Arable land

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In geography, arable land (from Latin arare, to plough) is an agricultural term, meaning land that can be used for growing crops.[1] It is distinct from cultivated land and includes all land where soil and climate is suitable for agriculture, including forests and natural grasslands, and areas falling under human settlement. According to FAO report, the global land area without major soil fertility constraints is about 31.8 million square kilometers, and total potential arable land is about 41.4 million square kilometers.[2]

Although constrained by land mass and topology, the amount of arable land, both regionally and globally, fluctuates due to human and climactic factors such as irrigation, deforestation, desertification, terracing, landfill, and urban sprawl. Researchers study the impact of these changes on food production.[3][4]

The most productive portion of arable land is that from sediments left by rivers and the sea in geological times. In modern times, rivers do not generally flood as often in areas employing flood control.


Regional comparison

Data from FAO World Soil Resources Report 90.[5]

Non-arable land

Land which is unsuitable for arable farming usually has at least one of the following deficiencies: no source of fresh water; too hot (desert); too cold (Arctic); too rocky; too mountainous; too salty; too rainy; too snowy; too polluted; or too nutrient poor. Clouds may block the sunlight plants need for photosynthesis, reducing productivity. Plants can starve without light. Starvation and nomadism often exists on marginally arable land. Non-arable land is sometimes called wasteland, badlands, worthless or no man's land.

However, non-arable land can sometimes be converted into 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.

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