Pocket K No. 16: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2014

In 2014, the global area of biotech crops continued to increase for the 19th year at a sustained growth rate of 3 to 4% or 6.3 million hectares (~16 million acres), reaching 181.5 million hectares or 448 million acres (Figure 1). Biotech crops have set a precedent in that the biotech area has grown impressively every single year for the past 19 years, with 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 2014, a total of 18 million farmers planted biotech crops in 28 countries, wherein over
94.1% or greater than 16.9 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries. The highest increase in any country, in absolute hectarage growth was US with 3 million hectares.

In summary, during the period of 1996 to 2014, biotech crops have been successfully grown in accumulated hectarage of 1.78 billion hectares (4.4 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 1996-2014. In 2014, for the third time, more than half (53%) of the global biotech crop area of 181.5 million hectares, equivalent to 96.2 million hectares, was grown in 20 developing countries. Unlike 2013, year-to-year growth was higher in the industrial countries at 4.2 million hectares (5%) than in developing countries at 2.1 million hectares equivalent to a 2% growth; this was principally due to higher growth in the US (soybean) and Canada (canola) in 2014. Thus, whereas year-to-year growth was significantly faster in industrial countries in 2014, developing countries maintained a larger share of global biotech crops at 53% compared with only 47% for industrial countries. 

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 2014, 19 countries planted 50,000 hectares or more to biotech crops (Table 2). These mega-countries include the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Sudan. 


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

To provide a global perspective of the status of biotech crops, the global adoption rates as a percentage of the respective global areas of the four principal crops – soybean, cotton, maize and canola, is presented below.

In 2014, 82% (90.7 million hectares) of the 111 million hectares of the soybean planted globally were biotech (Figure 3). Biotech cotton was planted to 25.1 million hectares, which is 68% of the 37 million hectares of global cotton. Of the 184 million hectares of global maize planted in 2014, 30% or 55.2 million hectares were biotech maize. Finally, herbicide tolerant biotech canola was planted in 9 million hectares or 25% of the 36 million hectares of canola grown globally in 2014. If the global areas (conventional and biotech) of these four crops are aggregated, the total area is 368 million hectares, of which 49% or 181.5 million hectares were biotech. These adoption figures should be viewed as indication of adoption, not as precise estimates of adoption globally for the four crops.

The Global Value of Biotech Crops

In 2014, the global market value of biotech crops was US$15.7 billion representing 22% of the US$72.3 billion global crop protection market in 2013, and 35% of the ~US$45 billion global commercial seed market. Of the US$15.7 billion biotech crop market, US$11.3 billion (72%) was in the industrial countries and US$4.4 billion (28%) 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$133,541 billion.

Future Prospects

The biotech pipeline is filled with new crops and traits which could be commercialized in the next 5 years or more. These include products with multiple modes of resistance to pests/diseases and tolerance to herbicides. Vitamin A-enriched rice (Philippines) and late blight resistant potatoes (Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India) field testings are progressing. The developer of InnateTM potato with late blight resistance and lowered reducing sugars has requested for approval in the US. In Africa, biofortified bananas and pest resistant cowpea look promising.

Biotech crops is not a panacea; but they have the potential to make a substantial contribution in cutting poverty by half, by optimizing crop productivity, which can be achieved by public-private sector partnerships.


James, C. 2014. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA Brief No. 49. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.

*January 2015

Next Pocket K: Genetic Engineering and GM Crops