Taking Root: Global Trends in Agricultural Biotechnology

Belfer Center, Kennedy School, Harvard Univ. / by Calestous Juma and Katherine Gordon

This paper argues that although many transgenic crops are still in their early states of adoption and even more are being tested and developed, emerging trends show significant societal benefits through positive economic impact (especially by raising farm incomes), fostering food security, and promoting environment sustainability. Agricultural biotechnology has the potential to increase production on existing arable land; reduce losses related to pests, disease, and drought; increase access to food through higher farm incomes; raise nutrition levels; and promote sustainable agriculture. The pipeline includes crops with potential benefits such as enhanced photosynthesis, stress tolerance, aluminum tolerance, salinity tolerance, pest and disease resistance, nitrogen use efficiency, phosphate use efficiency, and nitrogen fixation.

Transgenic crops have recorded the fastest adoption rate of any crop technology in the last century. This is mainly because of the benefits that they confer to farmers, most of whom reside in developing countries. Between 1996 and 2013, transgenic crops added US$116.9 billion to global agriculture, more than half of which accrued to farmers in developing countries. If the crops had not been introduced, the world would have needed another 123 million hectares of land to meet the same levels of production. These benefits are inconsistent with earlier concerns that transgenic crops would not benefit small-scale farmers…


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