GM Crops Generating Global Benefits: Small Farmers Major Beneficiaries- 12/13/2002

Cornell, NY - A new study by Dr. Clive James, Chairman of ISAAA, confirms that in 2001, global area of transgenic or GM crops was 52.6 million hectares (m has.) or 130 million acres, representing an increase of 8.4 million hectares, or 20 million acres over 2000. The principal GM crops were soybean (33 million hectares), corn (10m has.), cotton (7m has.) and canola (3m has.). These GM crops were grown in 13 countries by about 5 million farmers, over 75% of whom were small resource-poor farmers growing
Bt cotton in developing countries. The study presents a global overview of the cotton crop, an assessment of the performance of Bt cotton to-date, and its future global potential. The focus on developing countries is consistent with ISAAA's mission to assist developing countries in assessing the potential of new technologies.

Overview of The Global Cotton Crop

-- Of the global 33.5 million hectares (83 million acres) of cotton worth $20 billion, approximately 70% are grown in developing countries. Asia has up to 60% of world cotton, Africa up to 15% with <5% in Latin America. There are approximately 20 million cotton farmers globally, 97% of whom farm in developing countries -- most are small resource-poor farmers growing 2 hectares or less of cotton.

-- Insect pests are a major problem in cotton and yield losses and insecticides cost cotton farmers $5 billion annually -- 20% of global insecticides are used on cotton. Cotton farmers used $1.7 billion worth of insecticides in 2001. A novel and very effective method of controlling the major insect pests of cotton is through genetically modified cotton with "Bt genes" from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). 

-- Since 1996, 13 million has. of Bt cotton have been successfully deployed in nine countries, 7 developing and 2 industrial; these include USA, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia (pre-commercial) in the Americas, China, India, Indonesia and Australia in Asia, and South Africa on the African continent.

"Countries that have introduced Bt cotton have derived significant and multiple benefits -- these include increased yield, decreased production costs, a reduction of at least 50% in insecticide applications, resulting in substantial environmental benefits to small producers, and significant economic and social benefits," said Dr. James.

Significant Economic, Environmental And Social Benefits Associated With Bt Cotton

Productivity Benefits. Yield increases for Bt cotton range from 5 to 10% in China, 10% or more in the US and Mexico, 25% in South Africa. In the US in 2001, Bt cotton increased lint production on 2 million has. by over 84,000 metric tons (MT) valued at $115 million. In China, seed cotton production on 1.5 million has. of Bt cotton increased by 514,000 MT.

Environmental Benefits. The major benefit has been a decrease of 50% in the number of insecticide sprays/season, which in turn reduced insecticide residues that could potentially runoff into watersheds and aquifers: a decrease of 14 sprays in China (from 28 to 14 sprays), 7 in S. Africa, and 2 in the USA. Global insecticide savings attributed to Bt cotton in 2001were 10,500 MT of insecticide (active ingredient, a.i.), equivalent to 13% of the 81,200 MT (a.i) of all cotton insecticides used globally in 2001. From a health perspective, cotton farmers in China and South Africa applying insecticides by hand with knapsacks, have significantly less potential exposure to insecticides when using Bt cotton.

Economic benefits. The economic advantage of Bt cotton versus conventional cotton results from Bt cotton's superior control of insect pests which results in higher yields, cost savings of 50% on insecticide and labor, which are partially offset by the higher price of Bt cotton seed. In the US in 2001 economic gain for Bt cotton was $50/ha and > $100 million nationally. In China, economic gain from Bt cotton was $500/ha with a national benefit of $750 million. In China in 2001 over 4 million resource-poor cotton farmers as well as several thousand in the Makhathini Flats in South Africa derived significant economic benefits from Bt cotton, supporting the 2001 UNDP Human Development Report thesis that biotechnology can contribute to the alleviation of poverty.

Social benefits. Bt cotton significantly increases income and saves time, which is particularly valuable for small resource-poor Bt cotton farmers in developing countries. In China, the increased income allows poor farm families to spend more on food and increase nutritional standards. In South Africa, where 50% of the cotton farmers are women, Bt cotton gives them more time to care for children, the sick, and/or generate additional income from other activities.

"It is important that a human face is put on the benefits of Bt cotton," said Dr. James. "For the average cotton holding of 1.7 hectares in the Makhathini Flats in South Africa, in a typical season, a woman farmer is relieved of 12 days of arduous spraying, saves over 1,000 liters of water (over 250 US gallons), walks 100 km less, has less potential exposure to insecticides, and increases her income by approximately $85 per season, through using Bt cotton, rather than conventional cotton."

Global Potential Of Bt Cotton

-- Bt cotton occupies 4 million hectares today but has the potential to deliver significant benefits on at least half of the world's 33.5 million has. of cotton with medium to high insect pest levels. With optimal deployment of Bt cotton the projected annual insecticide saving is estimated at 33,000 MT (a.i), equivalent to 37% of the 81,200 MT (a.i) of cotton insecticides used globally in 2001.

-- To-date, nine countries have adopted Bt cotton and are benefiting, but what about the fifty key countries that grow cotton throughout the world. The challenge is to provide the same opportunity for the potential beneficiary countries, with small to modest areas of cotton, in the developing world. There are 30 such developing countries, 21 in Africa, five in Asia and four in Latin America that grow small to modest areas of cotton. Experience to-date in several developing countries has clearly demonstrated that Bt cotton can deliver significant economic, environmental, and social benefits to millions of resource-poor farmers that are assigned high priority by the donor community.

-- It is important that these smaller cotton-growing countries with resource-poor cotton farmers are offered the option of commercial access to Bt cotton so that they are not disadvantaged by being denied the significant benefits that accrue to adopters of the technology. The case for providing more developing countries the option of sharing in the substantial environmental, economic and social benefits delivered by Bt
cotton to millions of resource-poor cotton farmers in developing countries on millions of hectares over the last six years, represents a challenge for both the donor community and the developing countries which are the potential beneficiaries.

ISAAA -- The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications

-- A not-for-profit public charity working to alleviate poverty in developing countries, by facilitating the transfer and sharing of crop biotechnology applications to increase crop productivity and income generation, particularly for resource-poor farmers, and to bring about a safer environment and more sustainable agricultural development. An International Network with a global hub in the Philippines and centers in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Cornell University Ithaca, New York.

-- The study by Dr. Clive James is entitled "Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2001. Feature Bt cotton", ISAAA Briefs 26. The publication and further information can be obtained from ISAAA's Center in SouthEast Asia: e-mail . Cost of the publication is $US 25 including postage. The publication is available free of charge for nationals of developing countries. /CONTACT: media inquiries, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, +1-345-947-1839, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, EST, USA, until 17 Dec, or /