to three times higher incomes from planting GM crops while Indian farmers obtain twice the income over traditional varieties

Reasons for Adoption of GM crops

The principal reasons why farmers adopt GM crops are higher economic and yield benefits, freedom or reduced infestations from cotton bollworm or corn borer, and dramatic reduction in pesticide use and frequency of spraying. Other facilitating factors include the presence of private traders that sell seeds and provide capital loans as well as trust and stronger ties among farmers that contributed to the information flow on biotech crops. 

Similar to other technologies, there are also factors that limit or slow down adoption of biotech crops. Foremost are lack of capital and the high cost of farm inputs, especially in India and the Philippines. Influence of skeptical elders and church groups with regard biotech crops in these two countries was also a limiting factor. In the initial years of commercialization in China, local seed companies could not meet the demand for biotech seeds. Delayed adoption was also attributed to limited access to information about the new technology and inadequate government support.

Uptake Pathways of GM Crops

As revealed in focus group discussions, early adopting farmers in India and the Philippines take the risk of a new technology by trying out a biotech crop which they initially heard about from a demonstration field trial set up by seed companies or from progressive village leaders. Other farmers in the community take a ‘wait and see’ attitude, they take time to see how things progress, but become easily motivated to try the new crop after seeing convincing results of higher yields and bountiful harvests from the early adopters.

Early adopters share biotech crop know-how with their relatives and peers through  personal interactions. This is due to the prevailing strong peer system among farmers and the belief that they owe it to themselves and their fellow farmers to share what would benefit everyone in the community (Figure 1).

Figure 1. General pattern of adoption and uptake pathway of biotech crops in China, India, and the Philippines

In China, village cadres coordinate with technicians to arrange training and convince farmers to participate in farm-related activities. Facilitating factors for early adoption are: 1) support from trusted village leaders on GM crop production; 2) close ties among farmers; and 3) avoidance of heavy losses incurred by farmers in cultivating non-GM crops. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that farmer adoption of Bt cotton is now more than 95% of total cotton production in China and India, while 80% of Filipino yellow corn farmers are planting biotech maize.

It must have been biotech crops that poet Carrie Richards was referring to when she said:

Ploughs and pastures, furrows and frowns
Rows of seeds, for miles and miles
A crop, a harvest, to table, and smiles.

For the full research reports, visit

Friday, March 13, 2015

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2014 Launched in Beijing; Media Conferences Held in Asian Countries

Since 1996, during the first year of commercialization of biotech crops, ISAAA has released the annual “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops” (ISAAA Brief No. 49), a Report that documents the latest information on the global status of commercially approved biotech crops. Year after year, ISAAA prepares the Report and supports its free distribution to developing countries to provide information and knowledge to the scientific community and facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion regarding the potential role of biotech crops in contributing to global food, feed, fiber, and fuel security, and a more sustainable agriculture.

The 2014 Global Status Report is the 19th Brief in the series, and documents the global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops in the world in 2014, when 18 million farmers from 28 countries planted 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops. Below are summaries of the country launches held for the 2014 Global Status Report.


Brief 49 was launched at the China World Hotel in Beijing, China on January 28, 2015, with 35 media representatives. A seminar where Dr. Clive James presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014 was held at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) on January 29, and co-organized by CAAS, ISAAA, China BIC, and five professional societies in China. The seminar was attended by 200 stakeholders from the government, academe, research institutes, media agencies, and private companies. Guests during the seminar include Dr. Chen Zhangliang, Vice President of China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), Dr. Paul Teng, and Dr. Randy Hautea.
Dr. James presenting the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops during the seminar in Beijing, China.


In Seoul, the media seminar for Brief 49 was held at The Plaza Hotel on January 30. It was attended by more than 60 people from the government, academe, and private companies. Dr. James presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014. The seminar was co-organized by Dr. Soo-Chul Park, director of the National Center for GM Crops (NCGC) of the Next-Generation BioGreen21 Program in RDA, South Korea; and Dr. Tae-San Kim, director of CropLife Asia.

Dr. Park emphasized the need for the development of GM crops in Korea and mentioned 4 events (drought tolerant rice, herbicide-resistant/male sterility grass, virus resistant red pepper) that are under risk assessment.
More than 60 people from the government, academe, and private companies attended the seminar in Seoul.


The seminar and media engagement in Tokyo were facilitated by Dr. Fusao Tomita, the Nippon BIC director and the Council for Biotechnology Information in Japan (CBIJ) currently headed by Dr. Masahiro Suzuki. The event was held at Belle Salle Yaesu on February 2 and gathered more than 100 participants composed of media, policy makers, and the academe, an impossible feat on a Monday in Japan. Dr. Suzuki opened the seminar and provided information on the activities of CBIJ, followed by the presentations of Dr. James and Dr. Hautea. Dr. Tomita presented the current status and views of GM crops in Japan. A short meeting with the media was also held immediately after the seminar.
Dr. James at the media seminar in Tokyo.


Brief 49 was presented at a conference held at the Sofitel Hotel in Hanoi, on February 3. Hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and AgBiotech Vietnam, in cooperation with ISAAA, the conference was attended by more than 100 regulators and scientists from science, environment and agriculture ministries, members of the academe and research institutes, representatives of businesses, associations and media agencies.

Dr. James presented the global status of biotech/GM crops. Dr. Hautea discussed the application and benefits of biotech corn in the Philippines, while Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, Executive Director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) highlighted the role of the media in providing correct and objective information about biotech crops against the misconception of this technology.

Heads of ministries graced the occasion, including Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy,  General Director of Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; and Prof. Dr. Trinh Khac Quang, Director of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Discussions on the Q and A revolved around management of biotech seeds after commercialization and effective methods of communication on biotech crops to the public.
Dr. James is joined by Dr. Le Huy Ham (left) and Dr. Vo Tung Xuan (right) during the seminar in Hanoi.  


Thailand’s Biosafety and Biotechnology Information Center (BBIC) Director Dr. Supat Attathom and Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA) head Dr. Nipon Lamsupasit led the seminar in Bangkok held in Century Park Hotel on February 4. 119 participants composed of media, policy makers, the academe, and the industry attended the seminar. Simultaneous translation during the seminar was supported by BAA.

The seminar which featured presentations from Drs. James, Hautea, and Arujanan  was opened by Prof. Dr. Yongyuth Yuthawong, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, who also met with the ISAAA team at breakfast. The country has permitted field trials of GM crops and is looking forward to commercialization. Former agriculture minister Thira Sutabutra also attended the seminar.
Dr. Hautea and Dr. James is joined by Dr. Arujanan in Bangkok.


Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MOAI), the National Economic and Social Advisory Council (NESAC) co-organized the ISAAA seminars held in Summer Park View Hotel, Yangon on February 5; and at Thingaha Hotel, Nay Pyi Taw on February 6.

At the Yangon media conference, Dr. Sein Hla Bo, Presidential Economic Advisor to the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar chaired the seminar. More than 30 media representatives and members of the academe in Yangon attended the briefings by Dr. James and Mr. Bhagirath Choudhary, ISAAA Director for Strategic Initiatives.

The Nay Pyi Taw seminar was attended by more than 50 government representatives, policy makers, members of the academe, and media representatives. Dr. Ye Tint Htun, Director General of Department of Agriculture presided over the seminar with presentations from Dr. James, Mr. Choudhary, as well as from Dr. Khin Thida Myint, professor at Yezin Agricultural University who discussed the progress of GM crops in Myanmar, and the possibility of developing collaborative project on other crops important to food security in Myanmar. Prof. Daw Than Than Nu of the Department of Industrial Crops Development shared the achievement of Bt cotton and the development of new promising Bt cotton variety Ngwe Chi-9, to be released in the near future. It was notable that Dr. Ye Tint Htun, Director General of Department of Agricultural Research of the MOAI invited ISAAA to help them access new biotechnologies and facilitate technology transfer to Myanmar.
Dr. James (center) and Mr. Choudhary (second from left) at the seminar in Yangon.


Dr. James was joined by the Honorable Minister of Agriculture Matia Chowdhury who gave a message in the seminar in Dhaka held at the Bangladesh Agricultural Council (BARC) on February 8.

The event was co-organized by Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center (BdBIC) Director Prof. Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin and ISAAA in partnership with BARC and ABSP II (Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II). Dr. James and Mr. Choudhary were joined in the forum by Dr. Md Rafiqual Islam Modal, Director General of BARI; Prof. Dr. Md Shahidur Rashid Bhuiyan, Pro VC of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University; Dr. Abul Kalam Azad, Executive Chairman BARC; Prof. Md Shadat Ullah, VC of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University and Mr. Md Eunusur Rahman, Secretary of Agriculture who each gave short message during the program. Around 450 participants from the scientific community, agricultural universities, different government departments, industry, seven media outlets who recorded the event, and a dozen print and online media attended the seminar.
Hon. Minister for Agriculture Matia Chowdhury was chief guest during the launch in Dhaka.


The seminar in Indonesia was attended by 150 stakeholders consisting of scientists, academicians, policy makers, farmers, journalists, and entrepreneurs. It was held on February 11, 2015. Dr. James shared the recent global developments in biotechnology. It was organized by the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (IndoBIC), ISAAA, Ministry of Agriculture, and National Outstanding Farmers Association (NOFA), and supported by the Indonesian Society for Agricultural Biotechnology (PBPI), CropLife Indonesia, and SEAMEO BIOTROP.

Dr. James also highlighted a significant development in biotechnology in Asia, saying that Vietnam and Indonesia are close to the commercialization of biotech crops, which is expected to begin in 2015. Dr. Ir. Hasil Sembiring, General Director of Food Crops of the Ministry of Agriculture represented the Minister to deliver the opening remarks on that event.
Speakers and moderator of the seminar in Jakarta (left to right): Prof. Agus Pakpahan, Dr. Hautea, Dr. Teng, Dr. James, and Ms. Veronica Moniaga.


The Manila launch of Brief 49 highlighted the continued expansion of biotech corn in the country. A media conference, co-organized with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), was held on February 27, at the InterContinental Manila Hotel in Makati City

Speakers at the conference include ISAAA Board Chair Dr. Paul S. Teng; Dr. Hautea; ISAAA Senior Program Officer Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita who presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014; and Bukidnon farmer Mr. Edgar Talasan, who expressed his eagerness to plant an upcoming biotech crop, Bt eggplant. Representatives from government offices, scientists, and members of the media attended the seminar.
ISAAA Senior Program Officer Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita presented the global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in 2014 during the seminar in Manila.

More information about ISAAA's Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014 are available at ISAAA website: Various information resources, including the Executive Summary, Top Ten Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2014, Powerpoint slides, infographics, and videos are all available for download from the same link.

For more information about ISAAA, visit, or follow ISAAA on Facebook ( and Twitter (

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Biotech Crops Show Sustained Growth and Benefits in 2014; Global Plantings Increase by 6 Million Hectares

The 2014 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, authored by Clive James, Founder and Emeritus Chair of ISAAA, reports that a record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally, an increase of more than 6 million hectares from 2013. With the addition of Bangladesh, 28 countries grew biotech crops during the year. The 20 developing and eight industrial countries where biotech crops are planted represent more than 60 percent of the world’s population.

“The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China. Global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops.” - Clive James

Since 1996, more than 10 food and fiber biotech crops have been approved and commercialized around the world. These range from major commodities such as maize, soybean and cotton, to fruits and vegetables like papaya, eggplant and, most recently, potato. The traits of these crops address common issues affecting crop benefits to the consumer and production rates for farmers, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance and increased nutrition and food quality. Biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems and provide resilient responses to the challenges of climate change.

According to the Report, the United States continues to lead production at 73.1 million hectares, up 3 million hectares from 2013, the highest year-over-year increase, surpassing Brazil, which has recorded the highest annual increase for the past five years.

The Report also highlighted key benefits of biotechnology, including alleviation of poverty and hunger by boosting the income of risk-averse small, resource-poor farmers around the world. Latest global provisional information for the period 1996 to 2013 shows that biotech crops increased production valued at US$133 billion; in the period 1996 to 2012 pesticide use decreased significantly saving approximately 500 million kg of active ingredient. In 2013 alone, crop plantings lowered carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year.

These findings are consistent with a rigorous meta-analysis, conducted by economists Wilhelm Klumper and Matin Qaim in November 2014, which concludes that GM technology has, on average, reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent, and increased farmer profits by 68 percent during the 20-year period 1995 to 2014. 

A corn farmer's family in the Philippines (ISAAA file photo)

Bangladesh: a model for success

Bangladesh, one of the smallest and poverty-stricken countries in the world, approved Bt brinjal (eggplant) in October 2013. Commercial planting began in January 2014 when 120 farmers planted 12 hectares of Bt brinjal throughout the year. Bt brinjal not only brings financial opportunity to farmers in the country, but also decreases farmer exposure to pesticides by 70 to 90 percent.

“The timely approval and commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh speaks to the power of political will and support from the government. This lays the foundation as a model of success for other small, poor countries to quickly introduce the benefits of biotech crops.”

The case of Bangladesh in 2014 reconfirms the value and success of public-private partnerships. The Bt biotech trait for brinjal – one of the most nutritious and important vegetables in Bangladesh – was donated by Mahyco, an Indian company.

“Public-private partnerships continue to increase the probability of timely delivery of approved biotech crops at the farm level,” James said. “They will remain essential in the years to come.”

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project is another example of a public-private partnership at work. Beginning in 2017, select African countries are scheduled to receive the first biotech drought tolerant maize, a food staple for more than 300 million Africans. The donated biotechnology trait is the same as the DroughtGard™ variety used in the United States, which increased 5.5-fold in planted hectares from 2013 to 2014. This demonstrates strong farmer acceptance of the biotech drought tolerant maize.

New approvals address consumer concerns

In the United States, approval of the Innate™ potato was granted in November 2014. The Innate potato decreases production of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. Furthermore, it increases consumer satisfaction while precluding up to 40 percent yield loss as the potato will not discolor when peeled and has fewer bruising spots. These attributes will have meaningful impact on food security as food waste continues as an important factor in the discussion of feeding 9.6 billion people in 2050 and approximately 11 billion in 2100.

Potatoes represent the fourth most important food staple in the world. As such, a continuous effort is being made to improve the potato and combat losses due to diseases, insects and weeds, and other constraints.

Biotech-based control of the fungal disease late-blight, the most important disease of potatoes in the world, is already being field-tested in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. Late-blight caused the 1845 Irish famine, which resulted in 1 million deaths. Biotech control of virus diseases and the Colorado beetle, the most important insect pest, are already available, but not deployed.

Status of biotech crops in Asia

In Asia, China and India continue to lead developing countries growing biotech crops at 3.9 million hectares and 11.6 million hectares planted in 2014, respectively.

The adoption rate of biotech cotton in China increased from 90 to 93 percent in 2014, while virus resistant papaya plantings increased approximately 50 percent. More than 7 million small farmers in the country continue to benefit from biotech crops and the latest economic data available indicates farmers in the country have gained US$16.2 billion since the introduction of biotech in 1996.

Bt cotton farmer in China (ISAAA file photo)

According to the Report, India cultivated a record 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton with an adoption rate of 95 percent. Economists Brookes and Barfoot estimate that India enhanced farm income from Bt cotton by US$ 2.1 billion in 2013 alone.

Farmers at a cotton farm in India (ISAAA file photo)

Developing countries Vietnam and Indonesia granted approval for commercialization of biotech crops to begin in 2015. This includes several hybrids of biotech maize for importing and planting in Vietnam and drought tolerant sugarcane for planting as a food crop in Indonesia
Growth continues in Africa and Latin America

Having cultivated 2.7 million hectares in 2014, South Africa ranks as the leading developing country to grow biotech crops in Africa. Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by approximately 50 percent in 2014 and several African countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda conducted field trials on several pro-poor crops including the food crops rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, bananas, cassava and sweet potato. These crops can contribute to resilience and sustainability in the face of new climate change challenges.

In Latin America, Brazil ranked second, after the United States, for biotech crops planted in 2014. At 42.2 million hectares, this represents an increase of 5 percent from 2013.

Biotech crops impact food security, sustainability and the environment

From 1996 to 2013, biotech crops have increased crop production valued provisionally at $US133 billion; helped alleviate poverty for more than 16.5 million small farmers and their families – more than 65 million people, collectively – some of the poorest people in the world; and decreased the environmental impact of food and fiber production by reducing pesticide use, increasing land savings and reducing CO2 emissions.

According to economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, if the 441 million tons of food, feed and fiber from biotech crops from 1996 to 2013 were not produced, an additional 132 million hectares of conventional crops would be needed to produce the same tonnage. This required increase in hectares could have negative impacts for biodiversity and the environment due to a greater demand for cultivated land.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications. Clive James, Emeritus Chairman and Founder of ISAAA, has lived and/or worked for the past 30 years in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to agricultural research and development issues with a focus on crop biotechnology and global food security.

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