Small global decline in agricultural land area

July 25, 2014

 

 

"The Surprising Global Trend
The following figures show how much land is being used for agriculture around the world (row crops, ranches, and permanent crops like orchards and vineyards), and how much food is being produced in terms of calories per person. Note that 1 kilocalorie (kcal) is equivalent to 1 Calorie as reported on American nutrition labels, and that y-axis of the charts do not begin at 0 (to make it easy to see the relatively small changes in recent years).


While agricultural expansion was pretty steady on a global scale for over 30 years, in 1995 we saw the first recorded decrease in agricultural land area. It peaked in 1998, and has been lower ever since. In fact, until 2011 (unfortunately the latest year this data is available from the FAO) it was continuing to decline slightly over time.
At the same time we have managed to produce more food on less land, and are keeping ahead of population growth (although that doesn’t mean we have addressed inequity in food distribution and nutrition).
From 1998 to 2009 (the latest year global food supply data is available from FAO) we saw a 4.4 percent increase in global calories produced per capita (from 2,713 kcal/capita/day to 2,831) while total agricultural land area dropped by 0.8 percent (although this may be too small a change in area for this data to reliably detect; see data disclaimers section below). About 32 percent of the increase came from animal products (mostly meat and milk), with another 27 percent from vegetable oil and 26 percent from fruits and vegetables.
What the Global Trend Doesn’t Tell Us


On the other hand, we don’t know whether this intensification was done sustainably or not. The increasing production is mostly in relatively resource-intensive foods rather than more efficient grains and legumes, and these data don’t tell us anything about how soil health and water quality may have been impacted by these changes.


More importantly, the fact that global agricultural area hasn’t increased doesn’t mean that there isn’t conversion of natural habitat for agriculture occurring. In some countries like the United States, for instance, conversion to agriculture is still occurring, but it is outpaced by conversion from agriculture (e.g. to urban development). In other words, good news on a national scale doesn’t mean we aren’t seeing problems locally.
This caveat is even more relevant when considering the global pattern. The decline of agricultural land in much of the world (e.g., New Zealand, Mongolia, and Poland) hides significant agricultural expansion elsewhere (like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Argentina), as shown below."

 

Jon Fisher, “Global Agriculture Trends: Are We Actually Using Less Land?,” Cool Green Science (blog), The Nature Conservancy, June 18, 2014, accessed July 25, 2014, http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/18/global-agriculture-land-sustainability-deforestation-foodsecurity/

 

Jon Fisher, “Global Agriculture Trends: Are We Actually Using Less Land?,” Cool Green Science (blog), The Nature Conservancy, June 18, 2014, accessed July 25, 2014, http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/18/global-agriculture-land-sustainability-deforestation-foodsecurity/

Please reload