Monday, February 14, 2011
The above shows data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on the usage of cropland globally based on area used. This is expressed in billions of hectares (a hectare is 2.47 acres, and there are 259 ha to the square mile). So this, very roughly, expresses what our priorities are with our precious arable land (this is not completely accurate since not all cropland is equally valuable, so total area is only a rough indicator). I have shown the top 10 crops explicitly, and then summed all the rest. As you can see, the top ten crops use just shy of two-thirds of the area.
Also, nine of the top ten crops are grains or beans (and the exception, cotton, is not a food at all). It's worth noting that all fruits and vegetables (even potatoes) are buried in "All Others". Civilization largely runs on grains and beans.
Note the relatively modest increase in total crop area over the last fifty years - by about 30%. In that timeframe, global population has more than doubled, from about 3b to over 6.75b, and per-capita nutrition has improved too. The modest increase of crop area tells us that most of the increase in food production has come from improved yields (ie agricultural technology).
The next graph shows the same data as a line graph, so that it's easier to see changes in individual components:
You can see that the big growth stories are soybeans, corn (maize), and rapeseed. That is, all things used for animal feed, and increasingly biofuels, rather than human food. Wheat (primarily feeding humans as bread) is pretty static in total area.