Tech: Full of Crop

Farmers are planting more genetically modified plants worldwide every year

By Dave Zuckerman

Illustration by Jameson Simpson

Genetically modified crops like insect-resistant cotton and herbicide-tolerant soy are rapidly gaining acreage around the globe. According to a report from the nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), global biotech crop area grew by 12 percent between 2006 and 2007 to 282 million acres. Twenty-three countries now grow biotech foods and fibers—a market worth $6.9 billion in 2007 and projected to rise to $7.5 billion this year. Most of the expansion last year occurred in devel­oping countries—led by India and Brazil—where the growth rate was 21 percent. According to the ISAAA report, that trend is likely to continue. Right now, about 90 percent of biotech farms are small, low-income operations.

With food and resource scarcity a growing problem, the demand for higher-yield crops could intensify. The
report also predicts that more poor farmers will gain the tools and incentive to switch to engineered plants in the coming years. A number of factors will drive that growth, including better food-crop enhancements, greater international acceptance of engineering, and the potential for Southern Hemisphere pioneers like India, Brazil, and South Africa to help their neighbors transition.

Still, some countries aren’t embracing biotech ag. Last year, Poland became the eighth European nation to adopt the practice, but activists have succeeded in keeping engineered plants out of much of the EU. The
map above shows which countries grow modified crops.

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter