by Hans Lombard

Record GMO crops in 2012

South Africa

In a 12-year period, 40 million MT of GMO maize were produced

South Africa chalked up a record biotech crop in 2012 of 2.9-million hectares (2.3-million in 2011), with GM in the lead – 5% over the previous year.

Speaking at a biotech press conference in Pretoria, president of AgriSA, Johannes Möller, said soybean production had shot up to 500 000 hectares (450 000ha 2011), an increase of 11%, of which 90%, or 450 000ha, was herbicide-tolerant biotech.

Biotech cotton declined to 11 000ha (15 000ha 2011), 100% biotech and 95% were stacked traits. Decline was mainly due to lower cotton prices, higher maize, soybean and other crop prices.

Approximately 16 million hectares accumulative of GMO maize, white and yellow, were planted in the 12-year period 2000 to 2012, producing a grain crop of over 40 million MT without a single report of negative effects on humans, animals or the environment. 

White maize of 1.641-million hectares comprised 80.5% biotech or 1.321-million hectares. Yellow maize on 1.189-million hectares comprised 93% biotech or 1.106-million hectares.

A number of biotech crops have been given approval for field testing, including drought-tolerant and insect-resistant/drought-tolerant maize and cotton, altered sugars in sugar cane, and altered starch in cassava. Such combinations will offer flexibility in managing weed and insect problems.

South Africa has shifted its GM maize exports from Africa to worldwide new markets and carry-over stocks were almost depleted.

In terms of the GMO Act, all GMO-related activities are subject to a permit application. There were 294 GMO permits granted from 31 January to October 2012. Maize accounted for 86%, soybeans 6.5%, cotton 2.8%, GM vaccines 4.4% and one permit each for sugar cane and cassava.

Mandatory labelling of GMO products that should have been implemented in 2011 is on hold. Strong criticism from stakeholders in the food chain, due to the ambiguity and complexity of the issue, has resulted in the department of trade and industry appointing a task team to address the conflicts and confusion of the labelling regulation. The issue is still being debated.

It is estimated that the economic gain from biotech crops for South Africa for the period 1998 to 2011 was US$922 million, and US$98 million for 2011 alone. (Brookes and Barfoot, 2013, forthcoming.)

Global adoption

Möller said that according to statistics from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, in 2012 a record 17.3-million farmers (15.4-million in 2011) in 28 countries planted 170.3-million hectares (148 million in 2011) of biotech crops – a sustained increase of 6% or 10.3-million hectares. This marked the 17th year of commercialisation of biotech crops and 16 consecutive years of continued increases.

While 28 countries planted biotech crops, an additional 31 countries, totalling 59, have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import, food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996.

The event that has received the greatest regulatory approval is the herbicide-tolerant maize NK603, namely in 22 countries, followed by the herbicide-tolerant soybean GTS-40-3-2, with 48 approvals in 24 countries, and in third place insect-resistant maize Mon 810, with 47 approvals in 22 countries.

Of the 28 countries, where more than half the world's population – 64%, or 4 billion people – live, 20 were developing (19) and eight industrial (10).

The five leading developing countries are China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa with 40% of world population growing 46% of global biotech crops on 170 million hectares. Sudan and Cuba were two new countries to commercialise a biotech crop in 2012.


Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa are the four countries on the continent growing biotech crops. In Sudan, 10 000 farmers for the first time planted 20 000ha of Bt cotton in 2012.

In Burkina Faso in 2012, Bt cotton output soared 57.5%. Production rose to 630 000 tonnes from 400 000 in 2011. Burkina Faso, which relies on cotton as one of its major exports, has been planting Monsanto's Bt cotton variety since 2008. (Burkina National Cotton Producers' Union, UNPCB.)

For the first time, developing countries grew more – 52% – of global biotech crops than industrial countries at 48%.

Food security

According to Brookes and Barfoot, 2013, from 1996 to 2011 biotech crops contributed to food security and sustainability by increasing crop production valued at US$98.2-billion, provided a better environment by saving 473 million kilogrammes of active ingredient pesticides. In 2011 alone, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 23.1-billion kilogrammes, equivalent to taking 10.2-million cars off the road.

In the same period, 328 million tonnes of additional food, feed and fibre were produced by biotech crops.

Had it not been for biotech crops, an additional 108.7-million hectares of conventional crops would have been required to produce the same tonnage.

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