Status of Genetically Modified Crops: What is Being Grown, and Where

Media briefing on GM Crops for African Farmers, May 19, 2009

  • In 2008, genetically modified (GM) crops were grown on a total of 125 million hectares of land in 25 different countries. Of these 25, 15 are developing nations.
  • The top eight GM-crop producing countries are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, and South Africa.
  • The primary GM crop produced worldwide is soybean, which accounted for 53 percent of global biotech area in 2008, followed by maize (30 percent), cotton (12 percent), and canola (5 percent).
  • Since 1996, when the first GM crops were commercially produced, herbicide tolerance has consistently been the dominant trait.
  • Three countries in Africa are commercially growing genetically modified crops. In 2008, Burkina Faso and Egypt started producing biotech cotton and maize, respectively. South Africa has been commercially producing GM crops (primarily maize, cotton, and soybean) for several years.
  • Six countries in Africa have grown or are growing GM crops in confined field trials, namely, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, which is producing biotech banana and cotton.
  • In 2007, black sigatoka-resistant banana became the first GM crop planted in Uganda in a confined field trial by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). Starch bananas are Uganda’s main staple crop.
  • Cotton is Uganda’s third largest export crop, despite low productivity rates. Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant GM cotton varieties could improve productivity. India, which grows GM cotton for commercial purposes, is the leading cotton producer in the world.
  • In 2008, 5 million smallholder Indian farmers benefited from planting 7.6 million hectares of Bt (insect resistant) cotton. Conservative estimates indicate that, on average, yields increased by more than 30 percent, insecticide application decreased by nearly 40 percent, and profitability increased by 88 percent.
  • In 2008, 13.3 million farmers worldwide grew GM crops. Of these, 12.3 million, or 90 percent, were smallholder, resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

Source: C. James. 2008. Brief 39, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008, ISAAA.

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