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Science Speaks - Blog by ISAAA

Top 5 Biotech Crops Occupy 99% of Global Biotech Crop Area in 2019

By Clement Dionglay
March 17, 2021

In 2019, a total of 72 countries adopted biotech crops — 29 countries planted and 43 additional countries imported for food, feed, or processing. Three African countries, Malawi, Nigeria, and Ethiopia planted biotech cotton for the first time in 2019.

The five major biotech crops planted at more than 1 million hectares are soybeans (91.9 million hectares), followed by maize (60.9 million hectares), cotton (25.7 million hectares), canola (10.1 million hectares), and alfalfa (1.28 million hectares) occupying 99% of the global biotech crop area of 190.4 million hectares.

The area planted to biotech soybeans is 48% of the total global area planted to biotech crops and 74% of the global soybean area. In 2019, eight countries led by Brazil planted biotech soybeans, including the USA, Argentina, Paraguay, Canada, Bolivia, Uruguay, and South Africa.


Fourteen countries planted biotech maize in 2019 when 31% of maize global area is biotech. Biotech maize has the largest number of approved events with 146 in 35 countries. The HT maize event NK603 had the most number of approvals, 61 from 28 countries. The 14 countries that planted biotech maize in 2019 includes the USA, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Canada, Philippines, Paraguay, Uruguay, Spain, Vietnam, Colombia, Honduras, Chile, and Portugal.


Biotech cotton area of 25.7 million hectares was 79% of the total global area planted to cotton in 2019. Fifteen countries led by India planted biotech cotton, including the USA, China, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Paraguay, Colombia, Malawi, Eswatini, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Costa Rica.


Canada, USA, Australia, and Chile planted biotech canola with a total area of 10.1 million hectares, which is 29% of the world's total area planted to canola. Chile's biotech canola is dedicated only to seed export.


Biotech alfalfa was planted on 1.28 million hectares in 2019. HarvXtra™ alfalfa first planted in 2016 has high demand from farmers because it contains less lignin, has higher digestibility, and offers a 15 to 20% increase in yield. Biotech alfalfa was first planted in Argentina in 2019, joining the USA and Canada.


In the 24th year of commercialization of biotech crops, the increase in adoption of the top five biotech crops reveals the satisfaction of more than 17 million farmers—95% of which are smallholder farmers—and consumer acceptance due to agricultural, socio-economic, and environmental benefits as well as food safety and nutritional improvement brought by biotech crops. 

For more details about the top 5 biotech crops, download the Biotech Crop Annual Updates for soybeans, maize, cotton, canola, and alfalfa on the ISAAA website.

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