Made in LATAM: Science innovation made in Latin America ready to land in Africa

Luis Ventura Martínez

January 11, 2023

Latin America is known worldwide for being one of the regions that owns most of the existing biodiversity in the world and protecting Latin America’s biodiversity is key to meeting global climate goals.

Latin America houses three of the top five countries with the most bird, amphibian, mammal, reptilian, fish and plant life. The Amazon region alone houses 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

Therefore six out of the 17 mega-diverse countries declared by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) of the United Nations Environment Program, are from Latin America (LATAM) namely Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

In addition to the rich biodiversity, the variety also can be seen in the culture, the people and even in the diversity of the spoken languages still present today in the region conserved over the years by indigenous communities.

By sharing a similar history LATAM had over the years relied on its vast natural resources and had used it as a trade-off with other nations in the same region as well as in different continents.

The main economic activities in the region are exploration, exploitation, processing, transport of hydrocarbons, agricultural and forestry products. This dynamics has served to position different LATAM  countries as top providers of raw material to the world, as had happened with Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil which are top meat exporters recognized worldwide for the quality of their products.

Another important market in LATAM is agriculture. Due to its geographical location, LATAM is lucky to be situated around Equator and the tropics that provide the region with temperate weather most part of the year (compared with the regions situated closer to the poles). It is projected that Brazil alone will account for 70% of the world’s arable land growth by 2050

The LATAM economy is export-based, and with the emergence and adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops, LATAM became a top leader in cultivating and exporting essential grains, taking advantage of their environment characteristics.

This served as a foundation for their own economies that had flourished in the agribusiness sector in nations that had decided to adopt the scientific innovations as part of their food production systems.

Since the emergence of modern biotechnology and its applications in the real world, Latin America showed interest in getting access to the novel products that this new technology had to offer.

Specifically, those developed to improve the agricultural sector by increasing crop yields reducing costs of agricultural inputs, such as herbicides and pesticides. Even when GM seeds are more expensive compared to conventional seeds over the years, farmers had already seen biotech as an investment that totally paid off. This was the main reason of why for over the last 25 years modern biotechnology has been present in the LATAM fields.

During these 25 years of GM crop adoption in the region, different challenges had been faced in several nations where GM crops adoption is confronted mostly by ideological positions presented by activists and environmental NGOs that had claimed adverse environmental and health effects that had never been proved.

Despite the challenges, Argentina and Brazil are the top leaders in cultivating and exporting corn and soybean at a global level.

During that period, the biotech landscape used to be dominated by big companies with headquarters in the United States or Europe, but this is rapidly changing with the emergence of new breeding techniques, and, more important, with the incorporation of new actors in the agribusiness area, that is changing the whole food production in LATAM.

Argentine GM wheat approved in Nigeria

As reported by Breakthrough in late 2020 Argentina approved the world’s first genetically modified wheat for cultivation and consumption, named HB4 which is drought-tolerant. Since then this GM wheat had been approved in several countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and, recently, in Nigeria.

Nigeria approved imports of drought-tolerant GM wheat developed by Argentina’s Bioceres.

Bioceres had reported that HB4 drought-tolerance technology has been shown to increase wheat yields by an average of 20% in water-limited conditions, a key adaptation that favors double-cropping systems, where water management is increasingly critical.

Climate change effects are increasingly present in developing countries in LATAM, Africa, and Asia that serve as a food source for the rest of the world.

Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture has forecast wheat imports to Nigeria at 6.5 million tons for the 2022-23 crop year, making this African market very valuable, and a door-opener to other African nations to adopt GM wheat, as it has been proven to be safe and to have a good performance in facing limited-water conditions.


“Import and cultivation approvals by more countries can help HB4 wheat reach its potential to support global wheat production in the face of climate change. This is not only an agricultural issue, but has wide-ranging implications for food security, the environment, and the climate”


Meanwhile, Gene-Revolution is the next frontier in Latin America and the world, as the food demand is increasing.

Since the beginning of human civilization, the artificial selection of plants and animals had served as the basis for human development, linked with the emergence of new and bigger cities is the capacity to provide enough, safe, and nutritious food to feed the people living in these regions.

Over the last 120 years, plant breeders have made remarkable progress in developing new crop varieties with novel traits. Even when modern biotechnology had shown to be a powerful (and still functional) tool.

The new challenges that farming is currently facing require new solutions due to the difficulties that conventional breeding methods have in responding quickly to farmers needs in a world with constantly changing environment.

Climate change effects are increasingly present and causing negative impacts on crop productivity around the world, which is currently facing agro-food chains disruptions due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. This has aggravated existing tensions in the agricultural market as grains and vegetable oils have reached record highs surpassing levels of even one decade ago.

Currently in LATAM gene-edited crops are taking the lead in the agribusiness sector by promoting the research and development of new crops developed by small and emerging companies (such as Embrapa in Brazil and Bioceres in Argentina).

LATAM may become an exporter region of new and novel crops to regions with similar needs and environmental characteristics as Africa and Asia. It is therefore time to increase the south-south collaboration initiatives, especially around science communication, to increase understanding of these new technologies and to share best practice across the global south.