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Farmers in the developing world are increasingly turning to genetically modified (GM) crops, with planting up 21 per cent in 2006 according to a new report.

Researchers at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) say over 90 per cent of those growing GM crops worldwide — around 9.3 million farmers — are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

The authors say the rise in GM crop planting indicates a growing acceptance of them, but anti-GM organisations disagree.

The report launched last week (18 January) says the total area of approved GM crops in 2006 was 102 million hectares in 22 countries — a 13 per cent rise on the previous year.

About 40 per cent of GM crops were grown in developing countries, which showed the biggest rise in growing area — 21 per cent compared to nine per cent in industrialised countries.

India had the largest proportional increase: 192 per cent, an increase from 1.3 million hectares in 2005 to 3.8 million hectares in 2006. South Africa was second with an increase of 180 per cent from 0.5 million hectares in 2005 to 1.4 million hectares in 2006.

The United States, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China were the six main adopters of GM crops.

According to its website, the ISAAA sees the high adoption rate of GM as "testimony to the trust and confidence of millions of small and large farmers in crop biotechnology in both industrial and developing countries".

However, both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth published reports disagreeing with ISAAA's positive verdict.

Greenpeace says ISAAA's claims about GM's acceptance are "not consistent with the massive and continuing opposition from consumers, farmers, local and regional authorities, national governments and even major food companies".

Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Africa told SciDev.Net, "No GM crop on the market today offers benefits to the consumer in terms of quality or price, and to date these crops have done nothing to alleviate hunger or poverty in Africa or elsewhere".

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