GM 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.

What is a GM Crop?

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are crops developed through genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, to achieve certain benefits, such as insect or disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance and enhanced nutritional value.

Genetic engineering is a precise form of plant breeding, which allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing.

How is a biotech crop created? Click to here download the infographic.


South Africa has completed more than 20 years of successful commercialisation of biotech crops. According to the 2018/19 figures, a total of 2.74 million hectares were planted with three principal biotech crops namely: cotton, maize, and soybeans. Commercially approved traits for planting include Bt insect resistance (IR), herbicide tolerance (HT), drought tolerance (DT) as well as various stack combinations of these traits.  The breakdown of biotech crop cultivation in SA is as follows:

Crop Cultivation areaApproved Traits % Adoption
Maize2 million hectaresIR, HT, IR/HT87
Soybean0.694 million hectaresHT95
Cotton0.043 million hectaresHT, IR/HT100

 ISAAA, 2019. View the latest report here.



In South Africa, the Genetically Modified Organisms Act, 1997 provides regulatory oversight over GMOs ensuring rigorous safety assessment of biotech crops by an Advisory panel of independent scientists to minimise potential risks to human health, animal health as well as the environment.

Government Liaison

CropLife SA acts as liaison between the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, and the plant science industry so as to ensure compliance with and enforcement of the GMO Act, 1997.

In addition, CropLife SA offers the following to its members:

  • Monitor and update members on plant biotech policy developments at national, regional, or international levels.
  • Support members with regulatory compliance e.g. GM labelling, procedures and processes for GM cultivation and trade, etc.
  • Communication and outreach activities around impacts of plant biotechnology and product stewardship


Under the GMO act, approved GMO activities are regulated by permits with accompanying permit conditions to ensure compliance and that activities are carried out in a responsible manner. In this regard CropLife SA liaises closely with the grain industry to facilitate annual reporting of approved GM Commodity Clearance events.

Commodity Clearance permits approved under the GMO Act, includes permit conditions requiring that annual reports be submitted regarding any unanticipated adverse effects arising from the handling and use of the approved GMO commodity. As the permit holders (technology developers) are not directly involved in the trade and import of commodities, annual commodity reporting is facilitated by CropLife SA, in liaison with grain traders associations, SACOTA and AFMA.

Useful Documents
Annual report of approved GM Commodities


Policy Issues

CropLife SA advocates for a science based regulatory environment that safeguards human health, animal health and environmental safety while supporting biotech innovation, commercialization and trade. CropLife SA continues to work with regulators to shape sound regulatory policy that facilitates access to modern breeding innovations and their potential to contribute to sustainable agricultural development and food security.

CropLife SA’s advocacy efforts focus on key regulatory policy issues such as:
Regulatory harmonisation for biotech crops

Regulation of stacked traits

Plant breeding innovation/genome editing

Low level presence (LLP)

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Within the plant biotechnology context, stewardship is defined as the responsible introduction and use of biotech-derived products across the entire plant product life cycle, from idea, through development and launch, to discontinuation. Stewardship extends beyond regulatory compliance. It requires a coordinated effort from stakeholders along the product value chain to preserve the efficacy of the introduced biotech trait and ensure that the benefits to sustainable agriculture are realised.

4.2 Stewardship-cycle

Download the stewardship infographic here.


Why Does Stewardship Matter?

Considering that it takes on average more than a decade and an investment of more than $150 million to develop a biotech crop, stewardship is critical to ensure that the required controls are in place throughout the biotech product’s life cycle to certify its safety and efficacy and also to encourage responsible management and use as a pest management tool.

Plant biotech stewardship encourages responsible management and use by:

  • Ensuring safe, effective and responsible use of the technology
  • Maintaining product integrity and longevity
  • Maximising the benefits to consumers, farmers and the environment
  • Minimising the risks associated with biotech resistance development
  • Facilitating regulatory compliance and monitoring

CropLife SA and its plant biotechnology members are committed to the responsible management and use of plant biotech products as part of the product stewardship life-cycle approach. Stewardship initiatives that support training and outreach on resistance management practices and compliance will be leveraged in partnership with government extension agencies, industry associations and related stakeholder organisations to ensure successful realisation of benefits and minimisation of risks due to plant biotech product utilisation.

Resistance Management

Agricultural production has historically endured huge losses due to pests and diseases. With pests having the ability to develop resistance, the long-term utilisation of pest control methods has a limited lifespan.

The evolution of resistance to various forms of pest management applications is an ongoing concern for all crop protection users. Resistance is not unique to plant biotechnology, although biotech crops do bring some unique considerations which must be addressed by technology providers and farmers.

Insect resistant biotech crops provide farmers with excellent protection against damaging pests, however, the development of resistance is an important concern. Insect resistance management techniques such as the planting of refugia, limiting the use of multiple crops with the same insect control traits and planting seed with multiple biotech traits, protect harvests while preserving the long-term effectiveness of the insect resistant crops.

Similarly, herbicide tolerant biotech crops help control unwanted weeds, offering significant yield and environmental benefits. Integrated weed management strategies are key to managing weed resistance. Applying herbicides associated with herbicide tolerant crops according to best use practices can help manage weed resistance.

Like all stewardship programmes, resistance management practices require a diverse set of tools, and must evolve and be flexible. Local agricultural conditions will help define what types of resistance management programmes are needed, and they must be continuously reviewed and reconsidered. CropLife South Africa and its members are committed to advancing the understanding and practice of resistance management.

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Position Papers and Documents