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GMOs down globally

April 15, 2016

The hectarage of genetically modified crops around the world went down for the first time in two decades, a new report says. People in African countries in particular seem newly wary of genetically manipulated seeds.

Monsanto Demonstration ANTI Gen-Soya USA (Picture: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)
Image: Reuters

The year 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the first global commercialization of a genetically modified plant - and that year has brought changes in the field - quite literally.

The global area in hectares of crops using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has decreased for the first time in almost two decades, according to the annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), released April 13.

The organization, which is favorable to GMOs, described the decrease as "marginal." According to its finding, the decrease is associated with lower prices of some agricultural raw materials in 2015, and to an overall decrease in total crop cultivation.

Even though this small decrease does not necessarily reflect a deliberate rejection of its use, the ISAAA report has been released into the middle of a worldwide movement opposing GMOs - with Africa as a newly emerging actor.

A farmer harvests cotton, Ivory Coast (Picture: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
Cotton is major cash crop in many West African countriesImage: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

Burkina Faso's major cotton production association announced at the beginning of April that it will completely reject genetically modified cotton; and at the end of March, millions of Nigerians raised their voices against the introduction of genetically modified cotton and maize into the country.

13 percent of all arable land

Genetically modified crops have spread very quickly over the past 20 years. The ISAAA highlighted that GM crops have increased 100-fold in that time period, including more recently in countries such as Vietnam.

According to the ISAAA, for the fourth consecutive year, developing countries are cultivating an increasing amount of biotech crops compared to industrialized countries. Indeed, there are currently more developing countries using GMOs than industrialized countries.

But despite this past growth, a decrease has been observed in 2015. The global hectarage of genetically modified crops has dipped, from 181.5 million hectares in 2014 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015.

Infographic: The five countries growing the most genetically modified crops

Overall crop reductions

In the United States, GM crops have lost 2.2 million hectares of coverage - and in Canada, the fifth-largest worldwide GMO producer, surfaces have been reduced by almost a million hectares.

The report says this is due to general reductions in crops, such as rapeseed crops in Canada.

South Africa has experienced the greatest reduction - 23 percent less for its GM maize crop hectarage. There, this is mainly due severe strong drought affecting the country and the total production.

Africa keeps resisting

A positive portrayal for the GMO trend as presented in the ISAAA report contrasts with voices rising against it around the globe - especially from Africa, a next target market for GMOs.

In Africa, only Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa cultivate GM crops on a commercial scale.

Infographic: countries growing genetically modified crops around the world

Sofitex, Burkina Faso's major cotton production association, on April 5 decided to switch its production to 100 percent conventional methods, and has announced a rejection of GM cotton.

While the two GMO producers Monsanto and Sygenta had promised that genetically modified cotton would boost the country's production from 50 to 90 percent, locals say that the quality of the cotton has decreased, resulting in losses of almost 70 million euros ($79 million) between 2011 and 2016.

Representatives from consumer and farmer organizations in Burkina Faso hope that their example will convince other African countries to impede the implementation of GMOs in their countries.

Nigeria is one country being targeted for expansion by Monsanto - but this is not a done deal. More than 100 groups representing at least 5 million Nigerians recently submitted a written petition to the country's authorities in hopes of impeding Monsanto's entrance.

According to the Nigerian foundation Health of Mother Earth, one of the groups opposing GMOs, Burkina Faso's experience was key in convincing them.

ibr / sd (AFPF)

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