As a block Latin American countries are powerhouse producers of GMO crops, with 10 countries growing over 197 million acres of maize, soybeans, cotton and canola in 2016. Brazil leads Latin American nations in cultivation and exports, followed by Argentina. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay too grow GMO varieties. Latin American countries also are biotechnology innovators, developing local GM crops, often as an outcome of public-private partnerships.
Since 1998 Brazil has approved 72 biotech traits, and ISAAA cites that economic benefits to farmers planting biotech crops between 2003 and 2015 are $16.4 billion. In 2016 Brazil grew over 121 million acres of GM soybeans, maize and cotton and is a leading exporter in all three crops. Both China and the European Union import biotech cotton and soybeans from Brazil, and GM maize is exported from Brazil to Iran and Asian countries.
Although not yet commercially available to farmers, Brazil has approved a biotech higher-yield eucalyptus for bioindustrial usage, as well as a GMO virus-resistant bean and an herbicide-tolerant soybean. Private sector companies, BASF and the Center of Technology in Sugarcane, working with the public institution EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, have been developing and testing an herbicide-tolerant soybean and drought-tolerant sugarcane, respectively. Oxitec, in partnership with the University of Sao Paolo, commercialized a genetically engineered mosquito that is modified to help fight devastating tropical diseases, such as Zika virus and Dengue, Yellow, and Chikungunya Fever.
Second after Brazil, Argentina has approved 47 biotech traits and produced nearly 59 million acres of GM maize, soybeans and cotton in 2016. Over the 20 years of planting, GM production has increased Argentina farm income by approximately over $21 billion. Argentina is the largest producer of soybean meal globally, with nearly 100 percent of their crop biotech soybeans, and exporting nearly 11 MMT. Argentina approved two local GM crops in 2015, a virus-resistant potato and a publicly-developed drought-tolerant soybean. Both the public and private sectors are working to develop future biotech varieties of wheat, rice, sugarcane, potatoes, papaya and citrus.
Eight other Latin American countries - Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Uruguay and Paraguay – also cultivate GMO food and horticulture crops, including maize, cotton, canola, soybeans, carnations and roses.
Between 2008 and 2016, GM soybean cultivation in Bolivia has doubled to nearly three million acres, elevating Bolivia as the ninth largest soybean producer in the world and increasing farmer economic benefits by $722 million. Bolivia’s crop is exported to other Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
Currently, Chile grows approximately 26,000 acres of GM maize, canola and soybeans only for seed for export. Chile ranks fifth worldwide in overall seed production and first in GM seed production, with most of its GM seeds exported to the United States and Canada. Despite the prohibition to grow GM crops for internal consumption, Chile imports GM grains for livestock feed and processed food products containing GMO ingredients.
There are several public research projects in Chile to develop genetically engineered varieties of local crops. The Catholic University of Santiago is developing drought-tolerant citrus and virus-resistant potatoes. The Chilean Research Institute is researching drought-tolerant eucalyptus. And, there are a number of projects related to grapes that could contribute to Chile’s wine industry, including grapes resistant to Botrytis, also known as Noble Rot, and powdery mildew disease.
Colombia produced nearly 272,000 acres of GM maize and cotton in 2016, and since GM plantings began in 2004, farm income has increased by $153 million. Colombia also grows genetically engineered Dutch blue carnations for export to Europe and GM blue petal roses for export to Japan, where one rose can retail for up to $50. There are numerous ongoing public and private research projects to develop genetically engineered varieties of cassava, coffee, rice, potatoes and sugarcane.
Similar to Chile, Costa Rica also grows biotech crops for seed production to export to Canada and the United States. In 2016, Costa Rica grew over 500 acres of biotech cotton, soybeans, and uniquely, a GMO pineapple with high antioxidants. In addition local scientists are developing and testing an herbicide-tolerant rice and GM bananas that are resistant to black Sigatoka, a plant disease that can lead to 50 percent or more yield loss.
Honduras increased its GMO maize cultivation in 2016 by 13 percent over 2015, cultivating more than 95,000 acres. Honduras grows GM maize for consumption, as well as for seed, exporting GM maize seed to Colombia. It is estimated that since 2002 farm income has been enhanced by biotech crops by $3 million. Honduras also imports GMO feed for their livestock and aquaculture industries.
In 2016 Mexican farmers cultivated nearly 250,000 acres of GM cotton and soybeans, and to date Mexico has authorized 158 events for import and consumption, including alfalfa, canola, potatoes and sugarbeets. From 1996 to 2015, Mexican farmers have gained $489 million in income by planting biotech crops. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CYMMYT) based in Mexico has been testing genetically engineered wheat, and new facilities partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will enable further research in GM maize and wheat.
Paraguay grew approximately 8.7 million acres of GM cotton, maize and soybeans in 2016. Paraguay is the third largest biotech producer in Latin America, exporting to Brazil, the EU, Israel and Russia. Over 95 percent of the soybean crop is biotech. Since original plantings in 2004, Paraguay farm income has increased by $1.2 billion.
Finally, Uruguay is the tenth largest producer of biotech crops globally, growing over three million acres of GM maize and soybeans, with 98 percent adoption of biotech soybeans. Over the 15 years Uruguay’s farmers have planted biotech crops, their income has increased by $216 million. Uruguay exports its soybeans to Egypt, the EU, China and other Asian countries.