Global Arable Land Prospects

Added by on June 5, 2011

Land is absolutely essential to agriculture and therefore the relationship between levels of arable land and food security merits serious consideration. It is projected that by 2050 the world will have a total of nine billion mouths to feed, which represents an increase of around 40 per cent on current levels. This will demand an additional billion tonnes of cereal and 200 million tonnes of meat to be produced annually by 2050. The question remains, however, does the world have enough arable land to provide food for a population of this size?

Arable land refers to land where crops can be cultivated. This usually refers to the totality of land that is not only already cultivated, but also land that has the potential to be cultivated, such as land where the soil and climate are suitable for agriculture, where there is not existing large-scale human settlement, or where the land is not protected by any land right regimen. Whilst land can be made arable by various artifices, arable land in our context refers primarily to land which can be used for production with little or no modification. This is because modifications designed to recapture arable land are often expensive, energy-intensive or politically untenable, and the discussion of arable land in the context of a future facing greater limitations on non-renewable resources.

Reasons for arable land scarcity

According to the Global Land Assessment of Degradation published by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), nearly two billion hectares worldwide has been degraded since the 1950s. These two billion hectares represent 22 per cent of the world’s cropland, pastures, forests and woodlands. In particular, Africa and Latin America have the highest proportion of degraded agricultural land. Asia has the largest proportion of degraded forest land, as revenue-poor national governments pursue lucrative policies of deforestation.

Degradation is not the only reason for declining levels of arable land. There are a variety of climatic, environmental and human factors all of which have an effect on available arable land resources.

The FAO 2010 World Soil Resources Report isolated erosion hazard, aluminium toxicity, soil shallowness and hydromorphy as constraining between 13 – 16 per cent of global arable land area. These soil constraints make a significant portion of land unsuited for the production of crops without serious modification or enhancement.