portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

education | environment

Farming Claims Almost Half Earth's Land, New Maps Show

Agriculture kills ecosytems
Farming Claims Almost Half Earth's Land, New Maps Show
James Owen
for National Geographic News
December 9, 2005

Food production takes up almost half of the planet's land surface
and threatens to consume the fertile land that still remains,
scientists warn.

The global impact of farming on the environment is revealed in new maps, which show that 40 percent of the Earth's land is now given over to agriculture.

University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists compiled the maps using satellite images and crop and livestock production data from countries around the world. The team presented their picture of global land use this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"The satellite data tells us where cultivation is occurring with good spatial accuracy, while the census data is able to tell us what is being grown there," said Navin Ramankutty, a land-use researcher with Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE).

The maps suggest that an area roughly the size of South America is used for crop production, while even more land—7.9 to 8.9 billion acres (3.2 to 3.6 billion hectares)—is being used to raise livestock.

And with the world's population growing rapidly, the pressure is on farmers to find new land to cultivate, the study team says.

"How can we continue to produce food from the land while preventing negative environmental consequences, such as deforestation, water pollution, and soil erosion?" Ramankutty said.

Past Picture

The researchers also used past land-use data to create maps showing how agriculture has spread over the centuries. In 1700, for example, just 7 percent of the world's land was used for farming.

Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that total farmland increased by 12.4 million acres (5 million hectares) annually between 1992 and 2002.

The SAGE scientists identified specific crops that help account for this growth.

In Brazil, for example, huge areas of rain forest have been replaced by soybeans, which aren't a traditional crop in South America. Production has been fueled by demand for soy from China.

Brazil's Mato Grosso state has seen the biggest expansion of soybean farming. A study by researchers at the University of Maryland found that 72 percent of land cleared for crops in that region between 2001 and 2003 was previously pasture for livestock.

"It is not clear how much of this expansion is replacing forests versus other land cover," Ramankutty said. "However, it is very likely that these pastures were formerly rain forest. So the transition may have been from forest to pasture to soybeans."

SAGE researcher Amato Evan said, "If current trends continue, we should expect to see increased agricultural production at the cost of increased tropical deforestation."

"And the production that is really driving the tropical cropland expansion are crops that are used as feed for cattle."

Farmland Potential

Countries with the least suitable agricultural lands are likely to be the ones hardest hit by increased food demand.

The team identified 16 such regions by comparing remaining potential arable land with projected population growth over the next 45 years. The regions include several parts of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

"Most of the best lands are already cultivated, for sure," Ramankutty said. "But by some estimates, we can potentially double the amount of cultivated land by using the unrealized potential in Latin America and Africa."

He says, however, that these remaining unexploited areas are not necessarily best suited for agriculture, and that using them for farming would often mean clearing valuable natural ecosystems.

"I don't think we are in danger of running out of food," Ramankutty said. "The issue is about what we are going to do to the environment in the process of producing that food."

One potential solution could be "precision farming." The model uses new technology to improve productivity while reducing the use of water and the application of fertilizer and other potentially harmful chemicals.

According to Evan, heavy fertilizer use is a major problem in farming areas, such as Madison, where the runoff pollutes nearby lakes.

The precision system, currently being developed by NASA geoscientists, would work by using satellite data to help farmers decide how to use their resources with pinpoint accuracy based on the requirements of different areas of each field.

Meanwhile, the next phase of the SAGE project is to build an Internet-based database called the Earth Collaboratory. The resource would draw on the knowledge of scientists, local environmentalists, and the general public to help design localized plans for land use.

Jonathan Foley, director of SAGE, said the project "will truly be a brave new experiment that effectively bridges science, decision-making, and real-world environmental practice—collectively envisioning a new way to live sustainably."

homepage: homepage: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/98986731.html

Uh oh - 07.Apr.2012 17:02

kili is a dipshit

the vast majority of soy that is grown is used to feed animals so humans can eat them. Better go vegan and save the planet.

Underlying 07.Apr.2012 22:29

Den Mark, Vancouver WA

Underlying the food-vs-planet scenario is that there are far too many people on the planet. I despise cultures & religions that insist on large families. Such people are selfish & stupid, & remind me of vermin, or cancer cells.

Uh oh- 08.Apr.2012 06:33


I find it very interesting and fairly amusing.

All the times before that I have had responses like this it is when I was try to talk evolution with fundamentalist christians. I never new fundamentalist vegans/vegetarians would be as bad.

So, really, you don't think I know that most of soy is used to feed livestock? It says so in the article. I posted it you moron.

some more stuff for you to make dumb comment 08.Apr.2012 07:59


Here, I posted this too.

You don't get it 08.Apr.2012 10:52


Kili, not everyone who stumbles across your dumb posts is a vegan or vegetarian. You sound as willfully ignorant, one sided, and ill-informed as any religious or nationalistic fundamentalist. You're antagonizing fights about things we all know and we all know better than you. You're trying so hard to be powerful over other people and to be right about something, anything. You're not really making any attempts to be helpful. The material you post isn't even yours. It's just cut and pasted. You're a little boy sparkle-gluing macaroni to magazine ads wondering why nobody understands the "genius" of your art.

Crash 08.Apr.2012 11:46


The Ocean is Likely in similar condition

Population doubling in 70 years or so.

This means demand is double for everything if physically possible...

I love you guys but,,, 08.Apr.2012 16:17

Lloyd Hart dadapop@dadapop.com

The earth has a solution for the human infestation. It's called an ice age in which human numbers get knocked way down and those that survive get pushed together at the equator and kill each other over scant resources. This is why we can't seem to keep good records of our real past. The most violent assholes dominate the historical record. The last global civilization before us that rose up and collapsed was the pyramid civilization. Who knows what was before that but we have been doing this same rise to global dominance and then total collapse for over a million years. We don't actually know how old a species we really are or where we came from or how we got here but one thing is certain, we didn't evolve from apes 150,000 years ago. We are an ape and didn't evolve from apes. We are simply a particular kind of ape that burns tons of fuel filling the atmosphere with carbon provoking an ice age and starting the cycle all over again.

Don't get me wrong, I don't dispute the theory of evolution, I just think it took 100 million years instead of 150,000 years to produce our particular type of ape. We are an animal driven by instinct that will always fuck and produce off spring. Maybe we will learn one day to stop the rise and collapse cycle and settle for a more humble position in our planet's plan.

Good luck to you all. I hope you survive the coming ice age.

Actually Rachel 08.Apr.2012 18:39


I have had similar conversations to this when I try to discuss evolution with religious fundamentalist. I am open to new information and I am willing to admit when I am wrong. It is amazing how when you try to talk information with someone who only knows ideology, they accuse you of doing exactly what they are doing. You see it on Faux news, and you hear it on talk radio.

I just wonder who has been censoring my other posts?

“The question isn’t- Can they talk? Nor- Can they reason? But- Can they suffer?” 08.Apr.2012 20:25


Meat, sadly, is a universal 'food', though the particular animals eaten vary from country to country.  http://arzone.ning.com/profiles/blogs/4715978:BlogPost:89012

As Jeremy Bentham wrote in 1789, arguing for moral & legislative rights for animals- "The question isn't- Can they talk? Nor- Can they reason? But- Can they suffer?"

so-called 'tradition' and 'culture' are PATRIARCHAL TOOLS which will continue to keep animals enslaved until we all stand up for the voiceless...

Silent Protest in Berlin (soundtrack by VoiceOfTheVoiceless)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCZyBGCvb90

~create peace~
We are Voiceless. — Crying is the same in every language.
We are Voiceless. — Crying is the same in every language.
All Animals Have Rights—  Saying goodbye hurts.
All Animals Have Rights— Saying goodbye hurts.
Peace on Earth… it’s upon us to ‘create it’ through our ACTIONS.
Peace on Earth… it’s upon us to ‘create it’ through our ACTIONS.

Well Rachel 08.Apr.2012 21:15


lets take a look at your comment

Kili, not everyone who stumbles across your dumb posts is a vegan or vegetarian.--Correct, I expect them to critically judge everything I post

You sound as willfully ignorant--actually I am a botanist who has worked in natural resource management and I teach at a community college

, one sided, and ill-informed as any religious or nationalistic fundamentalist.--I am willing to look at new information and admit when I am wrong, just look at the posts

You're antagonizing fights--most of the personal attacks have been directed at me, just look at the posts

about things we all know and we all know better than you. You're trying so hard to be powerful over other people--no I am just putting out information

and to be right about something, anything. You're not really making any attempts to be helpful. The material you post isn't even yours.--never claimed it was; lots of people repost here

It's just cut and pasted. You're a little boy sparkle-gluing macaroni to magazine ads wondering why nobody understands the "genius" of your art.--I'm not an artist, just someone who is trying to correct some misinformation

It is interesting, there is another group of people I have interacted with that first deny, or dismiss and then resort to the personal attacks, much as has been done here. They are christian fundamnetalist, when I talk about evolution

The really interesting thing is that my posts are being censored. I guess the people here can't handle an honest discussion.

We need ‘LOTS OF MEAT’ in order to feed our many, many, MANy children. 10.Apr.2012 18:45

Prolific Progeny

Really... because of our huge family we need our very own slaughterhouse running 24/7 so as to keep up with OUR never-ending MEAT DEMANDS. We have an insatiable appetite for meat, meat "buy-products", and all things meat related.

It is a 'patriarchal society' after all that encourages and rewards our (some might say selfish) actions and behavior. We are well rewarded with our many fans and lots of money $$$ we make from our TV show. We have our own TV show so that makes us righteous.

We plan on having many more children in the future. Some might say "8 is enough"... but we believe 19 children is not enough for us! It is the American way... freedom to multiply as much as we want to with zero thought to planetary resource depletion! Why cloud your mind with yucky unpleasant thoughts? Ignorance is bliss... right?!

It's "fun-damental"! It's fun to overpopulate the Earth. We believe "overpopulation" is a man-made lie. It is a myth because we don't go to war to fight for resources/oil— that's just outlandish and absurd! Did I mention we have our own TV show! Yeah! This is sooo FUN! Because we have our own TV show that makes us right with "our beliefs"... because we are televised (on TV). We can influence many others to "follow our lead by example". We are great role models for "sustainability"!

We plan on having at least 50 children... maybe more?! The sky's the limit. There are infinite ANIMAL RESOURCES for us to CONSUME 'ad nauseam'. We deserve more meat than other people because of our ever so large (and soon to be doubling) family size. Meat is just a faceless "product" like any other for us to consume in large quantities. It doesn't bother our conscience in the least because animals were put here on the planet for us to dominate and use/abuse as "commodities". They are soulless and have no feelings like us and our huge family (oops, I meant unlike). Meat isn't murder— that's just silly, loony, stinkin' thinkin'. Who cares about the SPECIES BIODIVERSITY of the planet. We have the ability to keep having as many children as we like (so that is what we are going to keep doing) and we are on TV so that must make us right with our ginormous ever increasing family size and of course with our TV show that not only condones (not "condoms") our behavior but also finances our weekly program by giving us lots of money $$$! Life is great when you have confirmation and mass acceptance (by being on TV and having your own TV show that is extremely "profitable" for us $$$). Our motto is— "the bigger the family size the better because there are NO LIMITS". Yeah! We are so righteous!

Be sure to watch us on TV!
The Duggars, Family On '19 Kids And Counting' Share A Day In The Life  link to www.huffingtonpost.com
Duggar Family Expecting 20th Child: '19 Kids And Counting' Mom Pregnant  link to www.huffingtonpost.com
'19 Kids and Counting' Star -- Three Rifles, No Ammo (TMZ is a horrendous horrible link but I couldn't resist because of the photo of the gun toting son and the impression/influence he wants to convey to the foreign exchange student for the real "USA" experience. Guns & USA are #1!)  link to www.tmz.com

Rick Santorum's Secret Weapon: The Duggars  http://motherjones.com/mojo/2012/01/rick-santorums-secret-weapon-duggars

The Stork by Nina Paley —  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-2bq0bxjMU
The Wit & Wisdom of Cancer—  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3C-ERBfCms
VHEMT - Fertco—  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUlMmT1zWTM

Breeding is “Fundamental” ?
Breeding is “Fundamental” ?
We have “LARGE Family Values”.
We have “LARGE Family Values”.
Duggar Gun Family Values.  Guns & USA are #1!
Duggar Gun Family Values. Guns & USA are #1!