Pocket K No. 16: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2012

In 2012, the global area of biotech crops continued to increase for the 17th year at a sustained growth rate of 6% or 10 million hectares (25 million acres), reaching 170.3 million hectares or 420 million acres (Figure 1). Biotech crops have set a precedent in that the biotech area has grown impressively every single year for the past 17 years, with almost a remarkable 100-fold increase since the commercialization began in 1996. Thus, biotech crops are considered as the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.

In 2012, a total of 17.3 million farmers (up from 16.7 million in 2011) planted biotech crops in 28 countries, wherein over 90% or 15 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries. The highest increase in any country, in absolute hectarage growth was Brazil with 6.3 million hectares and the highest proportional increase was South Africa with a 26% increase to reach 2.9 million hectares.

In summary, during the period of 1996 to 2012, biotech crops have been successfully grown in accumulated hectarage of 3.53 billion hectares (8.72 billion acres).

Distribution of Biotech Crops in Industrial and Developing Countries

Figure 2 shows the relative area of biotech crops in industrial and developing countries from 1996-2012. In 2012, for the first time, more than half (52%) of the global biotech crop area of 170.3 million hectares, equivalent to 88.5 million hectares, was grown in 20 developing countries. As in the past, in 2012, percent growth in biotech crop area continued to be significantly stronger in the developing countries (11% and 8.7 million hectares) than industrial countries (3% and 1.6 million hectares). Thus, year-on-year growth measured either in absolute hectares or by percent, was higher in developing countries than industrial countries between 2011 and 2012.

Two new developing countries Sudan and Cuba joined in 2012, with a combined hectarage of 23,000 hectares. 

Distribution of Biotech Crops, by Country

Biotech crops were grown commercially in all six continents of the world. Of the 28 countries planting biotech crops in 2012, 18 countries planted 50,000 hectares or more to biotech crops (Table 2). These mega-countries included the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan, Uruguay, Bolivia, Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mexico, Spain, and Chile. 


Dominant Biotech Crop in 2012

Herbicide tolerant soybean continued to be the dominant biotech crop in 2012, occupying 80.7 million hectares or 47% of global biotech area (Table 3). It was grown commercially in the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Canada, Uruguay, Bolivia, South Africa, Mexico, Chile, and Costa Rica.

The second most dominant crop was biotech maize with stacked traits, which occupied 39.9 million hectares or 23% of the global biotech area. It was grown commercially in 10 countries including the USA, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and Canada, the Philippines, Uruguay, Honduras, Chile, and Paraguay.

Bt cotton was the third most dominant crop grown in 2012. Bt cotton was planted in more than 18.8 million hectares in 13 countries: India, China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Brazil, USA, Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Sudan, Paraguay, and Costa Rica. This is equivalent to 11% of the global biotech area.

Global Adoption of Biotech Soybean, Maize, Cotton, and Canola

Another way to provide a global perspective of the status of biotech crops is to characterize the global adoption rates as a percentage of the respective global areas of the four principal crops – soybean, cotton, maize and canola, in which biotechnology is utilized.

In 2012, 81% (80.7 million hectares) of the 100 million hectares of the soybean planted globally were biotech (Figure 3). Biotech cotton was planted to 24.3 million hectares, which is 81% of the 30 million hectares of global cotton. Of the 159 million hectares of global maize planted in 2012, 35% or 55.1 million hectares were biotech maize. Finally, herbicide tolerant biotech canola was planted in 9.2 million hectares or 30% of the 31 million hectares of canola grown globally in 2012. If the global areas (conventional and biotech) of these four crops are aggregated, the total area is 320 million hectares, of which 53% or 170.3 million hectares were biotech, up from 50% in 2011. Two-thirds of these 320 million hectares are in developing countries farmed mainly by small, resource-poor farmers.

The Global Value of Biotech Crops

In 2012, the global market value of biotech crops was US$14.84 billion representing 23% of the US$64.62 billion global crop protection market in 2012, and 35% of the ~US$34 billion global commercial seed market. Of the US$14.84 billion biotech crop market, US$11.4 billion (77%) was in the industrial countries and US$3.4 billion (23%) was in the developing countries. The market value of the global biotech crop market is based on the sale price of biotech seeds plus any technology fees that apply. The accumulated global value of biotech crops since 1996 is estimated at US$102,241 billion.

Future Prospects

The future of biotech crops looks encouraging. A number of developing countries are expected to plant biotech crops before 2015, especially the Asian countries. Some African countries may also contribute in the biotech crop hectarage in the near future, with the first drought tolerant maize planned for release in Africa in 2017. The same biotech crop is expected to be released in North America in 2013; the first stacked soybean (with herbicide tolerance and insect resistance traits) will be planted in Brazil in 2013; vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice could be released in the Philippines in 2013 or 2014; drought tolerant sugarcane in Indonesia; and biotech maize in China. Biotech crops is not a panacea; but they have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty by half, by optimizing crop productivity, which can be achieved by public-private sector partnerships.


James, C. 2012. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2012. ISAAA Briefs No. 44. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.

*March 2012

Next Pocket K: Genetic Engineering and GM Crops