Agroforestry / August 17, 2016

The Issue of Land in Modern Agriculture

The issue of land in modern agriculture is one facing society in general and the farming industry in particular because, as the amount of arable land available per person becomes scarcer, farms need to become more productive. This article explores the status of land distribution around the world and discusses some of the challenges as well as opportunities that lie ahead for the agriculture industry.

Land in Modern Agriculture

According to the World Bank, approximately 30% (40 million square kilometres) of the world’s total land area is, today, covered by forest. However, this percentage continues to decrease steadily because of widespread deforestation for urbanization and farming purposes. Similarly, World Bank data states that approximately 40% of the global land surface is currently devoted to agriculture, which amounts to approximately 5 billion hectares worldwide. However, only 11% of the world’s total land is arable as of today, equating to some 1.5 billion hectares. Another 2% of the land is devoted to permanent crops and most of the remaining agricultural land is used for pastoral or cattle raising purposes. It is significant that, as the world’s population grows steadily, the percentage of agriculturally productive land does not increase because of geographic and resource limitations. In fact, according to the World Bank, there were 0.40 hectares of arable land available per capita in 1960; whereas today the per capita amount is closer 0.18 hectares.

The Search for Increased Yields

Given this scenario, the main challenge that we face today is increasing agricultural productivity in order to keep up with the growing population and the expanding middle class worldwide. In fact, if everyone in the world consumed at the same rate as those of us in western countries, we would need a productive output equivalent to that of two planets in order to satisfy our needs. Because of the shortage of land and the increase in agricultural demand, producers are coming up with creative methods to cultivate food and new ways to increase yields. These methods and techniques include advances in biotechnology as well as urban operations and hydro-culture projects. Fortunately, the crop production per hectare index has increased steadily every year for more than a century.

The dilemma of 21st century agriculture is that yields need to increase, however, biotechnological advances, such as genetic engineering and chemical fertilizers, are not favoured by major sectors within civil society. There are, however, other alternatives. These include intensifying and optimizing existing agricultural operations as well as creating new sources of agricultural goods. Over the last few years, there has been a surge in hydro-culture, which refers to crops grown on water instead of soil. Even though it is an ancient technique, hydroponics, which is the technique of growing plants on mineral rich water, is not widespread. A successful initiative in major urban centres, a major downside to hydroponics is that crops require large amounts of water and added minerals.

The issue of land and the need to increase yields will be a major concern within the agricultural industry for decades to come. Said dynamic offers investors and entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry immense opportunities and a variety of sectors in which to innovate.

(Read more on Water: The Most Precious Resource)