Are grasslands under threat?

Brief analysis of FAO statistical data on pasture and fodder crops


Grasslands, including sown pasture and rangeland, are among the largest ecosystems in the world and contribute to the livelihoods of more than 800 million people. They are a source of goods and services such as food and forage, energy and wildlife habitat, and also provide carbon and water storage and watershed protection for many major river systems. Grasslands are important for in situ conservation of genetic resources. Of a total of 10 000 species, only 100 to 150 forage species have been cultivated, but many more hold potential for sustainable agriculture.

Estimates of the proportion of the earth's land area covered by grasslands vary between 20 and 40 percent, depending on the definition. Those differences are due to a lack of harmonization in the definition of grasslands. Using FAO’s data and definition, it is possible to estimate the world area of Pasture and Fodder Crops at 3.5 billion ha (35 000 000 sq km) in 2000, representing 26% of the world land area and 70% of the world agricultural area (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1 (Source FAOSTAT)

This study is the initial part of an analysis of FAO statistical data relating to the grassland world, carried out using the FAO distinction between Pasture and Fodder Crops.

The main purpose of this research is to analyse the extent and importance of Pasture and Fodder Crops worldwide and to evaluate changes in their dimensions in the last 30 years, in different geographical zones.

This study is composed of two parts:

1.1 Pasture and Fodder Crop Trends

Map 1 - 1980
Map 2 - 1990
Map 3 - 2000

The graph below shows trends in the percentage of land area occupied by the sum of Pasture and Fodder Crops, showing that during the last 30 years, the total land area under Pasture and Fodder Crops has decreased in Africa and Oceania, while it has increased in Europe and Asia.

The reduction of African pasture can be explained essentially by a significant reduction of pasture in Eastern Africa, partially due to the fact that large grassland areas have been destroyed or converted to agricultural land (click here for further data).

1.2 Pasture

Map 4 - 1980
Map 5 - 1990
Map 6 - 2000

Table 1.2 below summarizes the collected data on Pasture, classified by continents. Two elements can be emphasized:

Table 1.2 (Source: FAOSTAT)


1.3 Fodder Crops

Map 7 - Area 1980 Map 10 - Production 1980
Map 8 - Area 1990 Map 11 - Production 1990
Map 9 - Area 2000 Map 12 - Production 2000

Table 1.3 below summarizes the collected data on Fodder Crops classified by macro areas. Some elements that can be emphasized are:

Table 1.3 (Source: FAOSTAT)


2. Conclusion

The conclusions that can be drawn from this brief analysis of FAOSTAT grasslands data are:

Data analysis by Eleonora Panunzi, economist
July 2008