Agricultural expansion

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Agricultural expansion describes the growth of agricultural land (arable land, pastures, etc.) especially in the 20th and 21th century.


The agricultural expansion is often explained as a direct consequence of the global increase in food and energy requirements due to continuing population growth (both which in turn have been attributed to agricultural expansion itself [1] [2] ), with an estimated expectation of 10 to 11 billion humans on Earth by end of this century. It is foreseen that most of the world's non-agrarian ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) will be affected adversely, from habitat loss, land degradation, overexploitation, and other problems. The intensified food (and biofuel) production will in particular affect the tropical regions.

Most modern agriculture relies on intensive methods. Further expansion of the predominant farming types that rest on a small number of highly productive crops has led to a significant loss of biodiversity on a global scale already. [3] Moreover, agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest fragmentation. Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm) accounted for 40 percent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 percent. [4] In the light of the already occurring and potential massive ecological effects, the need for sustainable practices is more urgent than ever.

The FAO predicts that global arable land use will continue to grow from a 1.58 billion hectares (3.9×109 acres) in 2014 to 1.66 billion hectares (4.1×109 acres) in 2050, with most of this growth projected to result from developing countries. At the same time, arable land use in developed countries is likely to continue its decline. [5]

A well-known example of already ongoing agricultural expansion is the proliferation of palm oil production areas or the land conversion/deforestation for soy bean production in South America. Today's land grabbing activities are often a consequence of the strive for agricultural land by growing economies. [6]

In the beginning of the 21st century the palm oil industry caused a massive deforestation in Borneo with heavy consequences. [7]

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Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep, and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture.

Deforestation Conversion of forest to non-forest for human use

Deforestation or forest clearance is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land that is then converted to non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban use. The most concentrated deforestation occurs in tropical rainforests. About 31% of Earth's land surface is covered by forests at present. This is one-third less than the forest cover before the expansion of agriculture, a half of that loss occurring in the last century. Between 15 million to 18 million hectares of forest, an area the size of Belgium, are destroyed every year. On average 2,400 trees are cut down each minute.

Forest Dense collection of trees covering a relatively large area

A forest is an area of land dominated by trees. Hundreds of definitions of forest are used throughout the world, incorporating factors such as tree density, tree height, land use, legal standing, and ecological function. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines a forest as, "Land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban use." Using this definition, Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 found that forests covered 4.06 billion hectares, or approximately 31 percent of the world's land area in 2020.

Agricultural productivity Quotient between production and productive factors

Agricultural productivity is measured as the ratio of agricultural outputs to inputs. While individual products are usually measured by weight, which is known as crop yield, varying products make measuring overall agricultural output difficult. Therefore, agricultural productivity is usually measured as the market value of the final output. This productivity can be compared to many different types of inputs such as labour or land. Such comparisons are called partial measures of productivity.

Tropical forest Generic forest in the tropics

Tropical forests are forested landscapes in tropical regions: i.e. land areas approximately bounded by the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, but possibly affected by other factors such as prevailing winds.

Environmental degradation Any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable

Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as quality of air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.

Habitat destruction is the process by which a natural habitat becomes incapable of supporting its native species. The organisms that previously inhabited the site are displaced or dead, thereby reducing biodiversity and species abundance. Habitat destruction is the leading cause of biodiversity loss.

Human impact on the environment Impact of human life on Earth

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and to ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include population growth, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss, have been proposed as representing catastrophic risks to the survival of the human species.

Environmental vegetarianism Type of practice of vegetarianism

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to create a sustainable diet that avoids the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2019 special report and as part of the 2017 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.

African environmental issues are caused by anthropogenic effects on the African natural environment and have major impacts on humans and nearly all forms of endemic life. Issues include for example deforestation, soil degradation, air pollution, climate change and water scarcity. Nearly all of Africa's environmental problems are geographically variable and human induced.

Between 2000 to 2005, Nigeria had the highest rate of deforestation in the world as 55.7% according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Nigeria has biodiversity in abundance which makes it thrive well. In 1950s, large areas of land were reserved as a protected area but unfortunately they no longer exist. Biodiversity has been greatly destroyed by deforestation, degradation, encroachment and conversion of land into other uses due to the increase in demand of the fast rising population in the country.

Deforestation in Colombia

Colombia loses 2,000 km2 of forest annually to deforestation, according to the United Nations in 2003. Some suggest that this figure is as high as 3,000 km² due to illegal logging in the region. Deforestation results mainly from logging for timber, small-scale agricultural ranching, mining, development of energy resources such as hydro-electricity, infrastructure, cocaine production, and farming.

Deforestation by continent

Rates and causes of deforestation vary from region to region around the world. In 2009, 2/3 of the world's forests were in just 10 countries: 1) Russia, 2) Brazil, 3) Canada, 4) United States, 5) China, 6) Australia, 7) Democratic Republic of the Congo, 8) Indonesia, 9) India, and 10) Peru.

The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies widely based on practices employed by farmers and by the scale of practice. Farming communities that try to reduce environmental impacts through modifying their practices will adopt sustainable agriculture practices. The negative impact of agriculture is an old issue that remains a concern even as experts design innovative means to reduce destruction and enhance eco-efficiency. Though some pastoralism is environmentally positive, modern animal agriculture practices tend to be more environmentally destructive than agricultural practices focused on fruits, vegetables and other biomass. The emissions of ammonia from cattle waste continues to raise concerns over environmental pollution.

Palm oil, produced from the oil palm, is a basic source of income for many farmers in South East Asia, Central and West Africa, and Central America. It is locally used as cooking oil, exported for use in much commercial food and personal care products and is converted into biofuel. It produces up to 10 times more oil per unit area than soybeans, rapeseed or sunflowers.

Forest restoration

Forest restoration is defined as “actions to re-instate ecological processes, which accelerate recovery of forest structure, ecological functioning and biodiversity levels towards those typical of climax forest” i.e. the end-stage of natural forest succession. Climax forests are relatively stable ecosystems that have developed the maximum biomass, structural complexity and species diversity that are possible within the limits imposed by climate and soil and without continued disturbance from humans. Climax forest is therefore the target ecosystem, which defines the ultimate aim of forest restoration. Since climate is a major factor that determines climax forest composition, global climate change may result in changing restoration aims.

Palm oil production in Indonesia

Palm oil production is important to the economy of Indonesia as the country is the world's biggest producer and consumer of the commodity, providing about half of the world's supply. In 2016, Indonesia produced over 34.6 billion tons of palm oil, and exported nearly 73% of it. Oil palm plantations stretch across 12 million hectares, and is projected to reach 13 million by 2020. There are several different types of plantations, including small, privately owned plantations, and larger, state- owned plantations. There are a variety of health, environmental, and societal impacts that result from the production of palm oil in Indonesia. A recent publication by the ONG Rainforest Action Network (RAN) indicates that the use of palm oil by some of the biggest chocolate and snacks' producers is increasing this problem.

Deforestation and climate change Relationship between deforestation and global warming

Deforestation is a primary contributor to climate change. Land use changes, especially in the form of deforestation, are the second largest anthropogenic source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, after fossil fuel combustion. Greenhouse gases are emitted during combustion of forest biomass and decomposition of remaining plant material and soil carbon. Global models and national greenhouse gas inventories give similar results for deforestation emissions. As of 2019, deforestation is responsible for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland degradation also emits GHG. Growing forests are a carbon sink with additional potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some of the effects of climate change, such as more wildfires, may increase deforestation. Deforestation comes in many forms: wildfire, agricultural clearcutting, livestock ranching, and logging for timber, among others. The vast majority of agricultural activity resulting in deforestation is subsidized by government tax revenue. Forests cover 31% of the land area on Earth and annually 75,700 square kilometers of the forest is lost. Mass deforestation continues to threaten tropical forests, their biodiversity, and the ecosystem services they provide. The main area of concern of deforestation is in tropical rain forests since they are home to the majority of the planet's biodiversity.

Forest cover is the amount of land area that is covered by forest. It may be measured as relative or absolute. Around a third of the world's surface is covered with forest, with closed-canopy forest accounting for 4 - 5 billion hectares of land.

Sustainable Development Goal 15 15th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to protect life on land

Sustainable Development Goal 15 is about "Life on land." One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015, the official wording is: "Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss". The Goal has 12 targets to be achieved by 2030. Progress towards targets will be measured by 14 indicators.


  1. "Human population numbers as a function of food supply" (PDF). Russel Hopfenburg, David Pimentel, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA;2Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA. Human population growth has typically been seen as the primary causative factor of other ecologically destructive phenomena. Current human disease epidemics are explored as a function of population size. That human population growth is itself a phenomenon with clearly identifiable ecological/biological causes has been overlooked. Here, human population growth is discussed as being subject to the same dynamic processes as the population growth of other species. Contrary to the widely held belief that food production must be increased to feed the growing population, experimental and correlational data indicate that human population growth varies as a function of food availability. By increasing food production for humans, at the expense of other species, the biologically determined effect has been, and continues to be, an increase in the human population. Understanding the relationship between food increases and population increases is proposed as a necessary first step in addressing this global problem. Resistance to this perspective is briefly discussed in terms of cultural bias in science.
  2. "Morgan Freeman on the Tyranny of Agriculture".
  3. "The expansion of modern agriculture and global biodiversity decline: an integrated assessment". Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment . 2018-02-19. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  4. The State of the World's Forests 2020. In brief – Forests, biodiversity and people. Rome: FAO & UNEP. 2020. p. 10. doi:10.4060/ca8985en. ISBN   978-92-5-132707-4. S2CID   241416114.
  5. Ritchie, Hannah; Roser, Max (17 October 2013). "Yields and Land Use in Agriculture". Our World in Data. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  6. Ceddia, M. G.; Bardsley, N. O.; Gomez-y-Paloma, S.; Sedlacek, S. (2014-05-05). "Governance, agricultural intensification, and land sparing in tropical South America". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (20): 7242–7247. Bibcode:2014PNAS..111.7242C. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1317967111 . ISSN   0027-8424. PMC   4034233 . PMID   24799696.
  7. Wright, Rebecca; Watson, Ivan; Booth, Tom; Jamaluddin, Masrur. "Borneo is burning". CNN. Retrieved 4 December 2019.


Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg  This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 License statement/permission . Text taken from The State of the World’s Forests 2020. In brief – Forests, biodiversity and people , FAO & UNEP, FAO & UNEP. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.

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