Tag Archives: biotechnology


By: CropLife International

A staple food is one that is eaten regularly and in such amounts that it is a main part of a population’s diet, supplying a significant amount of energy and nutrition. These crops are in such high demand that they need to be high-yielding and resistant to pests, diseases and environmental stresses.

There are more than 50,000 edible plant species on the planet, but only a few hundred contribute meaningfully to our diet. In fact, just 15 crops provide 90 percent of global energy intake and “the big four” – maize, rice, wheat and potatoes – are staples for about 5 billion people. Such reliable, widespread crops are the basis of food systems and human subsistence. Plant science technologies, such as crop protection products and biotech seeds, have helped keep these staples stable, even in the face of climate change.

The most productive staple crop in the world is maize, which yielded 1.1 billion tons in 2019 alone, followed by wheat, rice and potatoes at 765, 755 and 370 million tons, respectively.  But what about staple crops beyond these heavy hitters? Here is a look at the unsung heroes of agriculture. In different parts of the world, they help feed rural communities and entire countries, with more nutrients than the big four.

Soybeans have been grown as a crop for thousands of years. As legume plants, they fixate nitrogen, absorbing this essential nutrient from soil bacteria, which is a talent most crops lack. This means fertilizer is usually not needed when growing soybeans. Moreover, plant science technologies have led to higher and higher soybean yields. No wonder they are one of the world’s fastest expanding crops!

While low-carb soybeans are highly prized for their oil, they are considered a staple food because of their protein. They are among the best sources of plant-based protein in the world, plus contain vitamins and minerals. They are processed into milk, tofu, tempeh and other high-protein products. Japan and China are major consumers of these foods.

Global soybean production is concentrated in Brazil and the United States on sizeable farms, but the crop is also grown in many other countries by smallholder farmers.

In both developed and developing countries, the adoption of biotech soybean varieties has more than doubled yields since the 1960s. That’s why these varieties account for up to 81 percent of global production. Herbicide-resistant biotech soybeans also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent as they allow for no-till farming, which keeps carbon in the soil.

Cassava is a staple for more than 600 million people across Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber and potassium. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations identified it as a vital crop in the fight against hunger and formed a partnership to bolster its genetic improvement.

Cassava is grown by many farmers in developing countries due to its ability to thrive in poor soils as it requires less water and fertilizer than alternatives and can be harvested anytime from eight to 24 months after planting, meaning it can be left in the ground as a living food store. The only caveat is that long periods in the soil makes cassava more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Cassava farmers have typically struggled with these challenges as the crop is notoriously resistant to traditional plant breeding techniques due to unreliable flowering patterns.

However, gene-edited cassava flowers more reliably, giving researchers great hope for the future of this crop. Biotech varieties could help control pests and diseases as well as enhance yields and nutrition. This crop has untapped potential; experts estimate that introducing such varieties could increase cassava production in Africa by 150 percent.

Sweet potatoes are vital in the diets of people in parts of Africa and Asia, where they are a major source of subsistence. They are a rich source of vitamin A and good source of fiber.

Drought-tolerant sweet potatoes grow incredibly well on marginal land and do not require a large degree of care. Farmers are sweet on these qualities so these potatoes have expanded faster than all other staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa in the last 20 years. They have also attracted the attention of researchers who would like to use sweet potatoes to improve the health of children.

In rural sub-Saharan Africa, around 48 percent of children have vitamin A deficiency. This can degrade immune systems, increasing the risk of diarrhea and even causing blindness. In 2009, this dire situation led to the formation of the Sweet Potato for Profit and Health Initiative, which developed varieties with greater virus resistance, drought tolerance and lower sugar levels. It led to commercial production of orange-fleshed sweet potato biofortified with beta carotene. This variety significantly raises vitamin A levels in children, further cementing the sweet potato’s status as a vital staple.

Known as an “orphan crop” due to not being widely traded, yams are a staple food for more than 100 million people in the tropics, particularly western and central Africa. They are “yam-packed” with vitamin C, potassium and fiber. 

Contrary to popular belief, yams are distinct from sweet potatoes; they are less sweet, more starchy, larger and cylindrical with bark-like skin that’s difficult to peel and flesh that’s purple or pink when mature. Yams can grow up to 1.5 meters and 60 kilograms! 

Indigenous to Africa and Asia, yams are now also commonly grown in the Caribbean and Latin America. There are more than 600 varieties! 

Farmers favor them as they can be stored for four to six months without refrigeration, giving people a vital safety net between growing seasons.  

The yam’s orphan status has led to a recent research push into biotech improvements. The genetics of yams are the least understood among major staple food crops, partly due to biological restraints. The domestication of wild yam species is ongoing in Africa, further widening the genetic base. As such, this crop has more potential for biotech innovation than any other major staple and efforts to improve the yam’s disease resistance and yield are underway.  

High in protein and potassium, sorghum has been a staple crop in semi-arid areas of Asia and Africa for hundreds of years and millions of people rely upon it. This crop is well-liked by subsistence farmers due to its ability to thrive in harsh environments where other crops grow poorly or fail. It is the only viable grain and plant protein for many of the world’s most food-insecure people.  

Most varieties are heat- and drought-tolerant, while higher-yielding dwarf varieties have seen increasing commercial production in countries like the United States.

Combining these varieties with modern crop protection and smart water management can see yields increase by as much as eight times.  

Sorghum’s natural qualities make it ideally suited for drought-susceptible regions, with climate change expected to further enhance its status as one of the most important cereal crops on the planet. This led to it being selected for biofortification, as natural varieties contain a compound that reduces the body’s ability to use iron and zinc, which can cause anemia. These new varieties tackled this challenge while also gaining beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. This is a great example of plant science improving nutrition for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.  

With populations and food systems across the world facing the impacts of climate change, combined with the ever-increasing need for farmers to produce more with less, safeguarding staple crops is more important than ever. While “the big four” of maize, rice, wheat and potatoes are caloric powerhouses, other staple crops offer more nutritionally like soybeans, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and sorghum.

With populations and food systems across the world facing the impacts of climate change, combined with the ever-increasing need for farmers to produce more with less, safeguarding staple crops is more important than ever. While “the big four” of maize, rice, wheat and potatoes are caloric powerhouses, other staple crops offer more nutritionally like soybeans, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and sorghum.


Highlights need for agricultural innovation in addressing Asia’s growing food security crisis / Helping reach region’s hungry, undernourished

Singapore, 13 July 2021 – With the release of the United Nations (UN) 2021 State of Food Security & Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, CropLife Asia highlighted the need for the region’s food value chain stakeholders to work together in transforming our food systems to better enable food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

The challenge of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of ‘zero hunger’ globally by 2030 has grown even more complicated with the broad impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this latest UN report, it is estimated that the number of people affected by hunger worldwide in 2020 was between 720 and 811 million people. This is a marked increase of over 100 million more people than in 2019. The prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) has also climbed up to around 9.9 percent in 2020 compared to 8.4 percent the previous year. This new report also confirms a sadly familiar refrain for Asia: our region is failing to deliver food security for far too many – particularly among the more vulnerable parts of society. Asia continues to be home to the greatest number of undernourished people with 418 million suffering from hunger in 2020.

“The challenge of feeding Asia and the world requires us to explore all possible solutions. This can only be achieved through greater collaboration with others, as multi-stakeholder approaches are crucial for transformation of our food systems.” said Dr. Siang Hee Tan, Executive Director, CropLife Asia. “The plant science industry champions innovation in both crop protection and plant biotech, as well as precision and digital agriculture solutions to benefit both people and the planet.”

“The innovative technologies of the plant science industry have a key role to play, but it is only one part of the solution,” Dr. Tan added. “Ensuring that an ample supply of affordable and nutritious food reaches those who need it most is a shared responsibility. Farmers’ access to innovation is an increasingly crucial component to combatting food insecurity in Asia and around the world.”

Global crop losses due to pests and disease are a major contributor to global food loss and waste. These losses would be twice as high without the use of crop protection products. Crop losses can be further reduced through more effective crop protection stewardship practices. Without innovations such as crop protection products and plant biotechnology, global pre-harvest crop losses could double(1). Meanwhile, biotech crops are developed with improved traits such as increased yield, better resistance to pests and/or improved nutrition, among others. These traits are crucial tools that enable farmers to produce more food using fewer resources to feed our growing world.

(1) http://www.croplifeamerica.org/crop-protection/benefits/increase-food-production

About CropLife Asia

CropLife Asia is a non-profit society and the regional organization of CropLife International, the voice of the global plant science industry.  We advocate a safe, secure food supply, and our vision is food security enabled by innovative agriculture.  CropLife Asia supports the work of 15 member associations across the continent and is led by eight member companies at the forefront of crop protection, seeds and/or biotechnology research and development.  For more information, visit us at www.croplifeasia.org.

For more information, please contact:

Duke Hipp
Director, Public Affairs & Strategic Partnerships
CropLife Asia
Tel: +65 6221 1615


By: CropLife International

Download the full infographic here.

The relationship between pollinators and agriculture is one of the most vital on the planet. Many of the crops we rely on to feed our growing populations would be impossible to produce without pollinators, making them crucial to our food systems.

As such, agricultural techniques that support pollinators and their habitats can play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of our food production. Pollinators are facing a number of challenges, from habitat loss, to the impacts of climate change, disease and other pests.

Plant science innovations and other techniques are helping provide the answers to many of these challenges. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) takes a holistic view of crop protection that limits environmental impact and utilizes agronomic practices such as plant spacing or mulching. Innovations like, GM varieties of plants offer intrinsic pest resistance, limiting the need for control methods, while herbicide resistant crops allow for less tilling of soil, which protects the natural biodiversity of our topsoil.

By looking at some of the world’s most important crop and pollinator relationships we can explore how plant science gives farmers a variety of tools to protect their crops at the same time as supporting pollination. But first, who are the world’s pollinators and exactly how important are they to our food systems?

Farmers are acutely aware of their reliance on pollinators for the success of their crops. They also rely on plant science innovations to protect those crops from pests and ensure the highest possible yields. Luckily, both these vital parts of the agricultural process can support each other as shown by the pollinator partnerships below.

The squash bee is one of many vital species that helps pollinate the summer squash in the U.S. This crop was facing a significant threat from the zucchini yellow mosaic virus (ZYMV). Plant science again came to the rescue with a ZYMV-resistant variety of the summer squash.

ZYMV is spread by Aphid populations so before the introduction of the GM squash, farmers were tackling the virus by limiting ‘green bridges’. These connecting sections of local wild vegetation were being used by aphids to move between crops. Removal of these natural spaces, however, had the consequence of limiting squash bee ranges and habitats. The GM summer squash reduced the need for this control method, allowing squash bees to enjoy more wild spaces and to move freely between and pollinate many different fields of crops.

Cocoa is facing significant challenges. Increased problems related to pests are having impacts on yield, with 30-40% of global production affected. Climate change and habitat erosion are affecting chocolate midge populations. As one of the only species small enough to successfully pollinate cocoa, any reduction in chocolate midge populations leads to a significant pollinator gap developing.

Using IPM to reduce impacts of attempts to control pests can help support pollinator populations. Alternative control methods such as use of natural predators and sex pheromones to limit mirid populations can tackle pests without affecting pollinator partnerships.

Similarly, to its work in protecting the papaya and the summer squash, plant science may hold the long-term solution. Work is currently underway on creating new pest-resistant GM varieties that could make a big difference to cocoa production.

Strawberries can be pollinated by a diverse range of pollinators. In fact, strawberry fields that have a variety of pollinators show increased size, boosting yields. With this in mind, pest control methods must be as carefully implemented as possible to avoid disrupting these relationships.

Integrated Pest Management can have positive impacts for many crops, but for fruit with complex needs like strawberries it is particularly effective. Innovations include the deployment of natural predators for pests like mites and using tractor-mounted vacuums for managing species with no useable natural predators. Light traps have also been installed to counter butterfly pest populations without impacting on insect pollinators.

A key tool for farmers is the development of innovative biological products that are derived from fungi, bacteria and plants. Able to be integrated seamlessly with traditional crop protection methods, biologicals can increase crop yields and quality. They are able to target pest species such as aphids and whitefly, while having negligible impact on pollinators such as honeybees and wasps.

The hawkmoth is a key pollinator of papaya. Back in the late 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crops were being devastated by the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) and the island was facing the potential end of all papaya production. PRSV is transmitted to papaya plants via insects feeding on its leaves. This meant farmers were faced with the difficult task of tackling an insect-transmitted virus on a crop that relied upon insect pollination.

Traditional attempts to prevent the spread of PRSV could have had negative long-term impacts on the native hawkmoth population. Thankfully, plant science had the solution. Identifying the gene that would make papaya plants resistant to PRSV, plant scientists created new varieties of papaya called Rainbow and SunUp. These new types of papaya, combined with pest control methods that support pollinators, had positive knock-on effects for hawkmoths. This allows the pollinator relationship to flourish and ensures the ongoing health of Hawaii’s papaya farms.

The symbiotic relationship between farmers, their crops and the world’s pollinator species, is one of the most powerful in the world. Giving farmers access to the full agricultural toolkit allows them the flexibility to combat pests, while limiting impacts on biodiversity and supporting the world’s pollinators.