- The world’s cropland footprint has expanded by just over 1 million square kilometers in the past two decades, representing a 9% increase between 2000 and 2019, according to new research published in Nature.
- The University of Maryland study, based on satellite imaging of Earth’s surface, found that Africa experienced the largest cropland expansion of any region over the 20-year period, at 34%. Meanwhile, South America saw the greatest relative cropland gain at 49%.
- Of the total global cropland area in 2019, 17% was new cropland established since 2003; of this, 49% replaced “natural vegetation and tree cover.”
Why it matters:
The growth of global cropland at the expense of natural vegetation, including forests, suggests “a conflict with the sustainability goal of protecting terrestrial ecosystems,” according to the study’s authors.
Their finding of a 9% increase in global cropland since 2000 is significantly higher than the UN Food and Agriculture Organization‘s estimate of 2.6% growth in “arable land” over a similar period, they state.
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Notably, global cropland has decreased by 10% on a per capita basis amid population growth, the study finds – with South America the only region to reverse this trend. This underscores the need for existing and new farmland to become increasingly productive in order to keep up with global food demand.