The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released its 2018 Brief, with the news that Nigeria is the first country in the world to approve Bt cowpea.
This was disclosed by the ISAAA AfriCenter Director, Dr Margaret Karembu during the Nigeria Science Café, organised to culminate with the launching of the 2018 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in Abuja on Thursday.
Presenting the report, Dr Karembu commended Nigeria’s progress in biotech crop development and adoption, emphasising that the country is a leader in agricultural technology approvals enabled by an efficient biosafety system.
According to the report, “Africa continues to make steady progress in the adoption of biotech crops with Nigeria becoming the first country in the world to approve biotech cowpea, thus, adding a new biotech crop to the global biotech basket.”
It added that a total of 70 countries adopted biotech crops through cultivation and importation in 2018, the 23rd year of continuous biotech crop adoption, while twenty-six countries (21 developing and 5 industrialized countries), planted 191.7 million hectares of biotech crops, adding 1.9 million hectares to the record of plantings in 2017.
“The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) joined South Africa and Sudan in planting biotech crops in Africa, with commercial planting of insect resistant (IR) Bt cotton on an initial launch of 250 hectares.
“This brought the number of African countries currently growing biotech crops to three. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi granted approvals for planting biotech cotton as proof that Africa is ready for biotech crop adoption.”
The report further indicates that South Africa alone planted 2.73 million hectares of biotech crops in 2018 sustaining its ranking among the top 10 biotech crop countries in the last two decades.
Most farmers in the country have adopted plant biotechnology with 87% adoption of biotech maize, 95% biotech soybean and 100% of biotech cotton. Sudan planted 243,000 hectares of Bt cotton, and a total of 3.14 million hectares of biotech crops in Africa.
Speaking during the release, Karembu said: “The world is in a technological advancement trajectory. The green revolution that had taken the world by storm in the second half of the 20th Century is quickly transitioning into gene revolution.
“We are now progressing into genome editing, a more precise and accurate technology to effectively develop more productive, highly nutritious and climate-resilient crops for our rapidly-increasing population.”
She added that the continuous adoption of biotech crops by farmers worldwide indicated that biotech crops continue to help meet global challenges of hunger, malnutrition, and climate change.
In 2018, it was reported in the United Nation’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World that hunger is growing year after year for three consecutive years, and at the levels equivalent to the records a decade ago.
Furthermore, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that hunger and malnutrition continue to rise, with around 108 million individuals in 48 countries at risk or in severe food insecurity.
Biotech crops, developed with improved traits such as increased yield, more resistance to pests, improved nutrition, among others, are undeniably necessary to address these global challenges affecting the lives of so many families globally.
“GM technology has contributed to all facets of food security. By increasing yields and reducing losses, it contributed to food availability for more families. By enabling farmers to improve their processes and join the modern supply chain, it improved physical access to food.
Through raising farmer and rural incomes, it improved economic access to food.
Through rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene programs, it contributed to better food utilization,” said Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Board Chair, “While agricultural biotechnology is not the only key in enhancing global food security, it is an important scientific tool in the multi-disciplinary toolkit.”
Biotech crop plantings have increased ~113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, showing that biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the world.
In countries with long years of high adoption, particularly the USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India, adoption rates of major crops are at levels close to 100%, indicating that farmers favor this crop technology over the conventional varieties.
More farmers’ and consumers’ needs, more diverse biotech crops with various traits became available in the market in 2018.
These biotech crops include; potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; non-browning apples; and high oleic acid canola and safflower.
The ISAAA report also highlighted the following key findings:
The top 5 countries with the largest area of biotech crops planted (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) collectively occupied 91% of the global biotech crop area.
Biotech soybean reached the highest adoption worldwide, covering 50% of the global biotech crop area.
The area of biotech crops with stacked traits continued to increase and occupied 42% of the global biotech area.
Farmers in 10 Latin American countries planted 79.4 million hectares of biotech crops.Nine countries in Asia and the Pacific planted 19.13 million hectares of biotech crops.
In Asia, Indonesia planted for the first time a drought tolerant sugarcane developed through a public (University of Jember) and private (Ajinomoto Ltd.) partnership.
The Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) joined South Africa and Sudan in planting biotech crops in Africa, with the introduction of IR cotton. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi granted approvals for planting IR cotton opening Africa to biotech crop adoption.
In Europe, Spain and Portugal continued to adopt biotech maize to control European corn borer.
More area planted to biotech crops for farmer and consumer needs included potatoes with non-bruising, non-browning, reduced acrylamide and late blight resistant traits; non-browning apples; insect resistant eggplant; and low lignin alfalfa, among others.
New crops and trait combinations in farmer fields included insect resistant and drought tolerant sugarcane; high oleic acid canola and safflower.
Various food, feed and processing approvals for Golden Rice, Bt rice, herbicide tolerant cotton, low gossypol cotton, among others.
Cultivation approvals for planting in 2019 include new generation herbicide tolerant cotton and soybean, low gossypol cotton, RR and low lignin alfalfa, omega-3 canola, and IR cowpea, among others.
With the continuously increasing adoption of biotech crops worldwide, farmers are at the forefront of reaping numerous benefits.
“We were fed up with weeding and spraying pesticides to control bollworms and weeds. When the technology was introduced, we rapidly picked it up,” said Frans Mallela, a farmer from Limpopo Province, South Africa.