Plant Biotech 101

Farmers have been using traditional breeding methods for millennia to obtain higher yielding crops and foods with improved nutrition.

How are biotech crops created?

Farmers have been using traditional breeding methods for millennia to obtain higher yielding crops and foods with improved nutrition. They did this through a variety of methods, such as crossbreeding and selective breeding, to ensure the most desirable traits (characteristics) of plants were carried into the next generation. Plant biotechnology is a continuation of this time-tested plant breeding process.

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Available plant biotech traits

Traits in plant biotechnology refer to specific, desirable characteristics in a plant, some of which can be found in insect resistant or herbicide tolerant crops, crops with improved nutrition, and crops that are better able to withstand environmental stressors such as drought or floods. Researchers now have the precise tools to copy a gene with a desired trait in one organism and put it into another through genetic engineering.

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Biotech crops in South Africa

The plant biotechnology industry in South Africa compares well with international trends. Although climatic conditions have been challenging since 2014, South Africa is still ranked as the World’s 8th largest producer of biotech crops based on the 2018 figures, with an 87% adoption of biotech maize, 95% adoption of biotech soybean and 100% adoption of biotech cotton.

In order to provide our farmers with the best possible plant protection tools to grow these healthy crops, CropLife promotes the principles of integrated pest management which involves using the best combination of cultural, biological and chemical measures for particular circumstances, including plant biotechnology.

Know your pests

Pests such as Fall armyworm, Cotton bollworm and Maize stem borers can have devastating results on their preferred host plants, which is why it is imperative that farmers can identify these pests early to ensure effective management with the right set of tools.

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Fall Armyworm Maize Stem Borer Cotton bollworm

Benefits of biotech

While genetic modification technology has been around for almost 30 years, biotech crops on the market have been dominated by input traits that assist farmers improve their production efficiencies by minimising crop losses due to pests and diseases. These improved production efficiencies have not only brought benefits to agriculture, but significant increases in yield have also ensured that consumers have continuous access to an affordable and safe food supply. This has also translated into food being produced more sustainably, using less land and inputs with reduced environmental impact.

Biotech crops that directly address consumer needs include crops with enhanced nutritional qualities, as well as those that limit food spoilage and waste, such as canola and soybean with higher levels of healthy fats, “golden rice” varieties with extra beta carotene to prevent vitamin A deficiency and arctic apples that do not turn brown after slicing.

Watch our video series below to learn more about the benefits of plant biotechnology...

Series 1 Episode 1

• How plant biotechnology can help with access to safe and affordable food •

Series 1 Episode 2

• How plant biotechnology can help to protect the environment •

Series 1 Episode 3

• Plant Biotechnology and Food Security •

Series 1 Episode 4

• Plant Biotechnology, Food Safety and Nutrition •



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