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Land Use, Irrigation and Agricultural Practices

Rome, 10 Jun 2019 - The FAO data on land use, irrigation and agricultural practices facilitate analysis on the availability, distribution and use of land around the world, with regional and global trends, currently available for the period 1961-2016. The FAOSTAT data are collected directly from member countries, through the FAOSTAT Questionnaire. When data are missing, they may be complemented by FAO using available official national information, for instance data published by relevant government agencies, or gap-filled using standard statistical techniques. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Guidelines (IPCC 2006) recommend using FAO data to cross-check information provided in national GHG inventories, and consider the FAO statistics on land use as a possible default data source when national data are not available to inventory compilers.

FAOSTAT Highlights: Agricultural Land

Global

·         In 2016, global agricultural land area was 4.9 billion hectares (Gha);

  • Two-thirds of this land were used for permanent meadows and pastures (3.3 Gha), defined as land outside of cropland permanently used for livestock grazing, including rangeland;
  •  One-third of total agricultural land was cropland (1.6 Gha), including both temporary (e.g., annuals) and permanent (e.g., perennials) crops, temporary meadows and pastures and land left temporarily fallow;
  • About 10% of the global cropland area, about 166 Mha (million hectares), was used for permanent crops, such as fruit trees, oil palm plantations, cocoa plantations, etc.; Land area equipped for irrigation amounted to about 334 Mha, or 21% of total world cropland area;
  •  Over the previous ten-year period, 2007–2016, agricultural land decreased on average by -0.1% yr-1. Such decrease was a combination of a reduction in the area of permanent meadows and pastures (-0.3% yr-1), combined with an increase in cropland (+0.3% yr-1).
  • In absolute area amounts, land used for permanent meadows and pastures decreased during the period 2007-2016 by about 100 Mha, while cropland increased by nearly 50 Mha;
  • The overall mean global historical growth rate of agricultural land, i.e., over the period 1961–2016, was of 0.2% yr-1, with a significant expansion up to the 1990s and a decrease in more recent decades;
  • During the period 2007-2016, land area equipped for irrigation increased at a rate of 0.7% yr-1, more than twice the rate of growth in cropland during the same period. Historically, i.e., over the period 1961-2016, irrigation area increased 2.0% yr-1, about six times as fast as cropland expansion;
  • Global cropland area per capita decreased over the historical period 1961-2016, at about -1% yr-1 annual rate, more than halving its 1961 value, i.e., from 0.45 ha/cap in 1961 to 0.21 ha/cap in 2016.

Regional

  • Averaged over the decade 2007-2016, the largest share of world agricultural land area were in Asia (34%), the Americas (25%) and Africa (23%), with Europe and Oceania representing each about 8-10% of the tota
  • During the last decade 2007-2016, the region with the largest area of land equipped for irrigation was Asia, with 229 Mha (70% of the world total). The Americas had the second largest share, with 52 Mha (16% of world total)). Asia was also the region with the highest relative share of land equipped for irrigation over cropland (40%, compared to the world average of 21%).
  • Cropland area per capita over the period 2007-2016 was smallest in Asia (0.13 ha), followed by Africa (0.22 ha/cap), the Americas and Europe (0.40 ha/cap), and Oceania (1.21 ha/cap).

Country

  • Averaged over the period 2007-2016, China was the country with the largest agricultural land extent (about 500 kha), followed by USA, Australia (about 400 kha each) and Brazil (278 kha). India had the largest cropland area (nearly 170 kha), followed by the USA (158 kha), China and the Russian Federation (about 120 kha each).
  • The two countries with the largest irrigated cropland area were India and China, with about 68 kha each, followed by the USA (27 kha), Pakistan (20 kha) and Iran (9kha).

Global Overview

Statistics on agricultural land use are crucial for identifying past and current trends in agriculture and inform planning and policies towards the design and implementation of more sustainable agricultural systems. The statistics in the FAOSTAT domain “Land Use” provide national statistics collected from countries via the FAOSTAT Questionnaire on ‘’Land Use, Irrigation and Agricultural Practices,” and complemented with additional official sources and gap filling techniques. Statistics are disseminated following FAO official land use categories, aligned with the World Census of Agriculture and the System for Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA). Data are available by country as well as in regional aggregates, for the period 1961–2016. The full methodology is described in the online metadata and documentation sections of the FAOSTAT Land Use domain (FAOSTAT, 2019). 

Land is a fundamental input into production of food and feed. Agricultural land is the sum of Cropland and Permanent meadows and pastures. Cropland is land used for cultivation of crops, both temporary (annuals) and permanent (perennials), and may include areas periodically left fallow or used as temporary pasture. Permanent meadows and pastures is land used for livestock grazing. It includes both managed and natural pastures, and it may include as well a range of land cover types used for rangelands, for instance grassy and woody savannahs. Key determinants of the land use are suitability of agro-climatic conditions, soil quality, water availability, and geographic position with respect to access to markets and inputs. Land conversion from natural ecosystems to agriculture has been historically the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere (Le Quere et al. 2018), linked to loss of biomass and carbon in biomass above and below ground. Land conversion to agriculture continues to be today a major driver of loss of biodiversity and land degradation (FAO, 2019). Efficient land use and land management plans and strategies are needed to maximize crop productivity while minimizing the potential environmental impact due to excessive loss of habitats and over-use of natural resource assets, such as soils and water. 

At global level, FAOSTAT statistics indicate that in 2016, the most recent year in the time series, global agricultural land area was 4.9 billion hectares (Gha), or 38% of the 13 Gha global land surface. About one third of the global agricultural land was cropland (1.6 Gha), while the remaining two-thirds were used as meadows and pastures (3.3 Gha) for grazing livestock. The contribution over time of the two components, ‘cropland’ and ‘permanent meadows and pastures’, to the total agricultural land are illustrated in Fig.1. 

Within cropland, about 10% of the area (165 Mha) was used for permanent crops, such as fruit trees, oil palm plantations, cocoa plantations, etc. One important land management practice is water irrigation. Land area equipped for irrigation amounted to 335 Mha in 2016, representing 21% of the total global cropland area. 

Focusing on the last ten-year period, 2007–2016, the area of cropland increased about 0.3% yr-1, whereas the area of permanent meadows and pastures decreased by about -0.3% yr-1. Given that the area of permanent meadows and pastures is about twice as large as the area of cropland, the total agricultural land decreased over this period, at a rate of about -0.1% yr-1. In absolute figures, land used for permanent meadows and pastures decreased by 100 Mha from 2007 to 2016, while cropland increased by nearly 50 Mha. The recent reductions in agricultural land area can be compared to the overall 0.2% yr-1 growth for the period 1961–2016. 

Land area equipped for irrigation, however, increased even during the period 2007-2016, at a rate of 0.7% per year in that period (Fig. 2). Historically over the 1961-2016 period, land area equipped for irrigation grew about six times faster than cropland area. 

One key component of the sustainability of food and agriculture is the estimate of area of cropland area per capita of human population. FAOSTAT statistics of land use, combined with those of the FAOSTAT population, indicate that global cropland area per capita decreased continuously over the period 1961-2016, on average by about -1% yr-1, i.e., from 0.45 ha/cap in 1961 to 0.21 ha/cap in 2016 (Fig. 3).

Regional Overview

Regional distribution of agricultural land use is a combination of local agri-climatic edaphic conditions and socio-economic drivers. Averaged over the decade 2007-2016, the largest share of agricultural land area was in Asia (1.6 Gha, or 34%), followed by the Americas (1.2 Gha, or 25%) and Africa (1.1 Gha, 24%), with Europe and Oceania representing each about 9-10% of the total, having a bit more than 460 Mha of agricultural land each (Fig. 4).

Over the period 2007-2016 the region with the largest land area equipped for irrigation was by far Asia (237 Mha, or 70% of the world total), followed by the Americas (52 Mha, or 16%), Europe (26 Mha, 8%), Africa (15 Mha, 5%) and Oceania (3 Mha, 1%).

In terms of the relative share of land equipped for irrigation over cropland, Asia also had the largest values (40%), followed by the Americas (13%), Europe (9%), Oceania (7%) and Africa (6%). 

In terms of per capita availability, cropland area per capita over the last decade 2007-2016 was smallest in Asia (0.13 ha/cap), followed by Africa (0.22 ha/cap), the Americas and Europe (0.40 ha/cap), and Oceania (1.21 ha/cap).

Countries

Averaged over the period 2007-2016, China was the country with the largest agricultural land extent (about 500 kha), followed by USA, Australia (about 400 kha each) and Brazil (278 kha). India had the largest cropland area (nearly 170 kha), followed by the USA (158 kha), China and the Russian Federation (about 120 kha each) (Fig. 5).

The two countries with the largest irrigated cropland area were India and China, with about 68 kha each, followed by the USA (27 kha), Pakistan (20kha) and Iran (9 kha). 

References

The FAOSTAT domain Input/Land Use presents information on the use of land for agricultural production, forestry and other land uses.

FAOSTAT, 2019. Land Use domain. Available at: www.fao.org/faostat/en/, 2019. The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. FAO, Rome. www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/CA3129EN.pdf 

Le Quere et al., 2018. Global Carbon Budget 2018. Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 10, 2141–2194, 2018, https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-10-2141-2018.

FIGURES

 

Figure 1. Global agricultural land area and its components, 1961-2016

 

Figure 2. Global and regional trends in land equipped for irrigation, 1961-2016

 

Figure 3. Global cropland per capita, 1961-2016

 

 

 

Figure 4. Regional Distribution of agricultural land area, average 2007-2016

Figure 5. Top ten countries having the largest a) agricultural land area and b) cropland area. Average 2007-2016