ISAAA Brief 41-2009: Executive Summary

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2009
The first fourteen  years, 1996 to 2009


This Executive Summary focuses on the 2009 global biotech crop highlights, which are comprehensively discussed in the full version of Brief 41, dedicated to the late Nobel Peace Laureate, Norman Borlaug. An ISAAA tribute to Norm, the First Founding Patron of ISAAA who passed away on 12 September 2009, is also included as a commemorative brochure in Brief 41. Having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for successfully implementing the green revolution, which saved up to 1 billion people from hunger in the 1960s, Norman Borlaug was the world’s most ardent and credible advocate of biotech crops and their vital contribution to the alleviation of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

This Brief also includes a fully referenced special feature on “Biotech Rice – Present Status and Future Prospects” by Dr. John Bennett, Honorary Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Australia and former senior molecular biologist of the Plant Molecular Biology Laboratory at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, which hosts the ISAAA South East Asia Center.

China approves Bt rice and phytase maize in a landmark decision.

Shortly before this Brief went to press, biotech Bt rice and biotech phytase maize were approved by China on 27 November 2009. These approvals are momentous and have enormous implications for biotech crop adoption not only for China and Asia, but for the whole world. There are several aspects that make them unique:

  • Both nationally-developed proprietary  products  were  produced  in China  entirely  with public  sector resources  from the Government;
  • Rice is the most important food crop in the world. Bt rice can deliver estimated benefits of US$4 billion per year to up to 110 million rice households in China alone (440 million beneficiaries, assuming 4 per family) who grow 30 million hectares of rice  – on average they farm one-third of a hectare of rice. Increased yield and farmer income  from Bt rice can contribute to a better quality of life and a safer and more sustainable environment due to less dependency on insecticides. Nationally,  it can be a very significant and critical contribution to China’s goal of food and feed “self-sufficiency” (optimizing the  nations’ home-grown food and feed crops) and “food security”  (enough food and feed for all) – the distinction  is important  and the two goals are not mutually exclusive.
  • Maize is the major animal feed crop in the world. In China, maize occupies 30 million hectares and farmed by 100 million maize  households (400 million beneficiaries)  with an average  maize  holding per farm of one third of one hectare. Potential benefits of phytase maize include more efficient pork production (China has the largest swine herd in the world, 500 million equivalent to 50% of global). Pork production with phytase maize will be more efficient because pigs can more easily digest phosphorus, thereby coincidentally enhancing growth and reducing  pollution  from lower phosphate animal waste. Farmers will no longer be required  to purchase and mix phosphate supplement resulting in savings in supplements, equipment and labor. Nationally, increased efficiency of meat production is critical at a time when  prosperity is driving increased meat  consumption in China  which  has to import  maize  for feed. Maize  is also used  to feed China’s 13 billion chickens,  ducks and poultry.
  • China’s approval  of biotech  rice and  maize  will probably  facilitate  and  expedite  the decision  making process regarding acceptance and approval  of biotech  rice, maize and other biotech  crops in developing countries. This will be  particularly  so in Asia, which is facing the same challenges as China in relation to food self-sufficiency and the 2015 MDG goals to alleviate poverty, hunger and malnutrition and increase  small farmer prosperity.
  • The approvals  of vital nationally-developed Chinese  biotech  rice and maize  staples could also shift the dynamics of global food, feed and fiber trade, the role of developing countries in food security, and could stimulate  other countries  to emulate  China and/or  engage  in technology transfer/sharing   programs  with China.

The Chinese Government’s assignment of high priority to crop biotechnology, championed by Premier Wen Jiabao, is paying off handsome returns  to China,  both in terms of Bt cotton  and  strategically  important  new  crops  like biotech rice and maize  and also reflects growing academic excellence of China in biotech  crop development. Agricultural science is China’s fastest-growing research field with China’s share of global publications in agricultural  science  growing from 1.5% in 1999 to 5% in 2008.   In 1999,  China spent only 0.23%  of its agricultural  GDP on agricultural  R & D but this increased to 0.8% in 2008 and  is now close to the 1%  recommended by the World Bank for developing countries. The new target for the Chinese  Government is to increase  total grain production to 540 million tons by 2020 and to double  Chinese farmers’ 2008 income  by 2020 and biotech  crops can make a significant contribution to this goal (Xinhua, 2009a).

Unfortunately, time constraints  associated with the printing and publication of this Brief allowed  only an initial cursory discussion of the enormous global significance and implications of the approval of biotech rice and maize in China, both of which will have to satisfy and complete 2 to 3 years of the standard  field registration trials prior to full scale commercialization in farmers field. The approvals  are also discussed  later in this Brief.

The challenge of feeding the world  in 2050

It is useful to put  global  food  production into  context,  by tracing  the  major  developments over  the  last two centuries. Starting at the beginning  of the 19th century,  when global population was less than 1 billion in 1800, it was relatively easy to increase  food production over the next 100 years to feed another  0.6 billion, by simply increasing the area of land under the plough. An abundance of new productive land was available and brought into production in the prairies of North  America,  the pampas  of South America,  the steppes  of Eastern Europe and Russia, and the outback  of Australia. In the 20th century (when world population was still only 1.6 billion in 1900), an increase  in global food production over the next 100 years was achieved mainly by increasing crop productivity (yield per hectare)  dramatically, through the green revolution and other agronomic improvements. Fossil fuel was a prerequisite for large-scale mechanization, with tractors replacing  horses, and equally important,  an increased usage of fossil fuel-based  ammonium fertilizers.

At the beginning  of the 21st   century, with a population of 6.1 billion in 2000 and headed for 9.2 billion by 2050, the challenge of yet again doubling  food production in only 50 years has become a daunting  task in itself. The situation is further exacerbated because now, we must also double food  production sustainably by 2050 on approximately the same area of arable land (a notable exception is Brazil) using less resources, particularly, fossil fuel,  water and nitrogen,  at a time when we must also mitigate some of the enormous challenges associated with climate change. Furthermore, there is the critical  and urgent humanitarian  need  to alleviate poverty,  hunger  and  malnutrition  which is afflicting  more  than 1 billion people for the  first time  in the history of the world.  The most promising  technological strategy at this time for increasing  global  food, feed and  fiber productivity  (kg per hectare)  is to combine the best of the old and the best of the new, by integrating  the best of conventional crop technology (adapted  germplasm)  and the best of crop biotechnology applications including novel traits. The improved integrated  crop products,  resulting from this synergy must be incorporated as the innovative technology component in a global food, feed and fiber security strategy that must also address other critical issues, including population growth and improved food, feed and fiber distribution systems. Adoption of such  a holistic strategy will allow  global  society  to continue to benefit  from the vital contribution that both conventional and modern  innovative  plant breeding  offers mankind,  at this critical  juncture  in the history of a world that is desperately struggling with food security as a potential threat to a more peaceful and secure world. It is striking that Borlaug’s acceptance speech for his Nobel peace prize, delivered forty years ago, entitled the Green revolution, peace and humanity, focused on basically the same  issues.

More support to agriculture for “a substantial and sustainable intensification of crop productivity”, using both conventional and crop biotechnology applications

ISAAA Brief 41, 2009  is published at a critical juncture  when  several prestigious  international bodies,  including  the G8, the 2009  FAO Food Summit, the Bill and Melinda  Gates Foundation and the Royal Society of London, have all advocated an urgent need for assigning top priority to agriculture, food self-sufficiency and security and the alleviation of hunger,  malnutrition and  poverty.  More specifically,  given the pivotal  role of crops  in food, feed and fiber production, there has been  a universal  clarion  call to utilize both conventional and biotech  crop applications to  achieve “a substantial and  sustainable intensification of  crop  productivity” on  the  1.5  billion hectares of crop land in use today.  This urgent action has been  called  for, to avert possible  imminent  life-threatening consequences for 1.02 billion people, the highest number  to ever suffer from the debilitating  and destructive  effects of poverty, hunger  and malnutrition, which  is unacceptable in a just society. The situation  is exacerbated with global grain reserves  down  to a perilous 75 days supply,  compared with a recommended minimum  of 100 days, the need to mitigate the multiple  challenges associated with climate  change, particularly  drought  that is already  in evidence globally, and last, but not least, to protect,  at all costs, the natural  resource base for future generations in a reasonable state.

Global  hectarage planted  to biotech crops  continued to climb  in 2009 – record  hectarages for all four major biotech crops  – progress  on other fronts.

Following the consistent  and substantial,  economic, environmental and welfare benefits generated from biotech crops  over  the  last fourteen  years,  millions  of large,  small  and  resource-poor farmers  in both  industrial  and developing countries  continued to plant more hectares  of biotech  crops in 2009 than ever before; this testimony to biotech  crops  from millions  of practitioner farmers around  the world  is the simplest  but probably  the single most compelling, pragmatic  and common-sense measure  of the superior  performance of biotech  crops globally. Despite the severe effects of the 2009 economic recession, record hectarages of all biotech crops were reported in 2009 with the following new highs for the four principal biotech  crops. For the first time, more than three-quarters (77%) of the 90 million hectares  of soybean  grown globally were biotech;  for cotton,  almost half (49%) of the 33 million hectares  were biotech;  for maize,  over a quarter  (26%) of the 158 million hectares  grown globally were biotech; and finally for canola, 21% of the 31 million hectares  were biotech. In addition  to increases  in hectares, progress was also made with the number of farmers electing to plant biotech crops globally. Continued substantial progress was achieved in all three biotech crop countries in Africa, where the challenges are greatest. As predicted in previous ISAAA Briefs, developing countries continued to command an increasing share of global plantings, with Brazil clearly exhibiting its potential  for becoming the future engine  of growth in Latin America. These are very important  developments given that biotech  crops have already  made  a modest  contribution; more importantly,  they have substantial  potential  to continue to contribute to some of the major challenges facing global society in the future, including: food self-sufficiency and security, more affordable food, sustainability, alleviation  of poverty and hunger, and help mitigate some of the challenges associated with climate  change  and global warming.

134  million hectares of biotech crops in 2009 – fastest adopted crop technology,  80-fold increase  from 1996 to 2009, year-to-year growth  of 9 million hectares or 7%

Global hectarage of biotech crops continued to grow in 2009 and reached 134 million hectares, (Table 1 and Figure 1) or 180 million “trait or virtual hectares”. This translates  to an “apparent growth” of 9 million hectares  or 7% measured in hectares, whereas the “actual growth”, measured in “trait or virtual hectares”, was 14 million hectares or 8% year-on-year growth. Measuring in “trait or virtual hectares”  is similar to measuring  air travel (where there is more than one passenger  per plane) more accurately in “passenger  miles” rather than “miles”. Global  growth in “trait or virtual hectares”  increased from 166 million “trait or virtual hectares”  in 2008  to approximately 180 million “trait or virtual hectares”  in 2009.  Recent growth over the last few years in the early-adopting countries  has come  largely from the deployment of “stacked traits” (as opposed to single traits in one variety or hybrid), as adoption rates measured in hectares  reach  optimal  levels in the principal  biotech  crops of maize  and cotton  of the major biotech  crop countries. For example  in 2009,  an impressive 85% of the 35.2 million hectare  national  maize  crop in the USA was biotech, and remarkably,  75% of it was hybrids with either double  or triple stacked traits – only 25% was occupied by hybrids with a single trait. Similarly, biotech cotton occupies up to approximately 90%,  or more of the national  area of cotton  in the USA, Australia and  South Africa, with double-stacked traits occupying 75%  of all biotech  cotton  in the USA, 88%  in Australia and  75%  in South Africa. It is evident  that stacked  traits have  already  become a very important  feature  of biotech  crops,  and  accordingly it is prudent  to also measure growth in “trait or virtual hectares” as well as hectares. This unprecedented high growth rate starting from 1.7 million hectares  in 1996 to 134 million hectares  in 2009 makes biotech  crops the fastest adopted crop technology, increasing  approximately 80-fold (79) between 1996 and 2009.

Stacked  traits planted  by 11  countries  –  8 of the 11  were  developing countries

Stacked products  are an important  feature of biotech  crops and future trend, which  meets the multiple  needs  of farmers and consumers, and these are now increasingly deployed by 11 countries. In descending order of hectarage they were – USA, Argentina,  Canada, Philippines,  South Africa, Australia, Mexico,  Chile, Colombia,  Honduras and Costa Rica, (note that 8 of the 11 were developing countries), with more countries  expected to adopt stacked traits in the future. A total of 28.7 million hectares  of stacked biotech  crops were planted  in 2009 compared with 26.9 million hectares  in 2008. In 2009, the USA led the way with 41% of its total 64.0 million hectares  of biotech  crops stacked.  In the Philippines,  double  stacks with pest resistance  and herbicide tolerance in maize  were the fastest growing  component increasing  from 57%  of biotech  maize  in 2008  to 69%  in 2009.  The new  biotech maize, SmartStax™, will  be released in the USA  in 2010 with eight  different  genes coding for a total of three  traits, two  for pest  resistance, (one  for above ground  pests  and the other  for underground pests) and herbicide tolerance. Future stacked crop products are expected to comprise multiple agronomic input traits for pest resistance, tolerance to herbicides and drought, plus output traits such as high omega-3  oil in soybean  or enhanced pro-Vitamin A in Golden  Rice.

Number  of biotech crop  farmers increased by 0.7  million to 14.0 million, 90%,  or 13.0 million were small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

In  2009, the  number  of farmers benefiting from biotech crops  globally in 25  countries reached 14.0 million, an increase of 0.7  million over 2008. Of the global total of 14.0 million beneficiary  biotech  farmers in 2009,  (up from 13.3  million in 2008),  over 90%  or 13.0  million (up from 12.3  million in 2008)  were  small and  resource-poor farmers from developing countries;  the balance of 1 million  were  large farmers from both industrial countries  such  as the USA and  Canada, and  developing countries  such  as Argentina  and  Brazil. Of the 13.0 million small and resource-poor farmers, most were Bt cotton  farmers, 7.0 million in China (Bt cotton), 5.6 million in India (Bt cotton), and the balance made  up of 250,000 in the Philippines  (biotech  maize),  South Africa (biotech  cotton,  maize  and  soybeans  often grown by subsistence women  farmers) and  the other  twelve developing countries  which  grew biotech  crops in 2009.  The largest  increase in the number  of beneficiary farmers in 2009  was in india where,  an additional 0.6 million more small farmers planted Bt cotton which now  occupies 87%  of total  cotton, up from 80%  in 2008. The increased income from biotech crops for small and resource-poor farmers represents  an initial  modest  contribution towards the alleviation of their poverty. During  the second decade of commercialization, 2006 to 2015, biotech crops  have  an enormous potential for contributing to the Millennium Development Goals  (MDG) of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015. Initial research  in China indicates that up to 10 million more small and resource-poor farmers may be secondary beneficiaries of Bt cotton  in China.

Twenty-five countries planted  biotech crops  in 2009 – 10  in Central and South America.

In 2009, the number of biotech countries planting biotech crops remained the same as 2008, at 25, with Costa Rica listed for the first time and Germany  discontinuing planting of Bt maize at the end of the 2008 season. Costa Rica, like Chile, grows biotech  crops exclusively for the seed export market. With the addition of Costa Rica, this brings the total number  of countries  growing biotech  crops in Latin America to an historical  figure of 10. The number of countries growing  biotech  crops  has increased steadily  from 6 in 1996,  the first year of commercialization, to 18 in 2003  and 25 in 2009.  Japan initiated  commercialization of a biotech  blue rose in 2009  – the roses are partially grown in greenhouses, and  like biotech  carnations in Colombia  and  Australia are not included in the ISAAA global hectarage of food, feed and fiber biotech  crops as defined  in the FAO listing of crops.

Biotech crop hectares grew in 2009 even  when  2008 percent  adoption rates were  high.

Global biotech  hectares  grew in 2009 by a robust 7% or 9 million hectares  even though there was limited room for hectare  growth in biotech  crops in 2009 because:

  • adoption rates were  already  80%  or more  in the principal  biotech  crops  in most of the major  biotech countries;
  • there was uncertainty due to extensive  droughts and unfavorable climatic conditions;
  • an economic crisis, which  was the worst since the depression, led to more static or declining  total crop plantings; and
  • plummeting commodity prices compared with the highs of mid 2008 provided  less incentive  for farmers to increase  total plantings significantly as in previous years.

The percent adoption of biotech  crops continued to grow in 2009, even when the 2008 adoptions rates were very high, for example, from 80% to 87% for Bt cotton in India, from 80% to 85% for biotech  maize  in the USA, and from 86% to 93% for biotech  canola  in Canada  (Figures 2 and 3). For countries, such as China where, consistent  with international trends, total crop plantings of cotton declined, the percent adoption remained the same at 68%, but in the case of the USA even when total plantings of cotton were down 4%, percent  adoption increased from 86% in 2008 to 88% in 2009.  It is notable, that the global area of biotech  crops has grown every single year since its first commercialization in 1996,  at double  digit growth rates consistently  for the first twelve years, at 9.4% in 2008,  and 7% in 2009 during the economic recession.

Brazil  displaced argentina  to become the second largest grower  of biotech crops  in the world.

For 2009, biotech crops in Brazil were estimated to occupy 21.4 million hectares, an increase of 5.6 million hectares, the largest increase  in any country  in the world and equivalent to a 35% increase  over 2008.  Brazil now plants 16% of all the biotech  crops in the world. Of the 21.4 million hectares  of biotech  crops grown in Brazil in 2009, 16.2 million hectares were planted to RR®soybean for the seventh consecutive year, up from 14.2 million hectares  in 2008.  The adoption rate was a record 71% versus 65% in 2008 with an estimated  150,000 farmers benefiting from RR®soybeans. In addition  in 2009,  Brazil planted  5 million hectares  of Bt maize for the second  time in both the summer and winter (safrinha) seasons. The hectarage of Bt maize increased by 3.7 million hectares, or almost a 400% increase  over 2008,  and was by far the largest absolute  increase  for any biotech  crop in any country  in the world in 2009.  The adoption rates were 30% for the summer  maize  and 53% for the winter maize.  Finally, 145,000 hectares  of Bt cotton were grown officially for the fourth time in 2009,  of which 116,000 hectares  were Bt cotton and for the first time 29,000 hectares  were HT cotton. Thus in 2009, the collective  hectarage of biotech soybean, maize and cotton in Brazil led to a national  year-over-year growth of 35% over 2008, equivalent to 5.6 million hectares, the largest for any country  in the world, and most importantly  resulted  in Brazil becoming, for the first time, the number  two country in the world in terms of biotech  hectarage. The benefits from biotech  crops in Brazil for the period  2003 to 2008 was US$2.8 billion, and US$0.7 billion for 2008 alone.

India has 8 years (2002 to 2009) of impressive benefits  from Bt cotton  – and Bt brinjal (eggplant), India’s first biotech food  crop,  recommended for commercialization.

Remarkably,  for the eighth  consecutive year, the hectarage, adoption rate and  the number  of farmers using Bt cotton in India in 2009,  all continued to soar to record highs.  In 2009,  5.6 million small and marginal resource- poor farmers in India planted  and benefited  from 8.381 (~8.4) million hectares  of Bt cotton, equivalent to 87% of the 9.636 (~9.6) million hectare  national  cotton crop. Given that the adoption rate was already very high in 2008, when  5 million farmers planted  7.6 million hectares  of Bt cotton,  equivalent to 80% of the 9.4 million hectare  national  cotton crop, all the increases  in 2009 were robust. The increase  from 50,000 hectares  in 2002, (when Bt cotton was first commercialized) to 8.4 million hectares  in 2009 represents  an unprecedented 168-fold increase  in eight years. In 2009,  for the first time, multiple gene Bt cotton occupied more hectares  (57%) than single gene Bt cotton  (43%). 2009 was the first year for an indigenous public  sector bred Bt cotton  variety (Bikaneri Nerma) and a hybrid (NHH-44) to be commercialized in India, thus redressing the balance between the role of the private and public sector in biotech  crops in India. A new Bt cotton event was approved for commercialization in 2009 (bringing the total to six approved events) featuring a synthetic cry1C gene, developed by a private sector Indian company. The deployment of Bt cotton over the last eight years has resulted  in India becoming the number  one exporter  of cotton  globally  as well as the second  largest cotton  producer in the world.  Bt cotton  has literally revolutionized cotton  production in India. In  the  short span  of seven years,  2002 to 2008, Bt cotton  has generated economic benefits  for farmers  valued  at us$5.1  billion, halved insecticide requirements, contributed to the doubling of yield  and transformed  india from a cotton  importer to a major exporter. In 2008 alone,  the benefits accruing  from Bt cotton in India was an impressive US$1.8 billion. In October 2009, a landmark  decision  was  made  by India’s  Genetic Engineering  Approval  Committee  (GEAC), to recommend the commercial release  of Bt Brinjal (Eggplant/Aubergine),  which  is now pending, subject  to final clearance by the government of India. Brinjal is the “King of Vegetables” but requires very heavy applications of insecticide. Bt brinjal is expected to be the first food crop to be commercialized  in India, requiring significantly less insecticide and capable of contributing to sustainability and a more affordable food product for consumers and the alleviation  of poverty of 1.4 million small, resource-poor farmers who grow brinjal in India. A 2007 IIMA study reported  that 70% of the middle  class in India accept  biotech  foods, and  furthermore  are prepared to pay a premium  of up to 20% for superior  biotech  foods, such as Golden  Rice, with enhanced levels of pro-Vitamin A, expected to be available in 2012.  India has several other biotech  food crops in field trials including  biotech  Bt rice.

Continued progress  in Africa – South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt

Almost 1 billion people  live in Africa, which  is almost 15% of the world population. It is the only continent in the world where food production per capita is decreasing and where hunger and malnutrition afflicts at least one in three Africans.  Up until 2008,  South Africa was the only country  on the continent of Africa to benefit from biotech crops. The estimated total  biotech crop  area in south  africa in 2009 was  2.1  million hectares, up significantly from 1.8  million hectares in 2008, equivalent to a year-over-year growth  rate of 17%. Growth in 2009  was mainly  attributed  to an increase  in biotech  maize  area,  accompanied by an increase  in biotech soybean  with an adoption rate of 85%, and a modest  hectarage of biotech  cotton  with an adoption rate of 98%.  The two new  African countries, which  joined  South Africa in 2008,  as biotech  crop  countries, were Burkina Faso and Egypt.

In 2008,  for the first time ever, approximately 4,500  Burkina Faso farmers successfully  produced 1,600  tonnes of Bt cotton  seed on a total of 6,800  farmer fields; the first 8,500  hectares  of commercial Bt cotton  was planted  in the country  in 2008.  In 2009,  approximately 115,000 hectares of commercial Bt cotton  were  planted  in Burkina Faso.  Compared  with  2008 when  8,500 hectares were  planted, this was  an unprecedented 14-fold year-to-year increase, equivalent to 106,500 hectares, making  it the  fastest  percent  increase (1,353%) in hectarage of any biotech crop in any country  in 2009. Thus, the adoption rate in Burkina Faso has increased from 2% of 475,000 hectares  in 2008  to a substantial  29% of 400,000 hectares  in 2009.  Enough Bt cotton seed  was produced in Burkina Faso in 2009  to plant approximately 380,000 hectares, equivalent to approximately 70%  of all cotton  in Burkina Faso in 2010,  assuming  a total planting  of 475,000 hectares. It is estimated  that Bt cotton  can  generate  an economic benefit  of over US$100  million per year for Burkina Faso, based  on yield increases of close to 30%, plus at least a 50% reduction in insecticides sprays, from a total of 8 sprays required  for conventional cotton,  to only 2 to 4 sprays for Bt cotton.

In 2009, egypt in its second year, planted  approximately 1,000 hectares of Bt maize, a modest  increase of approximately 15% over 2008, when  approximately 700  hectares were planted. In 2008, Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to commercialize  biotech  crops, by planting a hybrid Bt yellow maize,  Ajeeb YG. The planned increase  in hectarage of Bt maize  to over 5,000  hectares  in 2009 was not realized, because import licenses for 150 tons of Ajeeb YG, sufficient for planting 5,200 hectares, were not issued. Thus, the developers of Ajeeb YG had to rely on approximately 28 tons of locally produced seed to plant 1,000  hectares  in 2009.

Developing countries increase their share  of global  biotech crop  to almost  50%  and  are expected to continue to significantly increase biotech hectarage in the future.

Consistent  with ISAAA projections, in 2009,  developing countries  continued to  increase  their share  of global biotech  crops  by planting  61.5  million  hectares, close  to half (46%) of the  global  hectarage of 134  million hectares;  this compares with 44% in 2008. The five principal  developing countries, (with a collective  population of 2.8 billion and representing all three continents of the South: Brazil, Argentina, India, China and South Africa, continued to exert strong global  leadership, by planting  approximately 57 million hectares  equivalent to 43% of the global hectarage of 134 million hectares. The “big five” are a formidable  force in driving global adoption of biotech  crops and enjoy strong political  support  in their respective  countries, which  also provide  substantial  financial support for biotech  crops.

It is noteworthy that in 2009, all seven countries  that exhibited  proportional growth in biotech  crop area of 10%, or more, were developing countries. They were in descending order of percentage growth: Burkina Faso (1,353% increase), Brazil (35% growth), Bolivia (33%), Philippines  (25%), South Africa (17%), Uruguay  (14%) and India (11%). As in the past, the 2009  percentage growth in biotech  crop area continued to be significantly stronger in the developing countries (13% and 7 million hectares) than industrial countries (3% and 2 million hectares). Thus, year-on-year growth measured in either absolute  hectares  or by percent,  was significantly higher in developing countries  than  industrial  countries  between 2008  and  2009.  The strong trend  for higher  growth  in developing countries versus industrial countries is highly likely to continue in the near, mid and long-term, as more countries  from the South adopt  biotech  crops  and  crops  like rice,  90%  of which  is grown  in developing countries, are deployed as new biotech  crops.

The five principal developing countries Brazil (21.4 million hectares), Argentina (21.3 million), India (8.4 million), China (3.7 million), and South Africa (2.1 million) collectively  represent  56.9 million hectares  equivalent to 43% of the global 134 million hectares. The five countries  are committed to biotech  crops, and it is notable  that they span all three continents of the South. Collectively, they represent 1.3 billion people who are completely dependent on agriculture, including  millions of small and resource-poor farmers and the rural landless,  who represent  the majority of the poor  in the world.  The increasing  collective  impact  of the five principal  developing countries  is a very important  continuing trend with implications for the future adoption and acceptance of biotech  crops worldwide. The five countries are reviewed  in detail in Brief 41 including extensive commentaries on the current adoption of specific biotech  crops, impact and future prospects.  Research and Development investments  in crop biotechnology in these countries  are now substantial,  even by multinational company standards.

Of the US$51.9  billion  additional gain  in farmer income  generated by biotech  crops  in the first 13  years of commercialization (1996  to 2008),  it is noteworthy that  half, US$26.1  billion,  was  generated in developing countries  and the other half, US$25.8  billion in industrial  countries  (Brookes and Barfoot, 2010,  forthcoming).

Status of Bt maize in the European Union in 2009 – six EU countries planted  94,750 hectares in 2009

Six eu countries planted Bt maize in 2009, with Germany having discontinued planting at the end of 2008. Spain was  by far the largest  eu grower  with 80% of the eu total Bt maize area and a record  adoption of 22%. The 2009 hectarage in the six eu countries was 94,750 hectares compared with a 2008 total of 107,719 hectares, (including Germany’s  2008 hectarage of 3,173 hectares), or a 2008 total of 104,456 hectares (excluding Germany’s  hectarage). Thus, the decrease from 2008 to 2009 was 12,969 hectares (including Germany’s  2008  hectarage) equivalent to  a  12%  decrease, or 9,796  hectares (excluding Germany’s  2008  hectarage) equivalent to a 9% decrease. The  decrease was  associated with  several factors,  including the economic recession, decreased total plantings  of hybrid maize and disincentives for some  farmers due  to onerous reporting  of intended plantings  of Bt maize.

In 2009,  of the 27 countries  in the European  Union,  six officially planted  Bt maize  on a commercial basis. The six EU countries  which  grew Bt maize  in 2009  listed in descending order  of Bt maize  hectarage were  Spain, Czech  Republic,  Portugal,  Romania,  Poland  and  Slovakia. Whereas  all seven  countries  growing  Bt maize  in 2008 reported  increases  in Bt maize  hectares  over 2007,  year-to-year  hectare  changes  between 2008  and 2009 varied. Of the six EU countries growing Bt maize in 2009, Portugal had a higher hectarage than 2008, Poland had the same hectarage, and Spain had 4% less hectarage but total plantings of maize  were also down  in 2008 by a similar margin and hence  the adoption rate, 22%,  was the same in 2008  and 2009.  The three other remaining  EU countries Czech  Republic,  Romania  and Slovakia reported  lower Bt maize  hectarages in 2009,  albeit based on low absolute hectarages per country of 1,000  to 7,000  hectares.

Adoption by crop

biotech herbicide tolerant soybean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2009, occupying 69.2 million hectares or 52% of global  biotech area of 134  million hectares, (up from 65.8 million hectares in 2008), followed by biotech  maize, 41.7 million hectares  at 31% (up from 37.3 million hectares  in 2008), biotech cotton 16.1  million  hectares  at 12%,  (up from 15.5  million  hectares  in 2008)  and  biotech  canola  6.4  million hectares  at 5% of the global biotech  crop area (up from 5.9 million hectares  in 2008).

Adoption by trait

From the first commercialization of biotech  crops  in 1996,  to 2009,  herbicide tolerance has consistently  been the dominant trait. In 2009, herbicide tolerance deployed in soybean, maize, canola, cotton, sugarbeet and alfalfa occupied 62% or 83.6 million hectares (up from 79  million hectares in 2008) of the global biotech area of 134  million hectares. For the third  year running, in 2009, the stacked double  and triple traits occupied a larger area, 28.7 million hectares, or 21% of global biotech crop area (up from 26.9 million hectares in 2008)  than insect resistant varieties which occupied 21.7 million hectares  at 15% (up from 19.1 million hectares  in 2008). The stacked  trait products  and herbicide tolerant  products  grew at the same  rate of 6% whilst insect resistance grew at 14%.

RR®sugarbeet achieved a 95% adoption in the USA and Canada  in 2009, in only  its third year, making it the fastest adopted biotech globally to-date.

In 2009,  an estimated  95%  of the 485,000 hectares  of sugarbeets  planted  in the United  States were  devoted  to varieties improved  through  biotechnology (up from 59% in 2008  and a small hectarage in 2007).  Canadian growers planted approximately 15,000 hectares of biotech varieties in 2009, representing about 96% of the nation’s sugarbeet  crop. This makes RR®sugarbeet the fastest adopted commercialized  biotech  crop globally to-date.  In September  2009,  a California  court  ruled  that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not adequately study RR®sugarbeet in the USA and  ordered  the USDA to conduct a more intensive  study, which  was pending  when  this Brief went to Press. It should  be noted  that the court’s decision  did not question  the safety or efficacy of RR®sugarbeets. The very high level of satisfaction and demand by USA and Canadian farmers for RR®sugarbeet launch  probably  has implications for sugarcane (80% of global sugar production is from cane), for which biotech  traits are under development in several countries. Approval for field trials of biotech  sugarcane was granted  in Australia in October 2009.

Accumulated hectarage of biotech crops  1996 to 2009 reached almost  1 billion hectares.

The top eight countries, each  of which  grew more  than  1 million  hectares, in decreasing order  of hectarage were: USA(64.0 million hectares), brazil (21.4) argentina  (21.3), india (8.4),  Canada (8.2),  China (3.7),  paraguay (2.2),  and south africa (2.1  million hectares) (table  1 and figure 1). Consistent  with the trend for developing  countries  to play an increasingly  important  role,  it is noteworthy that Brazil with a high 35% growth rate between 2008  and  2009  narrowly  displaced Argentina  for the second  ranking  position  globally in 2009.  The remaining 17  countries which grew  biotech crops  in 2009 in decreasing order of hectarage were: Uruguay, Bolivia, Philippines,  Australia, Burkina Faso, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Colombia,  Honduras, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania,  Poland, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Slovakia. The growth in 2009 provides a broad and stable foundation for future global growth of biotech  crops.  The growth rate between 1996 and 2009 was  an unprecedented 79-fold increase making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history. This very high adoption rate by farmers reflects the fact that biotech  crops have consistently  performed  well and delivered  significant economic, environmental, health  and  social  benefits  to both  small and  large farmers in developing and industrial countries. This high  adoption rate is a strong vote  of confidence from millions of farmers who  have  made approximately 85  million individual decisions in 25  countries over  a 14-year period to consistently continue to plant higher  hectarages of biotech crops,  year-after-year, after gaining  first- hand  insight  and  experience with  biotech crops  on  their  own  or neighbor’s fields. High  re-adoption rates of close to 100%  in many cases reflect farmer satisfaction  with the products  that offer substantial  benefits ranging from more convenient and flexible crop management, to lower cost of production, higher productivity  and/or  higher net returns per hectare, health  and social benefits, and a cleaner  environment through  decreased use of conventional pesticides, which collectively  contributed to a more sustainable agriculture. The continuing rapid adoption of biotech  crops reflects the substantial  and consistent  benefits for both large and small farmers, consumers and society in both industrial  and developing countries.

Substitution of first generation products  with second generation products  with   increased yield  per se

Unlike  the  first generation  RR®soybean  which  was  developed with  gene  gun  technology, RReady2Yield™ soybean  was developed with more efficient and precise Agrobacterium insertion technology. Genetic mapping of soybean  allowed  yield enhancing zones of soybean  DNA to be identified. In turn, this important  achievement in conjunction with advanced insertion and selection  technology allowed  the RReady2Yield™ gene (MON 89788) to be precisely inserted in one of the high yielding zones. Whereas  the yield enhancing genes are not transgenic, (however, products  with transgenic  genes  for higher  yield are already  in the pipeline),  the second  generation RReady2Yield™, as a result of the linkage established between yield and glyphosate tolerance, offered significant increases  in yield of 7 to 11% over the first generation RR®soybean during the field trial period from 2004 to 2007. Analysis of the yield components responsible for the yield increase  in RReady2Yield™ indicates  that it is due to more 3-bean  pods  which  in turn increased the number  of seeds  per plant from 85.8  in RR®soybean  to 90.5  in RReady2Yield™. In 2009, RReady2Yield™ varieties of selected  maturity classes were commercialized for the first time in a controlled launch  in the USA and Canada  on approximately 0.5 million hectares, and this hectarage is expected to increase  to between 2 to 3 million hectares  in 2010.  The commercialization of RReady2Yield™ in 2009 is important  because it represents  the first commercially approved product  from a new wave of a whole new class of second  generation biotech  crop products  in the R&D pipeline, from many technology developers, that will also enhance yield per se in contrast  to the first generation products  that, by and large, protected crops from biotic stresses (pests, weeds and diseases).

Economic impact

Biotech crops can play an important role by contributing to food self-sufficiency/security and more affordable food through increasing supply (by increasing productivity per hectare) and coincidentally decreasing cost of production (by a reduced need for inputs, less ploughing and fewer pesticide applications) which in turn also requires less fossil fuels for tractors, thus mitigating some of the negative aspects associated with climate change. Of the economic gains  of us$51.9 billion during the period  1996 to 2008, 49.6%  were  due  to substantial yield  gains,  and 50.4% due to a reduction in production costs. In 2008, the total crop production gain globally for the 4 principal biotech crops (soybean, maize, cotton  and canola) was 29.6 million metric tons,  which would have  required 10.5 million additional hectares had biotech crops  not been  deployed. The 29.6 million metric tons of increased crop production from biotech crops in 2008 comprised 17.1 million tons of maize, 10.1 million tons of soybean, 1.8  million tons  of cotton  lint and 0.6  million tons  of canola. For the period  1996-2008 the production gain was  167.1 million tons,  which (at 2008 average  yields)  would have required 62.6 million additional hectares had biotech crops not been  deployed (Brookes and Barfoot, 2010,  forthcoming). Thus, biotechnology has already  made  a contribution to higher  productivity  and lower costs of production of current biotech  crops, and has enormous potential  for the future when the staples of rice and wheat,  as well as pro-poor food crops such as cassava will benefit from biotechnology.

The most recent  survey of the global impact  of biotech  crops for the period  1996  to 2008  (Brookes and Barfoot 2010, forthcoming) estimates that the global  net economic benefits  to biotech crop farmers in 2008 alone was us$ 9.2 billion (us$4.7 billion for developing countries and us$4.5 billion for industrial countries). The accumulated benefits  during the period  1996 to 2008 was us$51.9 billion with us$26.1 billion for developing and us$25.8 billion for industrial countries. These estimates include  the very important  benefits associated with the double  cropping  of biotech  soybean  in Argentina.

Reduction in pesticide usage

Conventional agriculture has impacted significantly on the environment and biotechnology can be used to reduce  the environmental footprint of agriculture. Progress  in the first decade includes a significant reduction in pesticides, saving on fossil fuels, and decreasing CO2  emissions through no/less ploughing, and conserving soil and moisture  by optimizing the practice of no till through  application of herbicide tolerance. The accumulative reduction in pesticides for the period 1996 to 2008 was estimated at 356  million kilograms (kgs) of active  ingredient (a.i.),  a saving  of 8.4% in pesticides, which is equivalent to a 16.1%  reduction in the associated environmental impact  of pesticide  use on these crops, as measured by the Environmental  Impact Quotient (EIQ) – a composite measure  based on the various factors contributing to the net environmental impact of an individual active ingredient. The corresponding data for 2008 alone was a reduction of 34.6 million kgs a.i. (equivalent to a saving of 9.6% in pesticides) and a reduction of 18.2% in EIQ (Brooks and Barfoot, 2010, forthcoming).

Savings  in CO2

The important  and  urgent  concerns  about  the environment have  implications for biotech  crops,  which  can contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gases and  help  mitigate  climate  change  in two principal  ways.  First, permanent savings in carbon  dioxide  emissions through reduced use of fossil-based fuels, associated with fewer insecticide and  herbicide sprays; in 2008,  this was an estimated  saving of 1.22  billion  kg of carbon  dioxide (CO2), equivalent to reducing  the number  of cars on the roads by 0.53 million. Secondly, additional savings from conservation tillage (need for less or no ploughing facilitated by herbicide tolerant biotech crops) for biotech food, feed and fiber crops, led to an additional soil carbon  sequestration equivalent in 2008 to 13.2 billion kg of CO2, or removing 6.41 million cars off the road. Thus in 2008, the combined permanent and additional savings  through sequestration was equivalent to a saving of 14.4 billion kg of CO2  or removing 6.94 (~7) million cars from the road (Brookes and Barfoot, 2010,  forthcoming).

Food  self-sufficiency and food  security

During the 2008 price crisis when key food exporting countries, (like Thailand and Vietnam for rice, and Argentina for soybean and maize) blocked food exports, trust in the international rice market by importing developing countries eroded, hence  they are now negotiating  directly with individual  exporting  countries;  importantly,  they are now also engaging in actions  that will increase  their own productivity  and self-sufficiency in the major food staples. For example, the Philippines  the world’s largest importer of rice, aims to produce 98% of its rice in 2010.  India, Malaysia, Honduras, Colombia  and Senegal have declared similar strategies to increase  self-sufficiency of major food staples. This very important  change  in strategy (in both donor and developing countries) from food security (enough food for all) to food self-sufficiency (increasing production and productivity  per hectare  of national  food crops) has very important implications for biotech  crops. Self-sufficiency and being least dependent on others for food, feed and fiber has long been China’s strategy and is consistent  with its rational for developing biotech  crops to enhance yield. Thus, China’s decision  to approve  the two important  staples biotech  rice and maize  provides a successful working model that other developing countries  can emulate. The implications for other developing countries  of the approval  of biotech  rice and maize  by China cannot  be overestimated and  the impact  will be multidimensional including; facilitating and expediting the regulatory approval process for biotech crops; opening  up new possibilities  for creative  new South-South cooperation and partnerships, including  crop biotechnology transfer possibilities, and public/public and public/private sector partnerships (The Economist, 2009c).

More than half the world’s  population lived  in the 25  countries, with  134  million hectares of biotech crop occupying 9% of the 1.5  billion hectares of all cropland.

More than half (54% or 3.6 billion people)  of the 2009 global population of 6.7 billion lived in the 25 countries where biotech  crops were grown in 2009  and generated significant and multiple  benefits worth US$9.2 billion globally in 2008. Notably, more than half (52% or 776 million hectares) of the 1.5 billion hectares  of cropland in the world is in the 25 countries  where approved biotech  crops were grown in 2009.  The 134  million hectares of biotech crops  in 2009 represent  9% of the 1.5  billion hectares of cropland in the world.

Consumption of food  products  derived  from biotech crops

Critics of biotech  crops have tried to perpetuate the myth that products  from biotech  crops are not consumed as food, only used as feed or fiber. On the contrary  it is estimated  that 70% of processed foods sold in the USA and Canada contain  approved GM ingredients – thus approximately 300 million people  have consumed biotech  crop derived products  for more than 10 years in North America with not even a suggestion of any problem.  Products from biotech  crops  in the  USA include  biotech  soybean, maize,  cotton  (oil), canola, papaya  and  squash.  In South Africa, Bt white maize used traditionally  for food (yellow maize is used for feed) has been consumed since 2001 and Bt maize now occupies two-thirds of the total white maize hectarage of 1.5 million in 2009.  Similarly, products  from biotech  soybean  and cotton  (oil) are consumed in South Africa. Finally, China approved biotech papaya which has been consumed since 2006 and in 2009 approved a biotech  product  of rice which is the most important  food crop  in the world.  In addition, large quantities  of biotech  crops  have  been  imported  in many countries  without health incidence.

Twenty-five countries approved biotech crops for planting  and 32 for import for a total of 57 countries approving biotech crops  or products  derived  from them.

While 25 countries planted  commercialized  biotech  crops in 2009, an additional 32 countries, totaling 57 have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996.  A total of 762  approvals  have  been  granted  for 155  events1   for 24 crops.  Thus, biotech  crops  are accepted for import for food and feed use and for release  into the environment in 57 countries, including  major food importing countries like Japan, which do not plant biotech crops. Of the 57 countries that have granted approvals for biotech crops, Japan tops the list followed by usa, Canada, south Korea, Mexico, australia, the philippines, the european union, New  Zealand  and China.  Maize has the most events approved (49) followed by cotton (29), canola  (15), potato (10) and soybean  (9). The event that has received regulatory approval  in most countries is herbicide tolerant soybean event GTS-40-3-2 with 23 approvals (EU=27 counted as 1 approval  only), followed  by herbicide tolerant maize  (NK603) and  insect  resistant  maize  (MON810)  with 21 approvals each,  and insect resistant cotton (MON531/757/1076) with 16 approvals  worldwide.

National economic growth  – potential contribution of biotech crops

In the absence of agricultural growth, national economic growth is not possible in the agricultural-based countries. The 2008  World  Bank Development Report concluded that, “Using  agriculture as the  basis  for economic growth in the agricultural-based countries requires a productivity revolution in small  holder farming.”  Crops are the principal  source  of food, feed and  fiber globally  producing approximately 6.5 billion metric tons annually.  History confirms that technology can make a substantial  contribution to crop productivity and to rural economic growth. The best example is hybrid maize in the USA in the 1930s, and the green revolution  for rice and wheat in the developing countries, in the 1960s. The semi-dwarf wheat was the new technology that provided the engine of rural and national economic growth during the green revolution of the 1960s, which saved 1 billion people  from hunger,  for which  the late Norman  Borlaug was awarded the Nobel  Peace  Prize in 1970. Norman Borlaug was the most credible advocate for the new technology of biotech  crops and was an enthusiastic patron of ISAAA. Bt cotton already deployed in China generated approximately US$1 billion and US$1.8 billion in  India.  The Bt rice  already  approved in China  has  the  potential  to increase  net  income  by approximately US$100 per hectare  for the 110 million poor rice households in China, equivalent to 440 million beneficiaries, based on an average  of 4 per household in the rural areas of China. in summary,  biotech crops  have  already demonstrated their capacity to increase productivity and income significantly and hence can serve as an engine of rural economic growth  that can  contribute to the alleviation of poverty  for the world’s  small and resource-poor farmers during a global  financial crisis; furthermore,  the potential for the future with crops like  Bt rice  is  enormous. Today, unnecessary and  unjustified  stringent  standards  designed  to meet  the needs  of resource-rich industrial  countries  are denying  the developing countries  timely access  to products  such as Golden  Rice, whilst millions die unnecessarily in the interim. This is a moral dilemma, where  the demands of regulatory  systems  have become “the end  and not the means”.

Global  value  of the  biotech seed  market alone valued at us$10.5 billion in 2009 with  commercial biotech maize, soybean grain and cotton  valued at us$130 billion for 2008

In 2009, the global market value of biotech  crops, estimated by Cropnosis, was US$10.5 billion, (up from US$9.0 billion in 2008); this represents  20% of the US$52.2  billion global crop protection market in 2009,  and 30% of the approximately US$34 billion commercial seed market. The US$10.5  billion biotech  crop market comprised US$5.3 billion for biotech maize (equivalent to 50% of global biotech crop market, up from 48% in 2008), US$3.9 billion for biotech  soybean  (37.2%, same as 2008), US$1.1 billion for biotech  cotton (10.5%), and US$0.3 billion for biotech canola  (3%). Of the US$10.5  billion biotech  crop market, US$8.2 billion (78%) was in the industrial countries and US$2.3 billion (22%) was in the developing countries. The market value of the global biotech  crop market is based on the sale price of biotech seed plus any technology fees that apply. The accumulated global value for the twelve year period, since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996, is estimated at US$62.3 billion. The global value of the biotech  crop market is projected at over US$11 billion for 2010.   The estimated  global farm-scale revenues  of the harvested commercial “end product”,  (the biotech  grain and other harvested products) is much greater than the value of the biotech  seed alone (US$10.5 billion) – in 2008,  the biotech  crop harvested  products  were valued  at US$130 billion globally, and projected to increase  at up to 10 - 15% annually.

Future prospects of biotech crops,  2010 to 2015

Crops are the principal  source of food, feed and fiber globally, producing approximately 6.5 billion metric tons annually. History confirms that technology can make a substantial contribution to crop productivity, to rural economic growth,  food  security  and the alleviation of hunger,  malnutrition  and poverty.  From 2010 to 2015, the “Grand Challenge” for global  society is to meet  the Millennium Development Goals of 2015 and double food,  feed and fiber production on less resources (particularly water, fossil fuel and nitrogen) by 2050  through a substantial and sustainable intensification of crop productivity to ensure food self-sufficiency and security, alleviation of hunger,  malnutrition  and poverty,  using  both  conventional and biotech technologies.

The future adoption of biotech  crops from 2010  to 2015,  particularly  in ISAAA’s partner  developing countries, will depend on three major factors:

  • establishment and  effective  operation  of appropriate, responsible  and  cost/time-effective  regulatory systems;
  • strong political  will and  financial  support  for the development and  adoption of biotech  crops  that can contribute to a more affordable and secure  supply of food, feed and fiber; and
  • a continuing and expanding supply of appropriate biotech crops that can meet the priority needs of global society, particularly  the developing countries  of Asia, Latin America and Africa.

1.   Effective and responsible regulatory  systems

There  is  an  urgent  and  critical  need   for appropriate  cost/time-effective regulatory  systems  that  are responsible, rigorous  and yet not onerous, requiring  only  modest  resources that are within  the means of  most  developing countries. This is the most important  single constraint  to the adoption of biotech  crops in most developing countries. We must utilize  all the knowledge and  experience of 14 years of regulation  to relieve developing countries  of the burden  of unnecessarily cumbersome regulations that are impossible to implement for approval  of products  which can cost  up to US$1  million or more,  to deregulate – this is  simply beyond the means  of most  developing countries. The current  regulatory  systems were  designed  almost  15 years ago to meet  the initial needs  of wealthy  industrial  countries  dealing  with a new  technology and  with access  to significant resources  for regulation  which  poor developing countries  do not have.  With the accumulated knowledge of the last fourteen  years, it is now  possible  to design  appropriate regulatory  systems that are responsible, rigorous and yet not onerous, requiring only modest  resources  that are within the means  of most developing countries  – this should be assigned top priority.

2.   Political will,  financial and scientific support for the development, approval  and adoption of biotech crops

In 2008  and  2009,  following  the unprecedented high prices  of food  in 2008,  (which  led to riots in over 30 developing countries  and  overthrow  of Governments in two countries,  Haiti  and  Madagascar), there  was a realization by global society of the grave risk to food and public  security. As a result, there has been  a marked increase  in the political will and support for biotech  crops in The donor group, the international development and scientific community, and from leaders of developing countries. More generally, there has been a renaissance and recognition of the life sustaining  essential  role of agriculture  by global society, and importantly,  its vital role in ensuring a more just and peaceful global society. The following collection of quotes in 2008 and 2009 from world leaders, politicians, policymakers and members  of the international scientific community capture  the increase  in political will and support  in 2008  and 2009.  The challenge now is for them to practice  what they preach, and then preach  what they practice.

  • In 2008,  China committed an additional US$3.5  billion over twelve years to improve  crop technology with Premier Wen  Jiabao (Chairman  of the State Council/Cabinet of China) expressing China’s strong  political will  for crop  biotechnology when  addressing  the Chinese  Academy  of Sciences  in June 2008, “To solve the food  problem, we  have  to rely on big science and technology measures, rely  on biotechnology, rely  on GM.” Later in October 2008  Wen Jiabo (2008) reinforced  his support for biotech crops when he stated that, “I strongly advocate making great efforts to pursue  transgenic engineering. The recent food  shortages around  the  world have  further strengthened my  belief.” Dr. Dafang huang, former Director of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences  (CAAS) concluded that “Using  GM rice  is the  only  way  to meet the  growing food  demand” (Qiu, 2008).  China’s commitment to biotech  crops culminated in the landmark  decision  to issue biosafety certificates  for biotech  maize  and rice on 27 November 2009  (Crop Biotech Update, 2009).

  • The Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh. While inaugurating the 97th Indian Science Congress in Thiruvanthapuran, Kerala on 3 January, 2010,  Dr. Manmohan Singh lauded  the resounding success of Bt cotton in India and emphasized the need  for developments in biotechnology for greatly improving the yield of major crops in India. His speech  was of particular  significance  because the congress  is the apex body for science  and technology in India and has focused on ‘Science and Technology  Challenges  of the 21st  Century-National Perspective’.   He said, Developments in biotechnology present us the prospect of greatly improving yields in our major crops by increasing resistance to pests  and also to moisture stress. Bt Cotton  has been well accepted in the country and has made a great difference to  the  production of cotton. The  technology of genetic modification is also  being extended to food  crops though  this raises  legitimate questions of safety. These  must be given full weightage, with appropriate regulatory control based on strictly scientific criteria. Subject to these caveats, we  should pursue  all possible  leads that  biotechnology provides that  might  increase our food security as we  go through  climate related stress”  (Singh, 2009).

  • India’s former Minister  of Finance, Mr. P. Chidambaram,  called  for an emulation of the remarkable Indian biotech  Bt cotton  success  story in the area of food crops to make the country  self sufficient in its food needs.  “It is important to apply biotechnology in agriculture. What  has been done with  Bt cotton must  be  done with  food  grains” (James, 2008).

  • In September, 2009 India’s  regulatory  body  (GEAC) recommended the  approval  of  Bt brinjal (eggplant) for commercialization to the Indian Government. The significance  of this is that Bt brinjal is the first biotech  food crop to be recommended for approval in India; final approval by Government was pending  at the time that this Brief went to press. Replying to a question  “Introduction of Bt brinjal” in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of the Parliament of India on 23 Nov 2009, Minister of State for Environment and  Forests  Mr.  Jairam ramesh stated  that “The  cumulative results  of more  than  50  field  trials conducted to  assess the  safety, efficacy and  agronomic performance of Bt brinjal  demonstrate that Cry1Ac protein in Bt brinjal  provides effective protection from the Fruit and Shoot  Borer,  a major  pest  in brinjal  crop; resulting in enhanced economic benefits to the  farmers  and  traders accrued from higher  marketable yield and lower usage  of pesticide sprays”  (Ramesh, 2009).

  • Commenting on the approval  by GEAC of Bt brinjal in September  2009,  India’s  Minister  of Science and Technology Mr. Prithviraj Chavan  said that “The main  advantage of this  technology is that it  reduces  the  use  of chemical pest  control, making this  technology safe  for the  environment as well as human  consumption.” He further stressed  that “I am  sure  that  the  development of Bt brinjal, the  first biotech vegetable crop  is  appropriate and  timely”. He went  on to say that “Bt crops  have  been  grown around  the  world  since  1996  without any  reported adverse health implications” (Chavan, P. 2009).

  • The European  Commission stated  that “GM  crops can  play  an important role  in mitigating the effects of the food  crisis” (Adam, 2008).

  • The World  health  organization  (Who) has emphasized the importance of biotech  crops  because of  their potential  to benefit  the public  health  sector  by providing  more  nutritious  food,  decreasing its allergenic  potential  and also improving the efficiency of production systems (Tan, 2008).

  • G8 members  meeting in hokkaido, Japan in July 2008 recognized for the first time the significance  of the important  role that biotech  crops can play in food security. The G8 leaders’ statement  on biotech  crops (G8, 2008) reads as follows, “Accelerate research and  development and  increase access to new agricultural technologies to boost agriculture production; we will promote science-based risk analysis, including on the contribution of seed varieties developed through  biotechnology.”

  • G8 members  in a Joint Statement  on Global  Food Security  endorsed at la’Aquila, Italy, July 19, 2009, agreed to provide US$20 billion over the next three years “to help farmers in the poorest nations improve food  production and help  the poor  feed  themselves.The hallmark of the decision  was the new emphasis  on increasing  food productivity,  and “self-sufficiency”, as opposed to food security (they are not mutually exclusive) captured in the adage  “give  a man a fish and feed  him for a day – teach  a man  to  fish  and  feed  him  for a lifetime.” The G8 said “We  remain  deeply concerned about global food security, the impact of the global financial and economic crisis  and last year’s  spike in food  prices  on  the  countries least  able  to  respond to  increased hunger  and  poverty. While the  prices of food  commodities have  decreased since their  peak  of 2008, they  remain  high  in historical terms and volatile…There is an urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and  poverty. Food security, nutrition and  sustainable agriculture must  remain  a priority issue on the  political agenda, to be  addressed through  a cross-cutting and  inclusive approach, involving all relevant stakeholders, at global, regional and national level. Effective  food  security actions must be coupled with  adaptation and mitigation measures in relation to climate change, sustainable management of water, land, soil and other natural resources, including the protection of biodiversity” (G8, 2009).

  • Nobel Peace laureate Norman  Borlaug.  The Nobel  Peace  Prize Committee  of 1970  concluded that “Borlaug, more than any other single person  of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace… He has helped to create a new  food  situation in the  world and  who  has turned  pessimism into optimism in the dramatic race between population explosion and our production of food.” Norman  Borlaug was the world’s most credible advocate of biotech/GM crops and their contribution to global food security and alleviation  of hunger and poverty. He opined  that Over  the past  decade, we  have  been witnessing the  success of plant  biotechnology. This technology is helping farmers  throughout the world produce higher  yield, while reducing pesticide use and soil  erosion. The benefits and safety  of biotechnology has been proven over  the  past  decade in countries with  more  than half of the  world’s population.  What  we  need is courage by  the  leaders of those countries where farmers  still  have  no choice but  to use  older and  less  effective methods. The Green Revolution and now  plant  biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food  production, while preserving our  environment for future  generations (James, 2008).  Before his passing in September 2009, Norman  Borlaug, called  for a second  “Green Revolution”,  in response  to the Food Security Act of 2009  introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Robert Casey. “The Green Revolution hasn’t  been won yet,”  said Borlaug. “Developing nations need the help  of agricultural scientists, researchers, administrators and others  in finding  ways to feed  ever-growing populations... The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most  of the people, comprising more  than 50 percent of the total  world population, live  in poverty, with  hunger as a constant companionTheFood Security Act of 2009 can lead  the way  in starting a second Green Revolution by helping improve agriculture and food  security in developing countries” (Borlaug, 2009).

  • Bill Gates in his keynote address during the World Food Prize Symposium on Oct. 15, 2009 in Des Moines, Iowa endorsed the use  of biotech crops:In some of our  grants,  we  include transgenic approaches because we  believe they  can  help address farmers’  challenges faster  and  more  efficiently than conventional breeding alone… It’s the  responsibility of governments, farmers,  and  citizens – informed by  excellent science – to choose the best  and safest  way  to help  feed  their countries… We  have  the tools. We  know what  needs to  be done. We  can  be  the  generation that  sees  Dr.  Borlaug’s  dream fulfilled – a world free of hunger(Gates, 2009).

  • FAO. During the High Level Forum on October 12, 2009, Director-General Jacques Diouf declared that: “Agriculture will  have  no choice but  to be  more  productive,” noting that increases  would  need  to come mostly from yield growth and improved  cropping  intensity rather than from farming more land. He noted that “while organic agriculture contributes to hunger  and poverty reduction and should be promoted, it cannot by  itself  feed  the rapidly growing population” (Diouf, 2009).

  • World Summit on Food Security. Support to Biotechnology was one of the strategies in the Declaration signed by the heads of states and governments during the World Summit on Food Security, 6-18 November 2009,  Rome Italy. “We  recognize that  increasing agricultural productivity  is the  main  means to meet the  increasing demand for food  given the  constraints on  expanding land  and  water used for food  production. We  will  seek  to  mobilize the  resources needed to  increase productivity, including the review, approval and adoption of biotechnology and other  new  technologies and innovations that are safe,  effective and environmentally sustainable.” This statement  is one of the strategies that will address  Principle 3 of the Declaration: Strive for a comprehensive twin-track approach to food security that consists of: 1) direct action to immediately tackle hunger for the most vulnerable and 2) medium and long-term sustainable agricultural, food security, nutrition and rural development programs to eliminate  the root causes  of hunger  and poverty, including  through  the progressive  realization of the right to adequate food (World Summit on Food Security, 2009).

  • Hilary Benn,  Secretary  of State,  Environment Food  and rural Affairs (DEFrA) UK, proposed that GM crops  may offer a solution  to climate  change  and  population growth.  He said “We  saw  last  year when the oil  price went up and  there  was  a drought in Australia, which had  an impact on the price of bread here  in the  UK,  just  how  interdependent all these things  are... We  have  to  feed  another two  and  a half to  three  billion mouths over  the  next  40  to  50  years, so  I want  British agriculture to produce as much  food  as possible.” Mr. Benn told Radio 4 Today Program that farmers would  decide  what  to grow “But it was  important to  investigate new  techniques to  discover the “facts” about them. If GM can make  a contribution then  we  have  a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make  use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM productsBecause one  thing  is certain – with  a growing population, the world is going to need a lot of farmers  and a lot of agricultural production in the years  ahead. Some  GM crops could be  more  drought-resistant and used  without pesticides to combat the expected rise in insects associated with  rising temperatures” (Waugh, 2009). Dr. Robert Watson,  Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK’s Department of Environment,  Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Secretariat Director of the controversial IAASTD Report, said that “GM crops have  a role  to play  in prevention of mass starvation across  the  world caused by  a combination of climate change and  rapid  population growth” (Shields, R. 2009). The UK Government’s Food 2030  study, published in early January 2010, concluded that Britain must embrace GM crops or face serious food shortages  in the future. The Report has had unusually  strong support from Government, ministers, leading  scientists and is consistent   with the recommendations of the recent substantive report from the UK’s prestigious Royal Society, referenced in the following  paragraph. Speaking  at  the Oxford  Farming Conference, after the publication of the Food 2030 Report, Professor John Beddington,  the UK’s Chief Scientist said, “GM and nanotechnology should be  part  of modern agriculture... We  need a greener revolution, improving production and  efficiency through  the food chain  within environmental and  other  constraints. Techniques and technologies from many disciplines ranging  from biotechnology and engineering  to newer fields  such  as nanotechnology will be  needed” (Gray, 2009).

  • The royal Society of london, UK. In a very substantive report, published in October 2009, and entitled “Reaping the  Benefits – Science and  the  sustainable intensification of agriculture”, The  Royal Society, the UK’s most prestigious scientific academy, recommended publicly funded research of GM crop technologies in an effort to achieve sustainable intensification of agriculture. The report recommended that “Due  to  the  scale of the  challenge (on food  security), no  technology should be  ruled  out, and different strategies may  need to be  employed in different regions and  circumstances.” The report concludes that the application of both conventional and biotech applications would allow northern  Europe to become one of the ‘major bread baskets of the world’. The UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Dr. John Beddington  has endorsed biotech  crops for the UK. In addition, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) is due to initiate a dialogue  to explore  GM crops with consumers. The UK Government policy on biotech  crops, established in 2004,  states that “There  is no scientific case  for a blanket ban  on the cultivation of GM crop  in the  UK, but  that proposed uses  of GM need to be  assessed on a case  by  case  basis”  (Hills, 2009).

  • Pontifical Council for Justice  and  Peace. Members  of the Pontifical  Council  for Justice and  Peace supported biotechnology to alleviate  poverty and hunger  in Africa. In a Forum “For a Green  Revolution in Africa” conducted in Rome in September  24, 2009, Archbishop  Giampaolo Crepaldi, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that “Underdevelopment and hunger in Africa are due  in large  part  to  outdated and  inadequate agricultural methods, new  technologies that  can stimulate and sustain  African  farmers  must  be  made available, including seeds that  have  been improved by techniques that intervene in their genetic makeup.” Father Gonzalo Miranda, professor of bioethics  at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum  University, which sponsored the symposium,  said that, “If the data shows that biotechnology can offer great advantages in the development of Africa,  it is a moral  obligation to permit these countries to do  their  own  experimentation” (African Forum on Biotechnology, 2009).

3. Will  global  adoption of biotech crops,  by  country,  number  of farmers,  and  hectarage all double by 2015, and will  there  be  an expanding supply  of appropriate  biotech crops  to meet  the priority needs?

Given the impressive  progress with biotech  crop adoption, already  achieved by 2009,  and the promising future prospects  between now and 2015, there is cautious  optimism that the ISAAA 2005 prediction that the number  of biotech  countries, biotech  crop farmers and biotech  hectarage would  be double  between 2006  and 2015  (from 20 to 40 countries, 10 to 20 million farmers and 100 to 200 million hectares) is achievable.

Firstly, between 2010  and  2015,  15 or more  new  biotech  crop  countries  are projected to plant  biotech  crops for the first time, taking the total number  of biotech  crop countries  globally to 40 in 2015,  in line with the 2005 ISAAA projection. These new countries  may include  three to four in Asia; three to four in eastern  and southern Africa; three to four in West Africa; and one to two in North Africa and the Middle East. In Latin/Central America and the Caribbean, ten countries  are already  commercializing biotech  crops,  leaving  less room for expansion. However, there is a possibility that two or three countries from this region may plant biotech crops for the first time between now and 2015.  In eastern  Europe, up to six new biotech  countries  is possible,  including  Russia, which has a biotech potato at an advanced stage of development; biotech  potatoes  have potential  in several countries  in eastern  Europe. Western  Europe is more difficult to predict  because the biotech  crop issues in Europe are not related to science  and technology considerations but are of a political nature and influenced by ideological views of activist groups.

Secondly,  the number  of biotech  crop farmers is likely to reach,  and may even exceed, the projected 20 million biotech  crop farmers by 2015,  (already 14 million in 2009), assuming  that the following high probability  events will materialize: deployment by China, in 2 or 3 years from now, of biotech  rice (110 million rice households in China alone)  and  biotech  maize  (100 million maize  households in China alone)  with the possibility that other Asian countries  will follow suit following commercialization by China of the most important  food and feed crops in the world; optimization of Bt cotton in India and introduction of Bt brinjal in India, Philippines and Bangladesh;  significant expansion of biotech  soybean, maize  and  cotton  in Brazil: expansion of Bt cotton  in Burkina Faso and Bt maize  in Egypt, with possible  additional deployment by other Africa countries;  adoption of Golden  Rice by the Philippines, and Bangladesh  followed by India and then Indonesia  and Vietnam before 2015;  addition  of new biotech  countries like Pakistan, with many small farmers, contributing to the global total expected to reach 20 million or more by 2015.

Thirdly, the comparative advantage of biotech  crops to produce more affordable and better quality food to ensure a safe and secure supply of food, feed and fiber globally augurs well for a possible doubling  of hectarage to 200 million hectares  of biotech  crops  by 2015.  There is considerable potential  for increasing  the biotech  adoption hectarage of  the four current  large hectarage of biotech  crops  (maize,  soybean, cotton,  and  canola),  as well as new  biotech crops  and  traits such as Bt rice, Golden  Rice, biotech  sugarcane and  biotech  potatoes  that are likely to be introduced before 2015.  The four current principal  biotech  crops collectively  occupied 134 million hectares  in 2009 out of a total potential  hectarage of 312 million hectares;  this leaves over 175 million hectares  for potential  adoption with biotech  crops, which is a significant potential  area in itself. Taking the maize  crop as an example, only approximately one-quarter of the global 158 million hectare  crop has benefited  from biotech  crops to-date,  leaving three-quarters equivalent to almost 120 million hectares  as potential  for biotech  crops in the future. Whilst the USA, the largest grower of maize  in the world, already  has biotech  maize  planted  on 85% of its 35 million hectares, China, the second largest grower of maize in the world has just approved its first biotech  maize, opening  up a potential 30 million hectares  for phytase maize as well as other traits. The third largest maize grower in the world,  Brazil with 13 million hectares, has already  expedited the planting  of a record  5 million hectares  of biotech  maize  in 2009,  in only its second  season  of commercialization, and is likely to increase  its hectarage significantly in 2010.  Both the fourth (India, 8 million hectares)  and fifth (Mexico, 7 million hectares) largest growers of maize  in the world have biotech  maize  field trials underway in 2009 with a view to assessing benefits   which  are likely to be significant.  In Asia, generally,  only half a million  hectares  were  planted  with biotech  maize  (only the Philippines) out of a total of 50 million hectares. Similarly, in Africa less than 2 million hectares  out of a total of 28 million hectares  (only South Africa and Egypt plant Bt maize) are benefiting from Bt maize. Even in South America, a region with high adoption rates for biotech  crops, only 7 million hectares  out of a total of 20 million hectares  are currently benefiting from biotech  maize.  It is evident  from this global overview of maize that even with the current portfolio of traits, there is significant potential  for substantially  increasing  the global adoption of biotech  maize  in the short medium  and long term.

Deployment of biotech  rice as a crop and drought tolerance as a trait, are considered seminal for catalyzing  the further adoption of biotech  crops  globally.  In the first generation biotech  crops,  a significant  increase  in yield and production was realized  by protecting  crops from losses caused  by pests, weeds, and diseases. However,  the second generation biotech  crops will offer farmers additional new incentives  for further increasing  yield per se. RReady2Yield™ soybean, launched in 2009, was the first of many such second-generation products that enhance yield. Quality  traits like Golden  Rice, omega-3  soybeans, high lysine maize  are also likely to become available providing a much richer mix of traits for deployment in conjunction with a growing number  of input traits. There will be several new traits, and combinations thereof, as well as new biotech  crops that will occupy small, medium  and large hectarages globally and featuring both agronomic and quality traits as single and stacked trait products.  A partial selection  of a few examples  of the key new biotech  crops/traits  likely to become available  in the near term are presented in the following paragraphs

China  approves biotech rice  and maize

In November 2009,  China  completed its approval  of a troika of key biotech  crops  – fiber (Bt cotton  already approved in 1997), feed (phytase maize) and food (Bt rice). The ISAAA 2008  Brief, predicted a new  wave of adoption of biotech crops….providing a seamless interface with  the first wave of adoption, resulting in continued and  broad-based strong  growth in global hectarage.” This prediction started to become reality on 27 November  2009,  when  China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) granted  three biosafety certificates  (Crop Biotech Update, 2009).  Two certificates  were  issued for biotech  rice, one  for a rice restorer line (Bt Huahui-1)  and the other for a hybrid rice line (Bt Shanyou Shanyou-63), both of which expressed  cry1Ab/cry1Ac genes and developed at Huazhong Agricultural University.  The approval  of Bt rice is extremely  important  because rice is the most important food crop in the world that feeds half of humanity  and is also the most important  food crop of the poor. The third certificate  was for biotech  phytase  maize,  and  this is also very important  because maize is the most important  feed crop  in the world.  The phytase  maize  was developed by the Chinese  Academy  of Agricultural Sciences  (CAAS) and licensed  to Origin Agritech Limited after 7 years of study at CAAS. The three certificates of approval  have momentous positive implications for biotech crops in China,  Asia and the whole world.  It is important  to note that the MOA conducted a very careful due diligence  study, prior to issuing the three certificates  for full commercialization which  is expected in about  2 to 3 years, pending  completion of the standard  registration field trials which applies to all new conventional and biotech  crops. It is noteworthy that China has now completed approval  of a troika of the key biotech  crops in an appropriate  chronology – first was FIBER (cotton), followed by  FEED (maize) and  FOOD (rice). The potential  benefits of these 3 crops for China are enormous and summarized below.

  • Bt cotton. China  has successfully  planted  Bt cotton  since  1997  and  now, over 7 million small farmers in China have already  increased  their income  by approximately US$220  per hectare  (annually  equivalent to US$1 billion nationally) due, on average, to a 10% increase  in yield, a 60% reduction in insecticides, both of which contribute to a more sustainable agriculture  and prosperity of small poor farmers. China is the largest producer of cotton  in the world, with 68% of its 5.4 million hectares  successfully planted  with Bt cotton  in 2009.

  • Bt rice offers the potential to generate benefits of around US$4 billion annually from an average yield increase  of up to 8%, and an 80% decrease in insecticides, equivalent to 17 kg per hectare  on China’s major staple food crop, rice, which occupies 30 million hectares  (Huang et al. 2005).  It is estimated  that 75% of all rice in China is infested with the rice-borer  pest, which  Bt rice controls.  China is the biggest producer of rice in the world (178 million tons of paddy) with 110 million rice households (a total of 440 million people  based on 4 per family) who could  benefit directly as farmers from this technology, as well as China’s 1.3 billion rice consumers. Bt rice will increase  productivity  and  offers a more  affordable  rice at the very time when China needs new technology to maintain self-sufficiency and increase food production to overcome drought, salinity, pests and other yield constraints  associated with climate  change  and dropping  water tables.

  • Phytase  maize. China, after the USA, is the second  largest grower of maize in the world (30 million hectares grown by 100 million households); it is principally  used for animal feed. Achieving self-sufficiency in maize and meeting  the increased demand for more  meat  in a more  prosperous China  is an enormous challenge. For example  China’s swine herd, the biggest in the world, increased 100-fold from 5 million in 1968 to over 500 million today. Phytase maize  will allow pigs to digest more phosphorus, resulting in faster growth/more efficient meat production, and coincidentally result in a reduction of phosphate pollution  from animal waste into soil and extensive bodies of water and aquifers. Maize is also used as feed for China’s enormous number  of domesticated avian species – 13 billion chickens,  ducks, and other poultry, up from 12.3 million in 1968. Phytase maize  will allow animal  feed producers to eliminate  the need  to purchase phytase  with savings in equipment, labor and added  convenience. The significance  of this maize approval  is that China is the second  largest grower of maize  in the world with 30 million hectares  (USA is the largest at 35 million hectares).  As wealth  is rapidly being created  in China, more meat is being consumed which  in turn requires  significantly more animal  feed of which maize  is a principal  source.  China imports 5 million tons annually  at a foreign exchange cost of more than US$1 billion. Phytase maize is China’s first approved feed crop. The only country in Asia that has approved and already growing biotech  maize is the Philippines where it was first deployed in 2003; Bt maize, herbicide tolerance (HT) maize and the stacked Bt/HT products were grown on approximately 0.5 million hectares  in the Philippines  in 2009.

The above advantages of the proprietary Bt cotton, Bt rice and phytase maize, (importantly, all nationally-developed by Chinese public sector institutions) also offer similar benefits to other developing countries, particularly  in Asia, (but also elsewhere in the world) which have very similar crop production constraints.  Asia grows and consumes 90% of the production from the world’s 150 million hectares  of rice, and Bt rice can have enormous impact  in Asia. Bt rice can not only contribute to increase  productivity  but can also make a substantive  contribution to the alleviation of poverty  for poor small farmers who represent  50% of the world’s poor – there are approximately 250 million poor rice households globally –  assuming  four per family there are potentially  up to 1 billion  poor people that could  benefit directly from Bt rice in Asia. Similarly, there are up to 50 million hectares  of maize  in Asia that could  benefit from biotech  maize,  with 100 million poor maize  households with 400 million people  in China alone.  China’s exertion  of global leadership in approving  biotech  rice and maize  will likely result in a positive influence on acceptance and speed of adoption of biotech food and feed crops in Asia, and more generally globally, particularly  in developing countries. The approval  and deployment by China of the most important food and feed crops in the world, provides the country with new powerful tools to maintain  self-sufficiency in rice and achieve self-sufficiency in maize. China can serve as a model for other developing countries, particularly  in Asia, which could have substantive  implications for:

  • a more timely and efficient approval  process for biotech  crops in developing countries; .    new modes  of South-South  technology transfer and sharing,  including  public/public and public/private sector partnerships;
  • more  orderly  international trade in rice and   reduction in probability  of recurrence of 2008-type price hikes, which were devastating  for the poor; and
  • shift of  more  authority  and  responsibility  to developing countries  to optimize  “self-sufficiency”  and provide more incentive  for their involvement to deliver their share of the 2015 Millennium  Development Goals.

Finally, Bt rice and phytase maize should be seen as only the first of many agronomic and quality biotech  traits to be integrated  into improved  biotech  crops, with significantly enhanced yield and quality, which  can contribute to the doubling  of food, feed and fiber production on less resources,  particularly  water, fossil fuel and nitrogen,  by 2050. The approval  by China of the first major biotech  food crop,  Bt rice, can be the unique  global catalyst for both  the public  and  private  sectors  from developing and  industrial  countries  to work together  in a global initiative toward the noble  goal of “food for all and self-sufficiency” in a more just society. The issuance  of the three  biosafety certificates  for rice and  maize  reflects China’s clear  intent  to practice  what  it preaches and  to approve  for commercialization its home-grown biotech  fiber, feed and food crops (biotech  papaya, a fruit/food crop has been successfully  cultivated  commercially in China in 2006/07). Biotech crops offer China significant economic and environmental benefits,  and  perhaps  more  importantly,  allows  China  to be least dependent on others for food, feed and fiber – a strategic issue for China.


A novel biotech  maize product  called, “SmartStax™”, gained registration from the U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency  (EPA) and  regulatory  authorization from the Canadian  Food  Inspection  Agency  (CFIA) in July 2009 (PRNewswire,  2009).  SmartStax™, resulted  from a cross licensing  agreement and  research  and  development collaboration, signed in 2007, between the Monsanto Company and Dow AgroSciences.  SmartStax™, a multiple- trait product  based  on a total of 8 genes,  is the most advanced stacked  biotech  crop  approved to-date,  and  is designed to provide  the most comprehensive insect pest control  in maize  (both above  and below  ground) plus herbicide tolerance for weed  control.

SmartStax™ is a 4-way stack of approved products of the following events: MON 89034 x TC1507 x MON 88017  x DAS-59122-7.

1)   MON 89034  expresses  two complementary proteins  Cry2Ab and Cry1A.105 for lepidopteran control;

2)   TC1507 expresses  Cry1F for lepidopteran control  and BAR for glufosinate tolerance;

3)   MON 88017  expresses  Cry3Bb1 for corn rootworm  control  and CP4 for glyphosate  tolerance;

4)   DAS-59122-7 expresses a binary protein Cry34/35Ab1 for corn rootworm control and BAR for glufosinate tolerance.

Thus in total, there are 8 genes  (cry2Ab, cry1A.105,  cry1F, cry3Bb1, cry34, cry35Ab1,  cp4,  and bar) that code for the following three traits: above-ground insect control, below-ground insect control, and herbicide tolerance. For the convenience of the reader,  the following paragraph provides details of the commercial products  used in the development of SmartStax.

  • Above-ground insect control of corn earworm, European corn borer, southwestern corn borer, sugarcane borer, fall armyworm,  western  bean  cutworm  and black cutworm  is provided  with Dow AgroSciences’ HERCULEX®I Insect Protection  technology and  Monsanto’s  VT PRO™, a second-generation, two-gene lepidopteran control  product  contained in Genuity™ Triple PRO™.

  • Below-ground insect  control  of Western,  Northern  and Mexican  corn rootworms  with the integration  of Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 technology with Dow AgroSciences’ HERCULEX®  RW Insect Protection  technology.

  • Broad  spectrum  weed  and  grass  control  with  the  combination of  Monsanto’s  Roundup  Ready®2 technology with Bayer CropScience’s  Liberty Link®  herbicide tolerance.

It is documented that SmartStax™ protects against the broadest  spectrum  of insect pests with the most consistent  level of control available to-date. The multiple mechanisms of insect resistance deployed in SmartStax™ significantly reduce the likelihood of insect resistance developing, thus making it possible for regulators to approve a significant reduction in the refuge requirement. Thus, the increase  in durability of insect resistance  allowed  EPA and CFIA to reduce  the farm refuge requirement for SmartStax™ from 20 to 5% in the U.S. Corn Belt and Canada, and from 50 to 20% of the U.S. Cotton Belt.  The 5% refuge will in itself allow farmers to increase  whole-farm  maize yield by 5 to 10%. Thus, farmers will benefit from increased productivity  due to both improved  pest protection and a reduced refuge.

At the time of manuscript preparation plans  were  on track to launch  the product  in the USA and  Canada  next year, 2010, on approximately 1 to 1.5 plus million hectares  – this would make it the biggest launch  ever in terms of the first year commercial hectarage of a biotech  crop. Work is also underway with regulatory agencies  in key countries  to have import approvals  for SmartStax™ in place prior to the 2010 North American planting season to support commercialization for the 2010 crop season.

Bt brinjal  (eggplant) in India

Brinjal is the “King of Vegetables”  in India. It constitutes  a major ingredient  in vegetable diets and  is preferred by vegetarians  for many preparations. India is the second  largest producer of brinjal in the world, after China. A total of 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers grow brinjal on 550,000 hectares  annually in India. Brinjal is an important  cash  crop for poor farmers, which  provides  a stable income  from market sales for most of the year. However,  brinjal is prone  to attack  by many  insect-pests  and  diseases  that cause  significant  losses of up to 60 to 70% in commercial plantings.  Accordingly,  brinjal cultivation  requires  very heavy applications of insecticide. Bt brinjal, which was developed jointly by public and private sector institutions in India, is expected to reduce insecticides sprays up to 80% to control  fruit and shoot borer, which  translates  into a 42% reduction in total pesticides normally used in controlling  all insect-pests  of brinjal. Bt brinjal offers a significant increase  in marketable yield by 33% over the non-Bt counterparts and 45% over the national check hybrid. As a result, brinjal farmers in India are expected to reap a significant net benefit of US$1,539 per hectare  over non-Bt counterparts, and US$1,895 per hectare  over the national  check,  including  a net saving on the mean  cost of sprays (based on Economic Threshold Levels) of US$115 per hectare. At the national  level Bt Brinjal would contribute a net benefit of US$411 million per annum  to vegetable producers.

Bt brinjal has been generously donated by its developer Mahyco, to public sector institutions in India, Bangladesh  and the Philippines  for use in open-pollinated varieties  of brinjal  in order  to meet  the specific  needs  of small resource-poor farmers in these three countries. Currently, 8 Bt brinjal hybrids and 10 Bt brinjal open  pollinated varieties (OPVs) have been  awaiting commercial approval  in India.

Bt brinjal has been  tested rigorously by regulatory  agencies  in India since 2000.  In October 2009,  a landmark decision  was made by India’s Genetic  Engineering Approval Committee  (GEAC), to recommend the commercial release of Bt Brinjal, which is now pending, subject  to final clearance by the government of India.

Golden Rice

Among cereals, rice has the highest energy and food yield but lacks essential amino acids and vitamins needed for normal body functions. It lacks beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A needed for sight and cell differentiation, in embryonic development in mammals, and in functioning of the immune system and of body mucosal membranes. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a nutritional problem in the developing world afflicting 127 million people and 25% of pre-school children. Currently around  250,000 to 500,000 become blind annually, 67% of whom die within a month, or around  6,000 deaths of children  a day, equivalent to 2.2 million per year. This is morally unacceptable when  there is a potential  remedy  available  that could  be administered today – this is a moral dilemma.  Vitamin A supplementation in developing countries is conducted by the FAO, but it is expensive  (costing around  US$500 million a year), not sustainable, and it cannot  reach remote areas. Around 3 billion people  (approximately half of the global population) are dependent on rice for their caloric intake, and many cannot afford other foods containing Vitamin A or supplements. Golden  Rice offers a practical  biotech  crop remedy  that provides  cost-effective  and efficient protection against VAD.

In 1984,  Dr. Peter Jennings, a rice breeder  at IRRI, conceived the Golden  Rice initiative because he wanted  to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency  in rice consuming populations. The Rockefeller  Foundation funded  a research program at approximately US$1.0 million over 8 years conducted by Prof. Ingo Potrykus and Dr. Peter Beyer. With Rockefeller Foundation support,  Potrykus and Beyer elucidated the pathway,  the possible  genes and conducted the rice transformation  to develop  the first genetically modified rice that produced beta carotene. The project was a public/private partnership involving the companies Bayer, Mogen, Monsanto,  Novartis and Zeneca, as well as an anonymous Japanese company; the companies donated the necessary technology licenses in the early stages of the project. In 2000, the first Golden  Rice, in Taipei 309 (japonica) background was developed which contained two transgenes  from daffodil and one from a bacterium. The beta carotene content  was low at 1.6 to 1.8 µg/g, but it proved the functionality  of the genes in rice. With the bacterial  gene and a change  in the promoter  of one gene from daffodil, a javanica  variety Cocodrie  was developed by Syngenta that contained 6 to 8 µg/g beta carotene. This line was designated Golden  Rice 1 and was donated by Syngenta in 2004 to the Golden  Rice Humanitarian Board. The Board oversees the direction of the Golden Rice research and the deployment of the lines in the network that includes the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in the Philippines;  Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute in Vietnam; Department of Biotechnology India, Directorate of Rice Research,  Indian Agricultural Research Institute, University of Delhi, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Agricultural University Patnagar, University of Agricultural Sciences Bangalore; Bangladesh Rice Research Institute in Bangladesh; Huazhong Agricultural University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China; Agency for Agricultural Research & Development in Indonesia; and Albert-Ludwigs University, Freiburg in Germany (

In 2005, Golden Rice 2 was developed by Syngenta – Kaybonnet (javanica rice) – a variety which contained maize and bacterial  transgenes  that produced up to 36.7 µg/g beta carotene – more than a four-fold increase  compared with Golden  Rice 1. The Golden  Rice 2 lines were  donated by the developer to the Humanitarian Board.  In 2005,  the Bill and Melinda  Gates Foundation provided  funding for a collaborative project  on “Engineering rice for high beta-carotene, Vitamin E, protein,  enhanced iron and zinc bioavailability” to Dr. Peter Beyer of Albert Ludwigs  University,  Freiburg, Germany.  The collaborators include, PhilRice,  IRRI, Michigan  State University, Baylor College of Medicine, Cuu Long Delta Rice Research  Institute, and the Chinese  University of Hongkong. Golden  Rice 1 which was initially distributed  to the Golden  Rice network  countries, was replaced by Golden  Rice 2 in March 2009.

Up to six events of Golden  Rice 2 were developed in the background of the American long grain rice Kaybonnet variety  (Paine,  2005).  A defining  step  was  the  selection  of one  single  event  for regulatory  approval  and commercialization. The event selected  was GR2G with a single copy insert which produced up to 25 µg/g of beta carotene – as much as 3-4 times more beta carotene compared to GR1 event (8 µg/g). The event was selected based on several criteria, that collectively  would  allow the beta-carotene requirements of 1-3 year old children  eating 100 g of Golden  Rice to be met (Barry, 2009;  Virk & Barry, 2009).  The next step was to identify target countries where the GR2G event would  be introgressed  into the most promising and popular  rice varieties in VAD prone areas. Philippines,  India. Bangladesh,  Vietnam, and Indonesia  were identified  as the countries  where  the GR2G would  be the only event to move forward through  regulatory approvals  and eventually  released  (Zeigler, 2009). It is expected that Golden   Rice will be released  in the Philippines  and Bangladesh  as early as 2012,  followed by India, Indonesia and Vietnam. The choice  of varieties to be introgressed  with GR2G event in the respective  countries  was based on their popularity and acceptability in regions deficient in Vitamin A. These popular varieties undergoing introgression  with GR2G are being developed by the respective  national  rice research  institutions in close collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) under the supervision  of the Golden  Rice Humanitarian Board. The GR2G varieties  in three of the countries  with the most advanced products  are listed below.

In the Philippines one popular rice variety, PSB rc-82 is being modified with the GR2G event by the Philippine  Rice Research  Institute (PhilRice). The variety  PSB Rc-82 is estimated  to occupy  about  13% of the rice in both wet and dry season croppings  which is equivalent to about 0.5 million hectares  of the total rice hectarage of 4.2 million hectares  grown in the Philippines  annually.

In Bangladesh the GR2G event  is being  introgressed  into one  variety – it is the single most important  Boro rice variety Br-29 in Bangladesh  and  the introgression  is being  conducted by the Bangladesh  Rice Research Institute (BRRI). BR-29 occupies 2.8 million  hectares, equivalent to 28%,  of the 10 million  hectares  of rice in Bangladesh.

In India  3  popular  varieties, Swarna,  MTu-1010 and  ADT-43  are undergoing modification with GR2G: Swarna is a variety that is very popular  in Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh,  West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh and grown by small farmers on an estimated  3 million hectares. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) is breeding the GR2G Swarna variety. MTU-1010,  also known as Cotton Dora Sannalu,  is a very popular  variety in Andhra Pradesh and adjoining  areas and grown on an estimated  0.8 million hectares. The Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), Hyderabad is breeding  the GR2-MTU-1010  variety.

Projecting  an adoption scenario  at this early stage, prior to approval  and  the expected first release  in 2012,  is difficult because the adoption is likely to take place on a step-by-step basis in different regions within each of the three countries, possibly initiating in the Philippines  followed  by Bangladesh  and India. What maybe  useful to project at this early stage is the maximum  potential  area in each of the three countries  that could be planted  with the Golden  Rice varieties currently being developed. In the Philippines,  the maximum  potential  is approximately 0.5 million hectares based on the current hectares occupied by PSB Rc-82. Similarly, in Bangladesh the maximum potential  is approximately 2.8 million hectares  based  on the current  hectares  occupied by BR-29. For India, the maximum  potential  is approximately 4.0 million hectares  based  on the current  hectares  occupied by Swarna (3 million hectares),  MTU-1010  (0.8 million hectares) and ADT-43 (0.2 million hectares).  Thus, collectively  for the three countries, the Philippines,  Bangladesh  and India, there is an estimated  maximum  potential  area of up to 7.0 to 7.5 million hectares  that could  be occupied by Golden  Rice varieties starting in 2012.  This projection is not intended to be an accurate estimate  but to provide the reader with a sense of the order of magnitude of hectares  that could be planted  with Golden  Rice from 2012 onwards,  subject to timely approval.  Ex-ante economic impact analyses  projected that Golden  Rice consumption could  add from US$4 to US$18 billion annually  to the GDP of Asian countries  over the long term (UNICEF, 2007).

The Golden  Rice project  is unique  in many  ways in that it has brought  together  a diversity of institutions  and individuals  of like mind, who share the common goal of preventing  the death  and misery of millions of children  and adults (estimated at 127 million) suffering from VAD worldwide, mainly in Asia. The project enjoys the support of the donor and international development communities, the public and the private sectors and the commitment of governments in Asia which have put in place the necessary  policy and technology support to remedy a human  carnage caused  by VAD that kills 6,000  helpless  children  a day (Barry, 2009).

Whereas VAD is estimated to affect 33% of individuals in South East Asia, corresponding figures for iron deficiency (anemia) is 57% and 71% for zinc deficiency.  Rice germplasm  with the GR2G event is now being crossed  with rice lines having a high content  of zinc and iron to pyramid the three benefits. Work is also underway at PhilRice in the Philippines  to pyramid  3 traits: GR2G and resistance  to the important  diseases caused  by the Tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight of rice.

Drought Tolerance – Drought tolerant maize expected to be  deployed in the  USA in 2012 and  in Sub- Saharan Africa  in 2017 – Global Drought Overview for 2009

The proverb “Water is the staff of life” reminds us that water is important  and precious.  Agriculture currently uses over 70% (86% in developing countries) of the fresh water in the world. Water tables are dropping fast in countries  like China, and water supplies will continue to shrink worldwide as global population will grow from the current 6.7 billion to more than 9 billion people by 2050. Whereas people drink only 1 to 2 liters a day, the food and meat we eat in a typical day takes 2,000  to 3,000  liters to produce. Both conventional and biotechnology approaches are required  to develop  crops that use water more efficiently and are more tolerant  to drought.  Given the lack of water and its cardinal  role in crop production, it follows that tolerance to drought  and efficient water usage should be assigned  the highest priority in developing future crops.  The situation  will be further exacerbated as global warming takes its toll, with weather expected to become generally drier and warmer, and as competition for water intensifies between people  and crops. Drought tolerance conferred  through biotech  crops is viewed as the most important  trait that will be commercialized  in the second  decade of commercialization, 2006 to 2015,  and beyond, because it is by far the single most important  constraint  to increased productivity  for crops worldwide.

The encouraging news is that drought tolerant biotech/GM maize, the most advanced of the drought tolerant crops under development, is expected to be launched commercially in the USA in 2012 – see the special supplement on Drought Tolerance in Maize: An Emerging Reality published in ISAAA Brief 39 (James, 2008). Drought is particularly  important  in Africa where  in 2003  the World Food Program spent US$0.57  billion on food emergency  supplies due to drought. The uncertainty associated with drought prevents the execution of best management practices  for stabilizing yield which  are essential  if benefits are to be derived  from necessary  crop inputs. Notably,  a private/ public  sector  partnership called  WEMA (Water Efficient Maize  program  for Africa) is making  progress  (Oikeh, 2009). The WEMA project is coordinated by AATF and involves Monsanto,  (which donated the technology), the Gates Foundation, the Howard  Buffet Foundation (funding), CIMMYT, and  selected  African national  programs including Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. WEMA hopes to release the first royalty-free biotech  drought  tolerant  maize  by 2017  in Sub-Saharan Africa where  the need  for drought  tolerance is greatest and where  650  million  people  are dependent on maize.  Under  moderate drought  the expected benefits  from WEMA include  yield increases  of the order of 20 to 35%, equivalent to 12 million tons of maize  which can feed 14 to 21 million people  during a drought year. The first field trial with biotech  drought tolerant maize was planted  in South Africa in November 2009  and the first conventional drought  maize  is expected in 3 to 4 years around 2013. The challenges in the WEMA project include:  establishment of operational and effective regulatory bodies in the national  programs; production and distribution  of high quality hybrid seed and supply of adequate credit for small farmers (Oikeh, 2009).

The increasing frequency and severity of droughts globally over the last few years, have led some to conclude that climatic change-generated droughts  are already  in evidence and that drought  resulted  in a significant decrease in food,  feed and  fiber production globally  in 2009.  The following  is a an overview  of the impact  of drought around the world in 2009,  by Eric de Carbonnel (2009) and augmented with information  from other sources. He concludes that the principal  countries  that produce two-thirds of the world’s agricultural  output are also, by and large, the same countries  that suffered significantly from drought in 2009.


Countries in the horn of Africa were hard hit by drought resulting in widespread famine in Kenya where 10 million people  faced starvation in 2009.  Neighboring countries  including  Tanzania, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda  face similar situations.  South Africa was projecting  that harvests  would  be the lowest  for 30 years. Other  countries  in Sub- Saharan  Africa reporting  drought  in 2009  included Malawi,  Zambia,  Swaziland, Somalia,  Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, and Tunisia in North Africa.


The drought which started in November 2008 in north and northeastern China (where rainfall was 50 to 90% less than normal) was the worse in 50 years and affected over 10 million hectares  of cropland including  half of the wheat crop in the eight following provinces, which are the major wheat producing provinces in China: Henan (the largest crop production province in China), Anhui (>50% of crops damaged),  Shanxi, Jinagsu (20% of wheat lost), Hebei, Shaanxii, and Shandong which had 73% less rain than last year. To avert disaster, the Government of China allocated US$12.7 billion to cushion  the impact of drought,  which directly affected over 4 million people  in the rural areas of these eight provinces  alone. The areas hard-hit by the drought were China’s main grain production areas, which produce approximately 18% of the world’s grain (equivalent  to about 500 million tons per annum).  It is noteworthy that China’s Government has set a goal to produce 540  million tons of grain domestically by 2020  (Xinhua, 2009a)  – this will be a formidable  challenge if droughts  become more frequent  and  severe  and water tables continue to drop. In July 2009,  the drought area in China expanded rapidly into the inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Xinjanag Uyugur Autonomous Region, Jilin, Shanxi and  Liaoning (Xinhua, 2009b).  It was reported  that almost  7 million people  utilizing  more  than  one-third  of a million vehicles,  were  physically involved in fighting the drought, which affected both potable  and irrigation water supplies in the worst-hit areas. Later in 2009, the devastation caused  by the drought  in the north and northeast  was exacerbated by the severe flooding that resulted from Typhoon  Morakot in south China in August 2009  – extremes  of drought  followed  by floods may represent  the new challenges that climate  change  and global warming will bring.


The country  has suffered severely from droughts  since 2004,  with 2006  and 2007  being the worst two years of drought ever since records began 117 years ago – it is estimated  that over 40% of the country’s agriculture  is still suffering from the devastating  droughts of 2006/07. The droughts were so severe at its worse that major rivers like the Murray River actually stopped  flowing.


In 2009, the state of Texas in the USA had the worst drought in 50 years. Losses due to the drought were estimated  at US$3.5 billion in Texas’ US$20 billion agriculture  sector (The Economist, 2009d).   The 2009 drought was the worst since 1917 and it was estimated that 88% of the state suffered from abnormally dry conditions and that 18% suffered from the most severe state of drought. The governor of Texas declared a disaster for much of the state – to exacerbate matters,  droughts  increase  the probability  of devastating  wild fires. In June and July temperatures in Austin, Texas hit triple-digit levels for more than half of the time – 39 days out of a total of 61 days. In California in 2009,  the drought was also the worse since records began  with thousands of hectares  of row crops fallowed.  Run-off from the snow in the high Sierras, which feeds the reservoirs, was only 49% of normal. Other states in the USA suffering from drought included Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The weather  in 2009, including  both droughts and floods, is thought to have been  significantly influenced by El Niño (warm and wet) and La Niña (cool and dry). La Niña, associated with cooler waters in the Pacific exacerbated the drought problems in the USA, resulting in dryer weather  in the southern  states of the USA and elsewhere in the Americas.

South America

In Argentina, the worst drought in 50 years resulted in significant decrease in grain production especially the state of Cordoba.  Brazil, which is the second biggest exporter of soybeans  in the world, also suffered some damage due to drought. Several other countries  in South America suffered from drought in 2009 including  Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile where  La Niña has prevented the rain clouds from penetrating into Chile and South America.

Middle East and Central Asia

Countries in these regions also reported  drought, which decreased yields, with wheat production down by about 20%. The supply of water in reservoirs in the two regions is at low levels and there is also concern that smaller harvests will result in limited supply of farmer-saved  seed for the next cropping  season.  Some of the countries  in this region are also wracked by political instability and war, which seriously exacerbates the ability of the countries to deal with devastating  droughts.  Countries  reporting  drought  in the two regions in 2009  included, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, the Palestinian  Territories, Lebanon,  Israel, Bangladesh,  Myanmar, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Cyprus and Iran.


Europe was the only principal  crop production region globally to have suffered relatively little drought  in 2009 although  countries  like Spain and Portugal have experienced significant droughts in recent years.

The extent of drought globally in 2009 does not auger well for the future if the droughts associated with climate change and global warming are going to result, as predicted, in more frequent and more severe droughts which will have more impact in developing than industrial countries. It is evident that under such circumstances,when drought will become even more important,  that the value of biotech-based drought tolerance will be paramount.

Nitrogen Use  Efficiency (NUE)

Nitrogen  and water were pre-requisite external  inputs for the unprecedented success  of the green revolution  of the 1960s in both wheat and rice. Agriculture uses 70% of all the fresh water in the world and there is an urgent need  to address the increasingly  short supply of water globally, as water tables in high population countries  like China drop precipitously. There is an equally  important  and  urgent need  to increase  nitrogen  use efficiency in order to decrease dependency on fossil fuel-based nitrogen fertilizers and also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution  of water sources with leaked nitrogen products.  It is estimated  that today, approximately half of the nitrogen  atoms  in a human body  is derived  from fossil fuel-based  ammonia (Ridley, 2009).  The annual  global cost of nitrogen  fertilizers is approximately US$100  billion.  It is estimated  that up to two-thirds  of the nitrogen fertilizer applied  by farmers globally is lost though run-offs, leaching  and gasification. In turn, the leaked nitrogen products  result in extensive algal blooms which suffocate other life forms in “dead zones” in estuaries and deltas worldwide, including  the Mississippi estuary  in the USA and  the enormous Mekong  delta  in South East Asia. Nitrogen  products  in soil are also lost when they convert  to a nitrous  oxide  gas which  is 300  times worse  for global warming than carbon dioxide. Whereas changes in agronomic practices can reduce  nitrogen requirements by half without  penalizing yield, encouraging progress is also being witnessed  in biotech  crops with enhanced nitrogen use efficiency. Some of these more advanced biotech  crop products,  expected to be available  in about 5 years or more, may offer increases  of up to 30% in nitrogen efficiency, whilst initial results for some experimental products suggest that even increases  of up to 50% may be eventually  feasible (Ridley, 2009). Biotech crops have already  delivered  significant benefits in terms of increased yield and decreased pesticides,  and nitrogen efficient biotech  crops  offer further benefits in about  5 years, or more,  from now. The Economist  recently  declared that “Genetically modified crops  are proving  to be  an  unmitigated environmental miracle.” Ridley (2009) opined  that  the  organic  movement would  probably  scoff at  NUE technology and  recommend that  synthetic fertilizer be replaced with manure  and legumes.  However,  he notes that this would  require  a quintupling of the global cattle population from 1.2 billion to 7 to 8 billion (Smil, 2004) and questioned where this gigantic global cattle herd would graze.

Biotech Wheat – A reality in the near-term?

In a recent  article by Jeffrey L Fox (2009), he posed  the question  “Whatever  Happened to GM Wheat?” Around mid-year  2009,  several  coincidental developments heralded the possible  return  of biotech  wheat,  which  has been out in the cold  for five years, after Monsanto  discontinued its RR® wheat  program  in 2004  due  to lack of grower and consumer support. There are five principal  developments that changed the mood for biotech  wheat.  First, nine major  wheat  organizations (US, Canadian and  Australian) pledged, “to  work  toward the  goal  of synchronized commercialization of biotech traits in our wheat crops.” Second,  75% of US wheat growers now approve of biotech wheat (National Association of Wheat Growers, Washington, DC, 2009). Third, Monsanto  acquired the wheat operations of WestBred  in 2009  indicating  its intent to reengage  in biotech  wheat,  starting with conventional and MAS applications with biotech  wheat  as a longer-term  goal (Monsanto,  2009a).  Fourth, Bayer CropScience announced a GM-wheat  development alliance  with CSIRO Australia to bring “solutions” to wheat growers as early as 2015 (Bayer CropScience, 2009). Fifth, and final, on review of wheat biotech  activities in China some observers concluded that China could  be the first to commercialize  biotech  wheat,  possibly in 5 years time (Fox, 2009).

Over the last decade or so, it is evident  that wheat  has suffered a decline  in hectarage as a result of decreased competitiveness in productivity,  compared with maize  and soybean, which have benefited  from biotechnology. Maize productivity  for instance  has exceeded an annual  1.6%  increase,  the minimum  necessary  to double food production by 2050,  whereas  wheat has consistently  failed to meet this target which has led to production shortfalls.

Who are the leaders  in biotech  wheat? The Chinese  Academy  of Agricultural Sciences  (CAAS) has probably  the biggest investment worldwide in biotech wheat. CAAS is developing biotech wheat with a range of traits including resistance to yellow mosaic  virus, head  scab, powdery  mildew, insect resistance,  as well as drought and salinity tolerance, improved  grain quality, plus herbicide tolerance. In 2008, the Chinese government is reported  to have allocated more support to biotech  wheat than any other biotech  crop, with commercialization expected possibly in 5 years (Shiping, 2008;  Stone, 2008). Resistance to yellow mosaic  virus is the most advanced and maybe  the first biotech  wheat product  in about five years’ time. The CAAS investment  is not the only effort in biotech  wheat in China. In Henan Agricultural University, a group of 40 researchers are developing biotech wheat that is tolerant to sprouting, which  currently  results in a significant  20%  loss in production. Field trials are in their third year, and some optimistic observers  believe  that sprouting-tolerant wheat could  be commercialized  as early as 2 to 3 years from now (Fox, 2009).  India is also assigning priority to biotech  wheat with plant breeders  at the national Indian  Agricultural Research  Institute in New Delhi developing several biotech  wheat  lines tolerant  to drought and  resistant  to disease. MAHYCO, India’s largest indigenous seed  company, already  markets several  varieties of conventional hybrid wheat, and has had extensive  experience in successfully developing hybrid Bt cotton  in India. Drought  tolerance in wheat, although  very challenging, is clearly emerging as the major trait of interest to both the public and private sector involved in R& D on biotech  wheat.

In the industrial countries, both the USA and Australia are active. USDA invests about US$40 million annually  in 125 programs focusing on improved  grain quality, drought tolerance and disease resistance-a few projects are at the field-trial stage. USDA also has a US-China collaborative project  on wheat  with CAAS, which  focuses more on conventional and marker-assisted  breeding.  Australia is also a leader in biotech  wheat,  and CSIRO and Bayer CropScience have a joint project  for the “development of wheat  lines with improved  yield potential  and stress tolerance, whereas  another focuses on wheat lines with improved utilization  of phosphorus. This collaboration is expected to generate  commercial varieties by 2015” (Fox, 2009). The Australian Gene Technology  Regulator has already approved CSIRO to conduct field trials on 16 GM-wheat  lines with altered  grain composition between July 2009  and  June 2012  (OGTR, 2009).  The Victorian  Department of Primary Industries,  in partnership with La Trobe University has an alliance  with Dow AgroSciences  to develop  drought  tolerant  biotech  wheats,  which are already  in their second  year of field-testing with promising  results. Optimistically the GM wheat  could  be ready in 5 to 10 years (Department of Primary Industries, 2009).  Syngenta,  which  had an advanced project  on Fusarium-resistant wheat  assigned  it to a “hold”  status about  5 years ago,  and  this could  now  be a candidate for reconsideration with the renewed interest in biotech  wheat.  Syngenta through its Foundation for Sustainable  Agriculture,  recently  linked  with  CIMMYT to focus  on  stem  rust, using  marker-assisted  breeding,  to develop  stem rust resistant  varieties  of  wheat  (Syngenta,  2009).  In July 2009,  Monsanto  announced a comprehensive plan  for its wheat  business beginning with conventional and  marker-assisted  breeding,  (with biotech  wheat  as a longer term goal) to boost wheat yields with traits conferring  drought  and disease  resistance  as well as higher efficiency use of nitrogen fertilizer. Monsanto  expects  that it will be 8 to 10 years before the first biotech  wheat is introduced. In the  short  term  the  emphasis  will not  be  on  herbicide tolerant  biotech  wheat  but  on  “multi traits across  multiple  types  of  wheat,”  and  to “take  genes  from corn  and  bring  them  into  wheat”.  Monsanto  is investing  in human  capital  through its US$10  million  Beachall-Borlaug Fellowship  program  on wheat  and rice, managed by Texas A&M, to support  young  scholars  specifically  for the public  sector  (Monsanto,  2009b).

It is noteworthy that both China and India, consume all their wheat production and are predominantly reliant on wheat imports. In contrast  to the international trade disputes  between North America and Europe over biotech crops,  biotech  wheat  in China  and  India would  be exclusively  for the domestic  markets.  Regulators  in these countries will likely have much less concern about international trade, with more of an incentive to assign priorities for meeting  urgent national  food security needs;  the same would  apply  to countries  importing  rice and  maize.

During the past several years, the issues that drove the dynamics  of the discussion on biotech  wheat during 2003 and 2004  have  changed markedly.  “The wheat  industry  has come  full circle  and  unified  its support  for going forward with a biotech  strategy,” said Allan Skogen, a North Dakota  wheat grower, who also chairs Growers for Biotechnology. “There  is no douBt that we  can increase production if given these biotech tools. The key focus for growers is drought tolerance,” he adds. “Water  is the  issue, and  the  limiting factor  for wheat” (Fox, 2009).

Other Crops  and Traits

Several other medium  hectarage crops are expected to be approved before 2015.  A partial listing of candidate products  include:  potatoes  with pest and/or disease resistance  and modified quality for industrial use; sugarcane with  quality  and  agronomic traits; disease  resistant  bananas; and  virus-resistant  beans.  Some  biotech  orphan  crops are also expected to become available. For example, Bt brinjal will probably  become available  as the first biotech  food crop in India in 2010  (subject to government endorsement) and has the potential  to benefit up to 1.4 million small and resource-poor farmers. Vegetable crops such as biotech  tomato, broccoli, cabbage and okra which require very heavy applications of insecticides (which can be reduced substantially  by a biotech  product) are also under development. Pro-poor biotech  crops such as biotech  cassava, sweet potato, pulses and groundnut are also candidates. It is noteworthy that several of these products  are being developed by public sector national  or international institutions in the developing countries. The development of this broad  portfolio of new biotech crops augurs well for the continued global growth of biotech  crops, which ISAAA projected to reach 200 million hectares  by 2015,  grown by 20 million farmers, or more, in 40 countries.


The use of biotechnology to increase  efficiency of first generation food/feed crops and second  generation energy crops for biofuels presents both opportunities and challenges. Whereas  biofuel strategies  must be developed on a country-by-country basis, food security should always be assigned the first priority and should never be jeopardized by a competing need  to use  food  and feed  crops  for biofuel. Injudicious  use of the food/ feed crops,  sugarcane, cassava  and  maize  for biofuels in food insecure  developing countries  could  jeopardize food security goals if the efficiency of these crops cannot be increased through biotechnology and other means, so that food, feed and fuel goals can all be adequately met. The key role of crop biotechnology, in both the first and second generation biofuel technologies  is to cost-effectively  optimize  the yield of biomass/biofuel per hectare, which  in turn will provide  more  affordable  fuel. However,  by far the most important  potential  role of biotech  crops will be their contribution to the humanitarian Millennium  Development Goals (MDG) of ensuring a secure supply of affordable food and the reduction of poverty and hunger by 50% by 2015.

Growth by region,  globally

The second  decade of commercialization, 2006-2015, is likely to feature significantly more growth in Asia and Africa compared with the first decade 1996 to 2005, which was the decade of the Americas, where there will be continued vital growth in stacked  traits, particularly  in North America, and strong growth in Brazil.

Responsible management of biotech crops

Adherence to good  farming practices  with biotech  crops,  such  as rotations  and  resistance  management,  will remain critical, as it has been during the first decade. Continued responsible stewardship and implementation of best practices  are a must , particularly  by the countries  of the South, which  will increasingly  become the major new  deployers  of biotech  crops  in the second  decade of commercialization of biotech  crops,  2006  to 2015. The hectarage of biotech  crops in developing countries  is expected to exceed that of industrial  countries  before 2015.

The Grand Challenge

In a provocative article entitled “If words were food  nobody would be  hungry” (The Economist, 2009b),  the case is made  that the international donor  and  development communities are now  reversing a 30 year decline  of funding and  support  to agriculture, following  the food price  crisis of 2008.  It quotes  Bill Gates’ reassuring statement  to agriculturists at the October 2009 World Food Prize that, “the world’s attention is back  on your cause,” which he is generously  supporting. During the same address, Gates endorsed the use of biotech  crops in conjunction with conventional technology in the fight against hunger  and in our quest for food sufficiency and food security. There was a similar call for utilizing both conventional and crop biotechnology at the November 2009  Food Summit in Rome, the first since 2002,  seven years ago. The high commodity prices of 2008,  which sparked riots in over thirty countries  and the overthrow  of two governments in Haiti and Madagascar, galvanized the world’s attention  and  focused  on the simple truth that daily bread  at affordable  prices  is an essential  need for every man,  woman  and child,  irrespective  of creed,  color and race – survival is, by far, our most important  instinct. As always it is the poor that get hurt, and the year 2008 was no exception, it was the poor, not the rich, who went hungry because when food prices doubled, the poor could only afford half the food they ate before the crisis. Moreover, unlike the rich who spend up to 20% of their income  on food, the poor spend 70 to 80% of their hard earned  income  on food. It is of great concern that many observers  believe  that another  similar food price crisis to 2008 is in the offing in the near term if remedial  actions  are not taken by both development donors and governments of food insecure developing countries. In 1974  at the first Food Summit in Rome, Henry Kissinger declared that in 10 years, not a single child would go to bed hungry – 35 years later at the 2009 Food Summit in Rome, and despite  MDG promises to cut hunger in half by 2015 it was declared that for the first time ever more than 1 billion people  (1.02 billion) would go to bed hungry (World Food Program, UN 2009). The World Bank estimates  that the number  of people  living on less than  US$1.25  per day will increase  by 89 million between 2008 and 2010 and for those on US$2.00  a day by 120 million.

Whereas the pledge of US$20 billion from the G8 for agriculture in July 2009 is significant, and the new emphasis  on self-sufficiency, in addition  to food security, is welcome, it is important  to ensure  that this US$20  billion is new  and not recycled  contributions, and  to recognize that it will only fund an estimated  three  years (at US$7 billion per year) of the activities that will be required for protecting agriculture from climate change. Nevertheless, credit should  be given to several key organizations for substantially  increasing  their contribution to agriculture:  the World bank increased its contribution by 50% to US$6 billion in 2009,  the US Congress is being requested by the President Obama administration to double  its budget  for agriculture  in USAID to US$1 billion in 2010; institutionally  a new “High Level Task Force” on agriculture  has been  working with the UN Secretary General’s Office and renowned Economist Jeffrey Sachs is advocating a global mega fund in support of agriculture, similar to the Mega Fund for HIV/AIDS. However,  it is policy and technology initiatives at the national  program level in developing countries, not in the donor  community, that is more important  and encouraging. African nations  are starting to deliver on the 2003 promises of spending 10% of budgets on agriculture. Many countries are subsidizing  inputs  of seeds  and  fertilizers with Malawi used  as an example  where  an investment  of 4.2%  of GDP resulted in a trebling of maize  yield in four years, transforming the country from a significant importer (40% of its needs) of food in 2005  to a significant exporter  (50% of its production) in 2009.  Malawi is one of the lead countries  in Africa committed to enhancing maize yields further, as already successfully done in South Africa, through adopting biotech  crops such as Bt maize  now effectively deployed in 15 countries  around  the world – white maize  is the staple food for 300 million people  in Sub-Saharan Africa.

When several major food producing countries  blocked  food exports during the 2008 food price crisis, some rich food deficit countries  assigned  high priority to   acquisition of arable  land  in foreign countries. In the last few years, several countries which anticipate food shortages in their own countries in the future, have been acquiring  arable  land in other countries  in order to have access  to an additional secure  and independent supply of food. For example, the six member  states of the Gulf Cooperation Council,  which  collectively  import food valued  at US$10 billon annually, are pursuing  a strategy to create  a new “bread  basket  in Africa”. The African countries  involved include Mozambique, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania  and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency reports that 13.3 million small Ethiopian farmers are developing up to 1 million hectares  of new land for foreign investors (The Economist,  2009a).  Critics view this acquisition as “land  grabbing”  attempts  in countries  which are themselves  food  insecure  and  poverty  stricken,  and  where  there  are  also  concerns about  environmental degradation of marginal land brought into production.

The 2008  World  Bank Development Report emphasized that, “Agriculture is a vital  development tool  for achieving the Millennium Development Goals that calls for halving  by 2015  the share of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger” (World Bank, 2008). The Report noted  that three out of every four people  in developing countries  live in rural areas and most of them depend directly or indirectly on agriculture  for their livelihoods. It  recognizes that  overcoming abject  poverty  cannot  be  achieved in  Sub-Saharan  Africa without  a  revolution in  agricultural  productivity for the  millions of  suffering  subsistence farmers in Africa, most of them women. However,  it also draws attention  to the fact that Asia’s fast growing economies, where most of the wealth  of the developing world is being  created, are also home  to 600 million rural people  (compared with the 800 million total population of Sub-Saharan Africa) living in extreme  poverty, and that rural poverty in Asia will remain  life-threatening for millions of rural poor for decades to come.  It is a stark fact of life that poverty  today  is a rural phenomenon where  70%,  of the world’s poorest  people  are small and  resource- poor farmers and the rural landless  labor that live and toil on the land.  The Grand  Challenge  is “to transform a problem  into an opportunity” by transforming the concentration of poverty in agriculture  into an opportunity for alleviating poverty by sharing with resource-poor farmers the knowledge and experience of those from industrial and  developing countries  which  have successfully  employed biotech  crops  to increase  crop  productivity,  and in turn, income. The World Bank Report recognizes that the revolution  in biotechnology and information  offer unique  opportunities to use agriculture  to promote  development, but cautions  that there is a risk that fast-moving crop biotechnology can easily be missed by developing countries if the political will and international assistance  support is not forthcoming, particularly  for the more controversial application of biotech/GM crops which is the focus of this ISAAA Brief. The Grand Challenge is to optimize  the use of crop biotechnology in conjunction with conventional technology, to double  food production, with less resources,  in a sustainable manner  by 2015.

The Epilogue and Norman  Borlaug’s  legacy

Two events stand out in 2009  – first the passing of a personal  and noble  friend, Nobel  Peace  Laureate Norman Borlaug on 12 September  2009  – second  the approval  by the Government of China,  on 27 November 2009, of biotech  rice and  biotech  maize.  Rice is the most important  food crop  in the world  and  provides  food for 3 billion people  or almost half of humanity;  importantly  it is also the most important  food crop of the poor of the world.  Maize is the most important  feed crop in the world that provides feed for China’s 500 million swine herd (equivalent to 50% of the global swine herd) and its 13 billion chickens,  ducks and other poultry. China’s exertion of leadership in approving  the first major biotech  food crop, rice, and its determination to elect to use technology, both conventional and biotech crops, to achieve food self–sufficiency,  is a momentous development and deserves to be emulated by other developing countries  in Asia, Africa and Latin America – the potential  implications in terms of a world that is more secure,  prosperous, just and peaceful  is enormous.

Norman Borlaug’s success with the wheat green revolution hinged on his ability, tenacity and single-minded focus on one issue – increasing the productivity of wheat per hectare  – by intent, he also assumed full responsibility  for gauging his success or failure by measuring  productivity  at the farm level (not at the experimental field station level),  and  production  at the national  level, and  most importantly,  evaluating  its contribution  to peace  and humanity.  He titled his acceptance speech  for the Nobel Peace Prize on 11 December 1970,  40 years ago – The Green  revolution, Peace and humanity. Remarkably,  what Borlaug crusaded for 40 years ago – increasing crop productivity is identical to our goal of today except that the challenge has become even greater because we also  need  to double productivity sustainably, using less resources, particularly  water,  fossil  fuel and nitrogen, in the face of new climate change challenges. The most appropriate and noble way to honor Norman  Borlaug’s rich and unique  legacy is for the global community involved  with biotech  crops to come  together  in a “Grand Challenge”. North,  south, east and  west, involving  both  public  and  private  sectors  should  engage collectively  in a supreme  and noble effort to optimize  the contribution of biotech  crops to productivity  using less resources.  Importantly, the principal goal should  be  to contribute to the alleviation of poverty,  hunger and  malnutrition,  as we have  pledged  in the Millennium  Development Goals  of 2015,  which  coincidentally marks the end of the second  decade of the commercialization of biotech  crops, 2006 to 2015.

The closing words in this Epilogue in the form of a verse is dedicated to Norman  Borlaug, a personal  friend for thirty years, ISAAA’s first Founding Patron, who having saved one billion from hunger, was the world’s most ardent and credible advocate of biotech  crops because of their capacity  to increase  crop productivity,  alleviate poverty, hunger and malnutrition and contribute to peace  and humanity. Borlaug opined that “Over the past decade, we have  been witnessing the success of plant  biotechnology. This technology is helping farmers throughout the  world produce higher  yield, while reducing pesticide use  and  soil  erosion. The benefits and  safety  of biotechnology has been proven over  the past  decade in countries with  more  than half of the world’s population. What  we  need is courage by  the  leaders of those countries where farmers  still  have  no choice but to use older and less effective methods. The Green Revolution and now  plant  biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food  production, while preserving our environment for future generations.”

He cared,  more than others  thought  wise  
He dreamed, more than others thought real
He risked, more than others thought safe
And he expected, and normally achieved
What others thought  impossible



1  An event refers to a unique  DNA recombination event that took place  in one plant cell, which was then used to generate  entire transgenic plants. Every cell that successfully incorporates the gene of interest represents  a unique “event”. Every plant line de- rived from a transgenic  event is considered a biotech  crop. The Event Names correspond to the identifiers commonly used by regulatory authorities  and international organizations, such as the Organization for Economic  Cooperation and Development (OECD).