Arable land

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Modern mechanised agriculture permits large fields like this one in Dorset, England 040719 172 dorset marnhull2.jpg
Modern mechanised agriculture permits large fields like this one in Dorset, England

Arable land (from the Latin : arabilis , "able to be ploughed") is any land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops. [1] Alternatively, for the purposes of agricultural statistics, [2] the term often has a more precise definition:


Arable land is the land under temporary agricultural crops (multiple-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow (less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included in this category. Data for 'Arable land' are not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable. [3]

A more concise definition appearing in the Eurostat glossary similarly refers to actual rather than potential uses: "land worked (ploughed or tilled) regularly, generally under a system of crop rotation". [4] In Britain, arable land has traditionally been contrasted with pasturable land such as heaths, which could be used for sheep-rearing but not as farmland.

Arable land is vulnerable to land degradation and some types of un-arable land can be enriched to create useful land. Climate change and biodiversity loss, are driving pressure on arable land. [5]

By country

Share of land area used for arable agriculture, OWID Share of land area used for arable agriculture, OWID.svg
Share of land area used for arable agriculture, OWID

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in 2013, the world's arable land amounted to 1.407 billion hectares, out of a total of 4.924 billion hectares of land used for agriculture. [6]

Arable land area (1000 ha) [7]
RankCountry or region20152016201720182019
1Flag of the United States.svg  United States 156,645157,191157,737157,737157,737
2Flag of India.svg  India 156,413156,317156,317156,317156,067
3Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 121,649121,649121,649121,649121,649
4Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 119,593119,512119,477119,475119,474
5Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil 54,51855,14055,76255,76255,762
6Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 38,28238,53038,50938,69038,648
7Flag of Nigeria.svg  Nigeria 34,00034,00034,00034,00034,000
8Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine 32,77532,77632,77332,88932,924
9Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina 36,68835,33733,98532,63332,633
10Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 31,09030,05730,75230,97430,573

Arable land (hectares per person)

Fields in the region of Zahorie in Western Slovakia Chvojnica hills near Unin.jpg
Fields in the region of Záhorie in Western Slovakia
A field of sunflowers in Cardejon, Spain Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de La Blanca, Cardejon, Espana, 2012-09-01, DD 02.JPG
A field of sunflowers in Cardejón, Spain
Arable land (hectares per person) [7]
Country Name2013
American Samoa0.054
Antigua and Barbuda0.044
Bahamas, The0.021
Bosnia and Herzegovina0.264
British Virgin Islands0.034
Brunei Darussalam0.012
Burkina Faso0.363
Cabo Verde0.108
Cayman Islands0.003
Central African Republic0.382
Channel Islands0.026
Congo, Dem. Rep.0.098
Congo, Rep.0.125
Costa Rica0.049
Côte d'Ivoire0.134
Czech Republic0.299
Dominican Republic0.078
Egypt, Arab Rep.0.031
El Salvador0.120
Equatorial Guinea0.151
Faroe Islands0.062
French Polynesia0.009
Gambia, The0.236
Hong Kong SAR, China0.000
Iran, Islamic Rep.0.193
Isle of Man0.253
Korea, Dem. People's Rep.0.094
Korea, Rep.0.030
Kyrgyz Republic0.223
Lao PDR0.226
Macao SAR, China
Macedonia, FYR0.199
Marshall Islands0.038
Micronesia, Fed. Sts.0.019
New Caledonia0.024
New Zealand0.123
Northern Mariana Islands0.019
Papua New Guinea0.041
Puerto Rico0.017
Russian Federation0.852
San Marino0.032
São Tomé and Príncipe0.048
Saudi Arabia0.102
Sierra Leone0.256
Sint Maarten (Dutch part)
Slovak Republic0.258
Solomon Islands0.036
South Africa0.235
South Sudan
Sri Lanka0.063
St. Kitts and Nevis0.092
St. Lucia0.016
St. Martin (French part)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines0.046
Syrian Arab Republic0.241
Trinidad and Tobago0.019
Turks and Caicos Islands0.030
United Arab Emirates0.004
United Kingdom0.098
United States0.480
Venezuela, RB0.089
Virgin Islands (US)0.010
West Bank and Gaza0.011
Yemen, Rep.0.049

Non-arable land

Water buffalo ploughing rice fields near Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia Kerbau Jawa.jpg
Water buffalo ploughing rice fields near Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia
A pasture in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England Beverley Minster from West Pasture.jpg
A pasture in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England

Agricultural land that is not arable according to the FAO definition above includes:

Other non-arable land includes land that is not suitable for any agricultural use. Land that is not arable, in the sense of lacking capability or suitability for cultivation for crop production, has one or more limitations a lack of sufficient freshwater for irrigation, stoniness, steepness, adverse climate, excessive wetness with the impracticality of drainage, excessive salts, or a combination of these, among others. [8] Although such limitations may preclude cultivation, and some will in some cases preclude any agricultural use, large areas unsuitable for cultivation may still be agriculturally productive. For example, United States NRCS statistics indicate that about 59 percent of US non-federal pasture and unforested rangeland is unsuitable for cultivation, yet such land has value for grazing of livestock. [9] In British Columbia, Canada, 41 percent of the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve area is unsuitable for the production of cultivated crops, but is suitable for uncultivated production of forage usable by grazing livestock. [10] Similar examples can be found in many rangeland areas elsewhere.

Changes in arability

Land conversion

Land incapable of being cultivated for the production of crops can sometimes be converted to arable land. New arable land makes more food and can reduce starvation. This outcome also makes a country more self-sufficient and politically independent, because food importation is reduced. Making non-arable land arable often involves digging new irrigation canals and new wells, aqueducts, desalination plants, planting trees for shade in the desert, hydroponics, fertilizer, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, reverse osmosis water processors, PET film insulation or other insulation against heat and cold, digging ditches and hills for protection against the wind, and installing greenhouses with internal light and heat for protection against the cold outside and to provide light in cloudy areas. Such modifications are often prohibitively expensive. An alternative is the seawater greenhouse, which desalinates water through evaporation and condensation using solar energy as the only energy input. This technology is optimized to grow crops on desert land close to the sea.

The use of artifices does not make the land arable. Rock still remains rock, and shallow less than 6 feet (1.8 metres) turnable soil is still not considered toilable. The use of artifice is an open-air none recycled water hydroponics relationship.[ clarification needed ] The below described circumstances are not in perspective, have limited duration, and have a tendency to accumulate trace materials in soil that either there or elsewhere cause deoxygenation. The use of vast amounts of fertilizer may have unintended consequences for the environment by devastating rivers, waterways, and river endings through the accumulation of non-degradable toxins and nitrogen-bearing molecules that remove oxygen and cause non-aerobic processes to form.

Examples of infertile non-arable land being turned into fertile arable land include:

Land degradation

Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining Karst following phosphate mining on Nauru.jpg
Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land. [11] It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. [12] Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

Expert projections suggest that land degradation will be an important theme of the 21st century, impacting agricultural productivity, biodiversity loss, environmental change, and its effects on food security. [13] It is estimated that up to 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. [14]

According to the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: "About a quarter of the Earth's ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation (medium confidence). Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 11 to 20 times (no-tillage) to more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate (medium confidence).". [15]

The United Nations estimate that about 30% of land is degraded worldwide, and about 3.2 billion people reside in these degrading areas. [16] About 12 million hectares of productive land – which roughly equals the size of Greece – is degraded every year. This happens because people exploit the land without protecting it. [17] [18] The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 has a target to restore degraded land and soil and achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030. [19]


Examples of fertile arable land being turned into infertile land include:

  • Droughts such as the "Dust Bowl" of the Great Depression in the US turned farmland into desert.
  • Each year, arable land is lost due to desertification and human-induced erosion. Improper irrigation of farmland can wick the sodium, calcium, and magnesium from the soil and water to the surface. This process steadily concentrates salt in the root zone, decreasing productivity for crops that are not salt-tolerant.
  • Rainforest deforestation: The fertile tropical forests are converted into infertile desert land. For example, Madagascar's central highland plateau has become virtually totally barren (about ten percent of the country) as a result of slash-and-burn deforestation, an element of shifting cultivation practiced by many natives.

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Desert greening</span> Process of man-made reclamation of deserts

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Special Report on Climate Change and Land</span> IPCC report

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Desertification in Africa</span> Causes and effects of land degradation

Desertification in Africa is a form of land degradation that involves the conversion of productive land into desert or arid areas. This issue is a pressing environmental concern that poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of millions of people in Africa who depend on the land for subsistence. Geographical and environmental studies have recently coined the term desertification. Desertification is the process by which a piece of land becomes a desert, as the word desert implies. The loss or destruction of the biological potential of the land is referred to as desertification. It reduces or eliminates the potential for plant and animal production on the land and is a component of the widespread ecosystem degradation. Additionally, the term desertification is specifically used to describe the deterioration of the world's drylands, or its arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid climates. These regions may be far from the so-called natural or climatic deserts, but they still experience irregular water stress due to their low and variable rainfall. They are especially susceptible to damage from excessive human land use pressure. The causes of desertification are a combination of natural and human factors, with climate change exacerbating the problem. Despite this, there is a common misconception that desertification in Africa is solely the result of natural causes like climate change and soil erosion. In reality, human activities like deforestation, overgrazing, and unsustainable agricultural practices contribute significantly to the issue. Another misconception is that, desertification is irreversible, and that degraded land will forever remain barren wastelands. However, it is possible to restore degraded land through sustainable land management practices like reforestation and soil conservation. A 10.3 million km2 area, or 34.2% of the continent's surface, is at risk of desertification. If the deserts are taken into account, the affected and potentially affected area is roughly 16.5 million km2, or 54.6% of all of Africa. 5.7 percent of the continent's surface is made up of very severe regions, 16.2 percent by severe regions, and 12.3 percent by moderate to mild regions.


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