How Biotechnology is Helping Farmers and the Environment

Farmer Gene

Did you know…Farmers who use biotech crops help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices? In 2007, this was equivalent to removing 14.2 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year. 

In the light of ongoing world food security, agricultural sustainability and climate change debates, PG Economics has released three summary documents of the yield, income and environmental effects of biotech crops.  

The three summaries document the real contribution of biotech crops to; improving global crop yields, increasing production (and estimated contributions to food security), improving farm income and reducing the environment ‘footprint’ of agriculture.

Key impacts are:

  • Biotech crops have contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. In 2007, this was equivalent to removing 14.2 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year;
     
  • A reduction in pesticide spraying (1996-2007) of 359 million kg (equivalent to 125% of the annual volume of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the European Union);
     
  • There have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $10.1 billion in 2007 and $44.1 billion for the twelve year period.   The farm income gains in 2007 is equivalent to adding 4.4% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton;
     
  • Of the total farm income benefit, 46.5% ($20.5 billion) has been due to yield gains, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production;  
     
  • Farmers in developing countries obtained the largest share of the farm income gains in 2007 (58%) and over the twelve year period obtained 50% of the total ($44.1 billion) gains.  Developing country farmers have also seen the largest increases in farm income on a per hectare basis from using the technology;
     
  • Since 1996, biotech traits have added 67.8 million tonnes and 62.4 million tonnes respectively to global production of soybeans and corn.  The technology has also contributed an extra 6.85 million tonnes of cotton lint and 4.44 million tonnes of canola;  
     
  • The average yield gains across the global area planted to biotech insect resistant corn and cotton (1996-2007) were over 6% and 13% respectively.  The highest yield gains have been experienced by developing country farmers;
     
  • The additional production arising from biotech crops (1996-2007) has contributed enough energy (in kcal terms) to feed about 402 million people for a year (additional production in 2007 contributed enough energy to feed 88 million, similar to the annual requirement of the population of the Philippines);
     
  • If GM technology had not been available to the (12 million) farmers using the technology in 2007,  maintaining global production levels at the 2007 levels would have required additional plantings of 5.9 million ha of soybeans, 3 million ha of corn, 2.5 million ha of cotton and 0.3 million ha of canola.  This total area requirement is equivalent to about 6% of the arable land in the US, or 23% of the arable land in Brazil.

 All three papers:

  • Focus On Yield:  Biotech Crops; Evidence, Outcomes and Impacts
  • Focus On Environmental Impacts:  Biotech Crops; Evidence, Outcomes and Impacts
  • Focus On Income, Well-Being And Food Security:  Biotech Crops; Evidence, Outcomes and Impacts
    …are available for reading and/or downloading on the PG Economics website at www.pgeconomics.co.uk.

PG Economics Limited is a specialist provider of advisory and consultancy services to agriculture and other natural resource-based industries. Specific areas of specialization are plant biotechnology, agricultural production systems, agricultural markets and policy.  The Company’s two directors are Peter Barfoot and Graham Brookes who formed PG Economics in 1999. Both have worked at senior positions in agricultural consultancy and technology businesses.

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