Farmers in developing countries are switching to genetically modified (GM) crops at more than twice the rate of farmers in the industrialised world, according to a new survey.
Last year, the amount of land planted with GM crops in developing countries grew by 4.4 million hectares, or 28 per cent. In comparison, the rate of growth in industrialised countries was 11 per cent.
The figures come from a survey released this week by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an organisation that supports the transfer of biotechnology to developing countries.
The survey finds that seven million farmers in 18 countries — more than 85 per cent of who are resource-poor farmers in the developing world — now plant GM crops. Almost one-third of the world's GM crops are now grown in developing countries, compared to one-quarter in 2002.
"Farmers have made up their minds," says Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA. "They continue to rapidly adopt biotech crops because of significant agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages."
But Alex Wijeratna, a food campaigner for the development organisation ActionAid, argues that the uptake of GM crops in the developing world may have more to do with aggressive marketing by influential seed companies than with any benefits that the crops might offer.
"In Africa, the formal seed sector is dominated by three companies," he says. "We are increasingly worried about the concentration of the market."
According to the ISAAA survey, six countries together grow 99 per cent of the world's GM crops, up from four in 2002. Brazil and South Africa joined the United States, Argentina, Canada and China as the leading growers of GM crops. China and South Africa experienced the largest increases last year, each expanding the area planted with GM crops by a third.
The most commonly planted GM crop is soya, and 55 per cent of the world's soya crop, covering 41.4 million hectares, is now genetically modified, according to ISAAA. GM maize was planted on 15.5 million hectares worldwide in 2003, an increase of a quarter over the previous year; GM cotton was grown on 7.2 million hectares; and GM canola occupied 3.6 million hectares.
The ISAAA predicts that within the next five years, 10 million farmers in 25 or more countries will plant 100 million hectares of GM crops. According to the report, the global market value of GM crops is expected to increase from US$4.5 billion this year to US$5 billion or more by 2005.