Arable land

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Modern mechanized agriculture permits large fields like this one in Dorset, England.

Arable land (from Latin arabilis, "able to be plowed") is, according to one definition, land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops.[1] In Britain, it was traditionally contrasted with pasturable lands such as heaths which could be used for sheep-rearing but not farmland.

A quite different kind of definition is used by various agencies concerned with agriculture. In providing statistics on arable land, the FAO and the World Bank[2] use the definition provided in the glossary accompanying FAOSTAT: "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 briefer definition appearing in the Eurostat glossary similarly refers to actual, rather than potential use: "land worked (ploughed or tilled) regularly, generally under a system of crop rotation."[4]

Arable land area[edit]

World map of arable land, percentage by country (2006)[5]

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations the world's Arable land amounted to 1,407 M ha, out of a total 4,924 M ha land used for agriculture, as for year 2013.[6]

Arable land area ('000 km2)[7][8]
Rank Country or region 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
 World 13,866 13,873 13,880 13,962 13,958
1  India 1,579 1,578 1,575 1,574 1,562
2  United States 1,631 1,605 1,598 1,602 1,551
3  Russia 1,216 1,218 1,200 1,215 1,197
4  China 1,086 1,100 1,114 1,116 1,065
5  European Union 1,091 1,089 1,074 1,074 1,083
6  Brazil 702 704 703 719 726
7  Australia 440 471 426 477 471
8  Canada 443 438 434 430 459
9  Argentina 351 338 372 380 392
10  Nigeria 370 340 360 360 350
11  Ukraine 325 325 325 325 325

Arable land (hectares per person)[edit]

Fields in the region of Záhorie in Western Slovakia.
A field of sunflowers in Cardejón, Spain
Arable land (hectares per person)[7]
Country Name 2013
Afghanistan 0.254
Albania 0.213
Algeria 0.196
American Samoa 0.054
Andorra 0.038
Angola 0.209
Antigua and Barbuda 0.044
Argentina 0.933
Armenia 0.150
Aruba 0.019
Australia 1.999
Austria 0.160
Azerbaijan 0.204
Bahamas, The 0.021
Bahrain 0.001
Bangladesh 0.049
Barbados 0.039
Belarus 0.589
Belgium 0.073
Belize 0.227
Benin 0.262
Bermuda 0.005
Bhutan 0.133
Bolivia 0.427
Bosnia and Herzegovina 0.264
Botswana 0.125
Brazil 0.372
British Virgin Islands 0.034
Brunei Darussalam 0.012
Bulgaria 0.479
Burkina Faso 0.363
Burundi 0.115
Cabo Verde 0.108
Cambodia 0.275
Cameroon 0.279
Canada 1.306
Cayman Islands 0.003
Central African Republic 0.382
Chad 0.373
Channel Islands 0.026
Chile 0.074
China 0.078
Colombia 0.036
Comoros 0.086
Congo, Dem. Rep. 0.098
Congo, Rep. 0.125
Costa Rica 0.049
Côte d'Ivoire 0.134
Croatia 0.206
Cuba 0.278
Curaçao
Cyprus 0.070
Czech Republic 0.299
Denmark 0.429
Djibouti 0.002
Dominica 0.083
Dominican Republic 0.078
Ecuador 0.076
Egypt, Arab Rep. 0.031
El Salvador 0.120
Equatorial Guinea 0.151
Eritrea
Estonia 0.480
Ethiopia 0.160
Faroe Islands 0.062
Fiji 0.187
Finland 0.409
France 0.277
French Polynesia 0.009
Gabon 0.197
Gambia, The 0.236
Georgia 0.119
Germany 0.145
Ghana 0.180
Gibraltar
Greece 0.232
Greenland 0.016
Grenada 0.028
Guam 0.006
Guatemala 0.064
Guinea 0.259
Guinea-Bissau 0.171
Guyana 0.552
Haiti 0.103
Honduras 0.130
Hong Kong SAR, China 0.000
Hungary 0.445
Iceland 0.374
India 0.123
Indonesia 0.094
Iran, Islamic Rep. 0.193
Iraq 0.147
Ireland 0.242
Isle of Man 0.253
Israel 0.035
Italy 0.113
Jamaica 0.044
Japan 0.033
Jordan 0.032
Kazakhstan 1.726
Kenya 0.133
Kiribati 0.018
Korea, Dem. People’s Rep. 0.094
Korea, Rep. 0.030
Kosovo
Kuwait 0.003
Kyrgyz Republic 0.223
Lao PDR 0.226
Latvia 0.600
Lebanon 0.025
Lesotho 0.119
Liberia 0.116
Libya 0.274
Liechtenstein 0.070
Lithuania 0.774
Luxembourg 0.115
Macao SAR, China
Macedonia, FYR 0.199
Madagascar 0.153
Malawi 0.235
Malaysia 0.032
Maldives 0.010
Mali 0.386
Malta 0.021
Marshall Islands 0.038
Mauritania 0.116
Mauritius 0.060
Mexico 0.186
Micronesia, Fed. Sts. 0.019
Moldova 0.510
Monaco
Mongolia 0.198
Montenegro 0.013
Morocco 0.240
Mozambique 0.213
Myanmar 0.203
Namibia 0.341
Nauru
Nepal 0.076
Netherlands 0.062
New Caledonia 0.024
New Zealand 0.123
Nicaragua 0.253
Niger 0.866
Nigeria 0.197
Northern Mariana Islands 0.019
Norway 0.159
Oman 0.010
Pakistan 0.168
Palau 0.048
Panama 0.148
Papua New Guinea 0.041
Paraguay 0.696
Peru 0.136
Philippines 0.057
Poland 0.284
Portugal 0.107
Puerto Rico 0.017
Qatar 0.007
Romania 0.438
Russian Federation 0.852
Rwanda 0.107
Samoa 0.042
San Marino 0.032
São Tomé and Príncipe 0.048
Saudi Arabia 0.102
Senegal 0.229
Serbia 0.460
Seychelles 0.001
Sierra Leone 0.256
Singapore 0.000
Sint Maarten (Dutch part)
Slovak Republic 0.258
Slovenia 0.085
Solomon Islands 0.036
Somalia 0.107
South Africa 0.235
South Sudan
Spain 0.270
Sri Lanka 0.063
St. Kitts and Nevis 0.092
St. Lucia 0.016
St. Martin (French part)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0.046
Sudan 0.345
Suriname 0.112
Swaziland 0.140
Sweden 0.270
Switzerland 0.050
Syrian Arab Republic 0.241
Tajikistan 0.106
Tanzania 0.269
Thailand 0.249
Timor-Leste 0.131
Togo 0.382
Tonga 0.152
Trinidad and Tobago 0.019
Tunisia 0.262
Turkey 0.270
Turkmenistan 0.370
Turks and Caicos Islands 0.030
Tuvalu
Uganda 0.189
Ukraine 0.715
United Arab Emirates 0.004
United Kingdom 0.098
United States 0.480
Uruguay 0.682
Uzbekistan 0.145
Vanuatu 0.079
Venezuela, RB 0.089
Vietnam 0.071
Virgin Islands (U.S.) 0.010
West Bank and Gaza 0.011
Yemen, Rep. 0.049
Zambia 0.243
Zimbabwe 0.268

Non-arable land[edit]

Water Buffalo ploughing rice fields near Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia
A pasture in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England

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

  • Permanent crop - land that produces crops from woody vegetation, e.g. orchardland, vineyards, coffee plantations, rubber plantations, and land producing nut trees;
  • Meadows and pastures - land used as pasture and grazed range, and those natural grasslands and sedge meadows that are used for hay production in some regions.

Other non-arable land includes land unsuitable 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 e.g. lack of sufficient fresh water for irrigation, stoniness, steepness, adverse climate, excessive wetness with impracticality of drainage, excessive salts, among others.[9] Although such limitations may preclude cultivation, and some will in some cases preclude any agricultural use, large areas unsuitable for cultivation are agriculturally productive. For example, US 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.[10] In British Columbia, Canada, 41 percent of the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve area is unsuitable for production of cultivated crops, but is suitable for uncultivated production of forage usable by grazing livestock.[11] Similar examples can be found in many rangeland areas elsewhere.

Land incapable of being cultivated for 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 greenhouses with internal light and heat for protection against the cold outside and to provide light in cloudy areas. This process is often extremely 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.

Some examples of infertile non-arable land being turned into fertile arable land are:

  • Aran Islands: These islands off the west coast of Ireland, (not to be confused with the Isle of Arran in Scotland's Firth of Clyde), were unsuitable for arable farming because they were too rocky. The people covered the islands with a shallow layer of seaweed and sand from the ocean. This made it arable. Today, crops are grown there.
  • Israel: The construction of desalination plants along Israel's coast allowed agriculture in some areas that were formerly desert. The desalination plants, which remove the salt from ocean water, have created a new source of water for farming, drinking, and washing.
  • Slash and burn agriculture uses nutrients in wood ash, but these expire within a few years.
  • Terra preta, fertile tropical soils created by adding charcoal.

Some examples of fertile arable land being turned into infertile land are:

  • Droughts like the 'dust bowl' of the Great Depression in the U.S. turned farmland into desert.
  • 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.
  • Each year, arable land is lost due to desertification and human-induced erosion. Improper irrigation of farm land 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "arable, adj. and n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2013.
  2. ^ The World Bank. Agricultural land (% of land area) http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.AGRI.ZS
  3. ^ FAOSTAT. [Statistical database of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] Glossary. http://faostat3.fao.org/mes/glossary/E
  4. ^ Eurostat. Glossary: Arable land. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Glossary:Arable_land
  5. ^ Arable land in this map refers to a definition used by the US CIA - land cultivated for crops like wheat, maize, and rice that are replanted after each harvest
  6. ^ "FAOSTAT Land Use module". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "FAOSTAT Land Use module". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  8. ^ "Arable Land Area". The Helgi Library. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  9. ^ United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1961. Land capability classification. Agriculture Handbook 210. 21 pp.
  10. ^ NRCS. 2013. Summary report 2010 national resources inventory. United States Natural Resources Conservation Service. 163 pp.
  11. ^ Agricultural Land Commission. Agriculture Capability and the ALR Fact Sheet. http://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/alc/DownloadAsset?assetId=72876D8604EC45279B8D3C1B14428CF8&filename=agriculture_capability__the_alr_fact_sheet_2013.pdf

External links[edit]