The People’s Republic of China was the first country to commercialize transgenic crops in the early 1990s, with the introduction of a virus resistant tobacco, followed by virus resistant tomato. In 1994, the USA followed when the Calgene Company got the first approval to commercialize a genetically modified tomato ‘Flavr Saver TM’, the delayed ripening tomato. From then onwards, the development and use of transgenic crops gained momentum.
Global Scenario of Transgenic Crops:
The global area under transgenic crops has increased more than 100-fold from 1.7 million ha in 1996 to over 175 million ha in 2013. This makes the transgenic crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history. In the 18 year period (1996-2013), millions of farmers in about 30 countries worldwide, planted an accumulated area of more than 1.6 billion ha. This is an area equivalent to more than 150 per cent the size of the total land mass of USA or China.
In 2013, transgenic crops were planted in 27 countries (19 developing and 8 developed countries) by 18 million farmers (Table 11.4). More than 90 per cent of these were risk-averse small, poor farmers in developing countries. In India, 7.3 million farmers benefitted from transgenic crops and in China there were 7.5 million beneficiary farmers.
The latest economic data (1996-2012) indicated that farmers in India gained US$ 14.6 billion and in China US$ 15.3 billion. During 1996- 2012, cumulative economic benefits in developing countries were US$ 57.9 billion compared to US$ 59 billion generated by developing countries.
The five lead developing countries in transgenic crops in the three continents of the South are China and India in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, and South Africa on the continent of Africa. These five countries collectively grew 47 per cent of the global transgenic crops and have about 41 per cent of the world population.
Herbicide tolerance deployed in soybean, maize, canola, cotton, sugarbeet and alfalfa, occupied 100.5 million ha or 59 per cent of the total transgenic crop area. In 2012, the stacked double and triple traits occupied $ larger area (43.7 million ha or 26% of global transgenic area), than insect resistant varieties (26.1 million ha, 15%).
The stacked trait products were the fastest growing trait group between 2010 and 2011 at 31 per cent growth, compared with 5 per cent for herbicide tolerance. The area under transgenics with insect tolerance trait decreased by 9.0 per cent from 2011 to 2012. A total of 43.7 million ha of stacked transgenic crops were planted in 2012 compared with 42.2 million ha in 2011.
Double stacked (pest resistance and herbicide tolerance) and triple stacked (two insect pests and herbicide tolerance) maize were the fastest growing components in 2010 in USA and Philippines, respectively. Transgenic maize, SmartStax™, has been released in USA and Canada in 2010, with eight different genes coding for several pest resistant and herbicide tolerant traits.
Bt Cotton in India:
Bt cotton was first commercialized in USA in 1996 and subsequently in other countries like Australia (1996), Argentina (1997), China (1997), Mexico (1998), South Africa (1998) and Colombia (2002). The Government of India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the commercial cultivation of Bt transgenic cotton in the country in 2002.
Two Bt cotton varieties, viz. MECH-162 and MECH-184 were recommended for the Central Zone and MECH-12 for the South Zone. Bt cotton was planted in an area of 50,000 ha in 2002, which went upto 1.3 million ha in 2005. In 2008, Bt Bikaneri Narma, the first public sector transgenic crop was released for commercial cultivation in India. This variety has been developed by the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur; the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi.
In 2012, 10.8 million ha area came under Bt cotton from which more than 7.2 million farmers were benefited. Bt cotton occupies 93 per cent of the total area under cotton (11.6 million ha) in India. A total of 1097 Bt cotton introductions (1095 hybrids with the discontinuation of a hybrid and one variety) were approved for planting in 2012.
The major states growing Bt cotton in 2012 were Maharashtra (3.99 million ha) representing 36 per cent of all Bt cotton, followed by Gujarat (2.01 million ha, 19%), Andhra Pradesh (1.93 million ha, 18%), Northern zone (1.39 million ha, 13.6%), Madhya Pradesh (0.65 million ha, 5.6%) and the balance in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and other states. In 2013, the area under Bt cotton increased to 11 million ha.
India enhanced farm income from Bt cotton by US$ 12.6 billion in the period 2002-11 and $ 3.2 billion in 2011 alone. Typically, yield gains in India are approximately 31 per cent, a significant 39 per cent reduction in the number of insecticide sprays, leading to an 88 per cent increase in profitability, equivalent to a substantial increase of about $250 per ha.
Thus, Bt cotton has revolutionized cotton production in India by increasing yield, decreasing insecticide applications and through welfare benefits contributed to the alleviation of poverty for over 7 million small resource poor farmers. With the boom in cotton production, India has become transformed from an importer to a major exporter of cotton.
India celebrated a decade of Bt cotton growing in 2011, which has been a boon to cotton, Indian agriculture and the country. Bt cotton is expected to achieve new heights in the future due to the availability of a wide variety of hybrids with stacked traits.
Economic and Ecological Impact of Transgenic Crops:
It has been estimated that transgenic crops have caused substantial economic benefits at the farm level amounting to a cumulative total of US$ 116.9 billion during 1996-2012. Of these gains, about 58 per cent were due to reduced production costs (less ploughing, fewer pesticide sprays and less labour) and 42 per cent due to substantial yield gains of 377 million tons.
The transgenic technology has also resulted in 497 million kg of less pesticide use (a saving of 8.7% in pesticides) by farmers during 1996-2012 and 18.5 per cent reduction in the environmental impact of pesticides. In 2012 alone, there was a reduction of 36 million kg of pesticides (a saving of 8% in pesticides), equivalent to 23.6 per cent reduction in the environmental impact of pesticides. In addition, transgenic crops contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 24.6 billion kg in 2012, equivalent to taking – 10.9 million cars off the road.
Future Outlook of Transgenic Crops:
The future of transgenic crops appears to be encouraging with the number of countries adopting these crops expected to grow, and their global area and the number of farmers planting transgenic crops expected to increase. The outlook for the second decade of commercialization points to an increase in area up to 200 million ha, with at least 20 million farmers growing transgenic crops in upto 40 countries or more.
These new countries are likely to include three more countries in Asia, upto 7 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (subject to regulatory approval), and possibly some additional countries in Latin/Central America and Western/Eastern Europe. Thus, the second decade of commercialization is likely to feature significantly more growth in Asia and Africa, compared with the first decade, which was the decade of the America.
By far, the most important of the new transgenic crops that are now nearing commercial approval and adoption is rice. The pro-vitamin A rich Golden Rice is expected to be available shortly in the Philippines and some other countries. Also, Bt rice could be available in China within a few years.
Several other medium hectarage crops such as potato, sugarcane and banana are expected to be approved in the near future. Some orphan crops such as Bt brinjal may become available in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Vegetable crops such as tomato, broccoli, cabbage and okra, which require heavy application of pesticides, are also under development.
Pro-poor crops such as cassava, sweet potato, pulses and groundnut are also under development. The transgenic crops have enormous potential for contributing to the humanitarian Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of ensuring a secure supply of affordable food, and reduction of poverty and hunger by 50 per cent by 2015.