Pocket K No. 16: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2013

In 2013, the global area of biotech crops continued to increase for the 18th year at a sustained growth rate of 3% or 5 million hectares (12 million acres), reaching 175.2 million hectares or 433 million acres (Figure 1). Biotech crops have set a precedent in that the biotech area has grown impressively every single year for the past 18 years, with almost a remarkable 100-fold increase since the commercialization began in 1996. Thus, biotech crops are considered as the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture.

In 2013, a total of 18 million farmers planted biotech crops in 27 countries, wherein over 90% or greater than 16.5 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries. The highest increase in any country, in absolute hectarage growth was Brazil with 3.7 million hectares.

In summary, during the period of 1996 to 2013, biotech crops have been successfully grown in accumulated hectarage of 1.6 billion hectares (4.0 billion acres).

Distribution of Biotech Crops in Industrial and Developing Countries

Figure 2 shows the relative area of biotech crops in industrial and developing countries from 1996-2013. In 2013, for the second time, more than half (52%) of the global biotech crop area of 175.2 million hectares, equivalent to 94.1 million hectares, was grown in 19 developing countries. As in the past, in 2013, percent growth in biotech crop area continued to be significantly stronger in the developing countries (6.3% and 5.6 million hectares) than industrial countries. Thus, year-on-year growth measured either in absolute hectares or by percent, was higher in developing countries than industrial countries between 2012 and 2013.

Distribution of Biotech Crops, by Country

Biotech crops were grown commercially in all six continents of the world. Of the 27 countries planting biotech crops in 2013, 19 countries planted 50,000 hectares or more to biotech crops (Table 2). These mega-countries include the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan, Uruguay, Bolivia, Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Sudan.


Global Adoption of Biotech Soybean, Maize, Cotton, and Canola

Another way to provide a global perspective of the status of biotech crops is to characterize the global adoption rates as a percentage of the respective global areas of the four principal crops – soybean, cotton, maize and canola, in which biotechnology is utilized.
In 2013, 79% (84.5 million hectares) of the 107 million hectares of the soybean planted globally were biotech (Figure 3). Biotech cotton was planted to 23.9 million hectares, which is 70% of the 34 million hectares of global cotton. Of the 177 million hectares of global maize planted in 2013, 32% or 57.4 million hectares were biotech maize. Finally, herbicide tolerant biotech canola was planted in 8.2 million hectares or 24% of the 34 million hectares of canola grown globally in 2013. If the global areas (conventional and biotech) of these four crops are aggregated, the total area is 352 million hectares, of which 50% or 175.2 million hectares were biotech. Thus, these adoption figures should be viewed as indication  of adoption, not as precise estimates of adoption globally for the four crops.

The Global Value of Biotech Crops

In 2013, the global market value of biotech crops was US$15.6 billion representing 22.1% of the US$1.5 billion global crop protection market in 2013, and 35% of the ~US$45 billion global commercial seed market. Of the US$15.6 billion biotech crop market, US$11.4 billion (72%) was in the industrial countries and US$4.2 billion (28%) was in the developing countries. The market value of the global biotech crop market is based on the sale price of biotech seeds plus any technology fees that apply. The accumulated global value of biotech crops since 1996 is estimated at US$117,851 billion.

Future Prospects

The future of biotech crops looks encouraging. Bangladesh (eggplant), Indonesia (sugarcane) , and Panama (maize) approved biotech crop planting in 2013 with plans for commercialization in 2014.

Biotech crops is not a panacea; but they have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty by half, by optimizing crop productivity, which can be achieved by public-private sector partnerships.


James, C. 2013. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013. ISAAA Brief No. 46. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY.

*July 2014

Next Pocket K: Genetic Engineering and GM Crops