Category Archives: arable land

The Earth’s Land Use (Cover) Breakdown from the FAO

The FAO has released a new database that summarizes land cover on our lovely planet, drawing from satellite and other types of data resources. Combining the sources of information available to us today in this way has never been done before and will help aid in assessing the future of food production and its sustainability. The database is called “Global Land Cover SHARE database”.

Next, is the general category breakdown from the report. It looks like we’ve paved over .6 percent of the Earth’s land surface. That is quite an Anthropocene feat.

The FAO’s new database includes eleven global land cover layers, and here are the percentages allocated to each one:

artificial surfaces (which cover 0.6 percent of the Earth’s surface)
bare soils (15.2 percent)
croplands (12.6 percent)
grasslands (13.0 percent)
herbaceous vegetation (1.3 percent)
inland water bodies (2.6 percent)
mangroves (0.1 percent)
shrub-covered areas (9.5 percent)
snow and glaciers (9.7 percent)
sparse vegetation (7.7 percent)
tree-covered areas (27.7 percent)


Arable Land Per Person in Various Regions of the World

This chart is from the recent Iowa State AGMRC publication, “Can We Meet the World’s Growing Demand for Food?” by Don Hofstrand. The writing includes many issues related to global food security. Note that South America’s arable land per person value is equal to Sub-Saharan Africa’s. (Also note correction: Middle East and North America should read Middle East and North Africa)

I look forward to Hofstrand’s future writing about how biofuels will and do affect global food security, which he says is coming soon.


Geography Lesson: Just How Big is Africa?

This map of Africa was created by Kal Krause, who calls it a small contribution in the fight against rampant immappancy, a word meaning insufficient geographical knowledge.

For comparison, the U.S. including Alaska, has a land size that is only 32 percent of the size of Africa.

Next, let’s look at a map showing renewable water per capita in Africa. As you can see, water security in Africa varies greatly by country, but on average is scarce.

With a rapidly growing population, Africa faces water challenges in many of its countries, in both quantity and quality, and is expected to face more water difficulties with a changing climate. In addition, much of its soils are acidic, nutrient depleted, and desertified. Most African farmers are poor, lacking fertilizers, machinery, and infrastructure.

Yet, the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, known as a great food-insecure region, has seen a decline in its undernourished population in the past two decades, falling from 33 percent to 25 percent, according the the FAO. Agricultural author, Paul McMahon, believes that Sub-Saharan Africa has enormous potential to increase production, with more than 750 million hectares of suitable land that could be brought into production, and the potential to triple yields.

This large continent will be ground zero for agricultural development in coming decades.

Thank you to valued reader, Dave, who alerted me to this map of Africa.

Mycorrhiza Proves Valuable in Qatar’s Saline Soils

Is the fungus Micorrhiza a panacea?

It seems to make possible what might seem impossible, like growing vegetables in the inhospitable saline soils of Qatar. Calling it cheap with huge potential, scientists in Qatar used this naturally occurring soil fungus by mass producing it in labs and then adding it to soil to grow healthy, nutrient rich vegetables like corn, radishes, tomatoes, and also wheat. The crops grown were nutrient rich, like those grown on much better arable land. These plants were grown where salinity was greater than the sea one meter beneath the soil surface.

Micorrhiza, or root-fungus, increases the fruit and flowering of plants while improving soil quality and reducing the need for water and fertilizer. It is organic, natural, and chemical free.

When the right type of Micorrhiza is added to soils, it is capable of reducing water needs by 25 percent. It reduces the need for fertilizer, enables plants to be grown in salty or contaminated soils, and increases the temperature stress tolerance of plants. It does so by working symbiotically with plants. It attaches to the roots and forms root exudates or arbuscules, with finely branched hyphae which allow for an amplified exchange of nutrients between the soil and the plant. It greatly enhances the uptake of phosphorus and it protects the plant roots from disease pathogens. It is possible for a plant with the fungus present on its roots to uptake 100 times as many nutrients as a plant without the fungus. Certain types of Mycorrhiza are also key to storing carbon in the soil.

If you are a gardener and want to promote the growth of your own garden soil network of Mycorrhiza, add compost, don’t use synthetic chemicals, do minimum tillage, rotate your crops, and grow cover crops. By cold composting, or mulching your garden with shredded leaves each fall, you can promote optimal Mycorrhizal fungi growth.

The benefits provided by Mycorrhiza appear to be just what we need as we search for farming methods which enhance heat and drought stress resistance in plants to grow crops which are more resilient in a world with a changing climate. Food security experts today are advocating regional food independence as the ultimate solution to food insecurity. But many food insecure regions lack quality soils in which to grow crops. This fungus could allow for bringing poorer quality land back into cultivation.

Perhaps it is not a panacea, but utilizing Mycorrhiza more fully could be a big help in feeding the world this coming century.

To see the Qatar Mycorrhiza story from Al Jazeera, watch the 2.5-minute video, below.