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Visual Capitalist: How Much of the World is Covered by Croplands? Enough?

Today is Wednesday, January 17, 2024.

Croplands are defined as land areas used to cultivate herbaceous crops for human consumption, forage, and biofuels.

How is cropland distributed globally?

Based on a scientific paper published in Nature by Peter Potapov et al. in 2021 "Global maps of cropland extent and change show accelerated cropland expansion in the twenty-first century", Adam Symington posted an article at Visual Capitalist with the map pictured below.

To create the cropland dataset, the Nature study utilized the consistently processed 30-meters spatial resolution Landsat satellite data archive from 2000 to 2019. Metrics were then used as independent variables for a machine-learning classification to map global cropland extent. Cropland maps were also integrated with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)-derived annual net primary production (NPP) as a proxy variable for analysing crop productivity. NPP correlates with crop yield, biomass production and carbon sequestration, although variation of crop types and management practices precludes direct estimation of the crop yield from cropland NPP.

Using sample data (95% IC confidence interval) scientists estimated the 2019 global cropland area to be 1,244.2 ± 62.7 Mha.

And distributed as follows:

  • 55% is in Eurasia

  • 17% in Africa

  • 16% in North and Central America

  • 9% in South America

  • 3% in Oceania

The study also showed the growth trends in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. To simplify we excluded the 95% IC:

  • +53.2 Mha in Africa

  • +37.1 Mha in South America

  • +7.5 Mha South-west Asia

  • +3.0 Mha Oceania

  • +1.8 Mha North and Central America

  • +0.9 Mha Eurasia

This totals a 101.9 Mha increase from 2000 to 2019 - or 8% - highly concentrated in "new agriculture frontiers" such as Africa and South America. And also mean that 92% of the total cropland in 2019 was already there before 2019.

The study's Discussion chapter also point's out that "Major lowland regions of the world have been converted to homogeneous agricultural landscapes, including the Great Plains in North America, the Pampas in South America, the Pontic steppe in Europe, north China and the Manchurian Plains in east Asia, the Indo-Gangetic Plain in south Asia, parts of the Sahel region in Africa and south-east Australia".

Carbon Credit Markets would add, as already reported, future possible "new agriculture frontiers", Canada and Russian Federation.

Click here for Adam Symington's article for Visual Capitalist, and at the image below to access that Nature study and read more. Chapter "Discussion" at the end is of particular interest. Among several comments, that "Global cropland distribution and dynamics do not follow national boundaries, but rather reflect agricultural potential, population and land-use history."


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“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

“I am among those who think that science has great beauty”

Madame Marie Curie (1867 - 1934) Chemist & physicist. French, born Polish.

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