Modern mechanised agriculture permits large fields like this one in Dorset, England

Arable land (from the Latin: arabilis, "able to be ploughed") is any land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops.[1] Alternatively, for the purposes of agricultural statistics,[2] the term often has a more precise definition:

Arable land is the land under temporary agricultural crops (multiple-cropped areas are counted only once), temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens and land temporarily fallow (less than five years). The abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included in this category. Data for 'Arable land' are not meant to indicate the amount of land that is potentially cultivable.[3]

A more concise definition appearing in the Eurostat glossary similarly refers to actual rather than potential uses: "land worked (ploughed or tilled) regularly, generally under a system of crop rotation".[4] In Britain, arable land has traditionally been contrasted with pasturable land such as heaths, which could be used for sheep-rearing but not as farmland.

Arable land is vulnerable to land degradation and some types of un-arable land can be enriched to create useful land. Climate change and biodiversity loss, are driving pressure on arable land.[5]

By country

Share of land area used for arable agriculture, OWID

Further information: Land use statistics by country

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in 2013, the world's arable land amounted to 1.407 billion hectares, out of a total of 4.924 billion hectares of land used for agriculture.[6]

Arable land area (1000 ha)[7]
Rank Country or region 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1  United States 156,645 157,191 157,737 157,737 157,737
2  India 156,413 156,317 156,317 156,317 156,067
3  Russia 121,649 121,649 121,649 121,649 121,649
4  China 119,593 119,512 119,477 119,475 119,474
5  Brazil 54,518 55,140 55,762 55,762 55,762
6  Canada 38,282 38,530 38,509 38,690 38,648
7  Nigeria 34,000 34,000 34,000 34,000 34,000
8  Ukraine 32,775 32,776 32,773 32,889 32,924
9  Argentina 36,688 35,337 33,985 32,633 32,633
10  Australia 31,090 30,057 30,752 30,974 30,573

Arable land (hectares per person)

Fields in the region of Záhorie in Western Slovakia
A field of sunflowers in Cardejón, Spain
Arable land (hectares per person)[7]
Country Name 2013
Afghanistan 0.254
Albania 0.213
Algeria 0.196
American Samoa 0.054
Andorra 0.038
Angola 0.209
Antigua and Barbuda 0.044
Argentina 0.933
Armenia 0.150
Aruba 0.019
Australia 1.999
Austria 0.160
Azerbaijan 0.204
Bahamas, The 0.021
Bahrain 0.001
Bangladesh 0.049
Barbados 0.039
Belarus 0.589
Belgium 0.073
Belize 0.227
Benin 0.262
Bermuda 0.005
Bhutan 0.133
Bolivia 0.427
Bosnia and Herzegovina 0.264
Botswana 0.125
Brazil 0.372
British Virgin Islands 0.034
Brunei Darussalam 0.012
Bulgaria 0.479
Burkina Faso 0.363
Burundi 0.115
Cabo Verde 0.108
Cambodia 0.275
Cameroon 0.279
Canada 1.306
Cayman Islands 0.003
Central African Republic 0.382
Chad 0.373
Channel Islands 0.026
Chile 0.074
China 0.078
Colombia 0.036
Comoros 0.086
Congo, Dem. Rep. 0.098
Congo, Rep. 0.125
Costa Rica 0.049
Côte d'Ivoire 0.134
Croatia 0.206
Cuba 0.278
Cyprus 0.070
Czech Republic 0.299
Denmark 0.429
Djibouti 0.002
Dominica 0.083
Dominican Republic 0.078
Ecuador 0.076
Egypt, Arab Rep. 0.031
El Salvador 0.120
Equatorial Guinea 0.151
Estonia 0.480
Ethiopia 0.160
Faroe Islands 0.062
Fiji 0.187
Finland 0.409
France 0.277
French Polynesia 0.009
Gabon 0.197
Gambia, The 0.236
Georgia 0.119
Germany 0.145
Ghana 0.180
Greece 0.232
Greenland 0.016
Grenada 0.028
Guam 0.006
Guatemala 0.064
Guinea 0.259
Guinea-Bissau 0.171
Guyana 0.552
Haiti 0.103
Honduras 0.130
Hong Kong SAR, China 0.000
Hungary 0.445
Iceland 0.374
India 0.123
Indonesia 0.094
Iran, Islamic Rep. 0.193
Iraq 0.147
Ireland 0.242
Isle of Man 0.253
Israel 0.035
Italy 0.113
Jamaica 0.044
Japan 0.033
Jordan 0.032
Kazakhstan 1.726
Kenya 0.133
Kiribati 0.018
Korea, Dem. People's Rep. 0.094
Korea, Rep. 0.030
Kuwait 0.003
Kyrgyz Republic 0.223
Lao PDR 0.226
Latvia 0.600
Lebanon 0.025
Lesotho 0.119
Liberia 0.116
Libya 0.274
Liechtenstein 0.070
Lithuania 0.774
Luxembourg 0.115
Macao SAR, China
Macedonia, FYR 0.199
Madagascar 0.153
Malawi 0.235
Malaysia 0.032
Maldives 0.010
Mali 0.386
Malta 0.021
Marshall Islands 0.038
Mauritania 0.116
Mauritius 0.060
Mexico 0.186
Micronesia, Fed. Sts. 0.019
Moldova 0.510
Mongolia 0.198
Montenegro 0.013
Morocco 0.240
Mozambique 0.213
Myanmar 0.203
Namibia 0.341
Nepal 0.076
Netherlands 0.062
New Caledonia 0.024
New Zealand 0.123
Nicaragua 0.253
Niger 0.866
Nigeria 0.197
Northern Mariana Islands 0.019
Norway 0.159
Oman 0.010
Pakistan 0.168
Palau 0.048
Panama 0.148
Papua New Guinea 0.041
Paraguay 0.696
Peru 0.136
Philippines 0.057
Poland 0.284
Portugal 0.107
Puerto Rico 0.017
Qatar 0.007
Romania 0.438
Russian Federation 0.852
Rwanda 0.107
Samoa 0.042
San Marino 0.032
São Tomé and Príncipe 0.048
Saudi Arabia 0.102
Senegal 0.229
Serbia 0.460
Seychelles 0.001
Sierra Leone 0.256
Singapore 0.000
Sint Maarten (Dutch part)
Slovak Republic 0.258
Slovenia 0.085
Solomon Islands 0.036
Somalia 0.107
South Africa 0.235
South Sudan
Spain 0.270
Sri Lanka 0.063
St. Kitts and Nevis 0.092
St. Lucia 0.016
St. Martin (French part)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0.046
Sudan 0.345
Suriname 0.112
Swaziland 0.140
Sweden 0.270
Switzerland 0.050
Syrian Arab Republic 0.241
Tajikistan 0.106
Tanzania 0.269
Thailand 0.249
Timor-Leste 0.131
Togo 0.382
Tonga 0.152
Trinidad and Tobago 0.019
Tunisia 0.262
Turkey 0.270
Turkmenistan 0.370
Turks and Caicos Islands 0.030
Uganda 0.189
Ukraine 0.715
United Arab Emirates 0.004
United Kingdom 0.098
United States 0.480
Uruguay 0.682
Uzbekistan 0.145
Vanuatu 0.079
Venezuela, RB 0.089
Vietnam 0.071
Virgin Islands (US) 0.010
West Bank and Gaza 0.011
Yemen, Rep. 0.049
Zambia 0.243
Zimbabwe 0.268

Non-arable land

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Water buffalo ploughing rice fields near Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia
A pasture in the East Riding of Yorkshire in England

Agricultural land that is not arable according to the FAO definition above includes:

Other non-arable land includes land that is not suitable for any agricultural use. Land that is not arable, in the sense of lacking capability or suitability for cultivation for crop production, has one or more limitations – a lack of sufficient freshwater for irrigation, stoniness, steepness, adverse climate, excessive wetness with the impracticality of drainage, excessive salts, or a combination of these, among others.[8] Although such limitations may preclude cultivation, and some will in some cases preclude any agricultural use, large areas unsuitable for cultivation may still be agriculturally productive. For example, United States NRCS statistics indicate that about 59 percent of US non-federal pasture and unforested rangeland is unsuitable for cultivation, yet such land has value for grazing of livestock.[9] In British Columbia, Canada, 41 percent of the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve area is unsuitable for the production of cultivated crops, but is suitable for uncultivated production of forage usable by grazing livestock.[10] Similar examples can be found in many rangeland areas elsewhere.

Changes in arability

Land conversion

Land incapable of being cultivated for the production of crops can sometimes be converted to 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 installing greenhouses with internal light and heat for protection against the cold outside and to provide light in cloudy areas. Such modifications are often prohibitively expensive. An alternative is the seawater greenhouse, which desalinates water through evaporation and condensation using solar energy as the only energy input. This technology is optimized to grow crops on desert land close to the sea.

The use of artifices does not make the land arable. Rock still remains rock, and shallow – less than 6 feet (1.8 metres) – turnable soil is still not considered toilable. The use of artifice is an open-air none recycled water hydroponics relationship.[clarification needed] The below described circumstances are not in perspective, have limited duration, and have a tendency to accumulate trace materials in soil that either there or elsewhere cause deoxygenation. The use of vast amounts of fertilizer may have unintended consequences for the environment by devastating rivers, waterways, and river endings through the accumulation of non-degradable toxins and nitrogen-bearing molecules that remove oxygen and cause non-aerobic processes to form.

Examples of infertile non-arable land being turned into fertile arable land include:

Land degradation

Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the or biophysical or biochemical environment is affected by a combination of natural or human-induced processes acting upon the land.[11][12] It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.[13] Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

Expert projections suggest that land degradation will be an important theme of the 21st century, impacting agricultural productivity, biodiversity loss, environmental change, and its effects on food security.[14] It is estimated that up to 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded.[15]

According to the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "About a quarter of the Earth's ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation (medium confidence). Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 11 to 20 times (no-tillage) to more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate (medium confidence)."[16]

The United Nations estimate that about 30% of land is degraded worldwide, and about 3.2 billion people reside in these degrading areas, giving a high rate of environmental pollution.[17] About 12 million hectares of productive land—which roughly equals the size of Greece—is degraded every year. This happens because people exploit the land without protecting it.[18][19] The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 has a target to restore degraded land and soil and achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030.[20]


Examples of fertile arable land being turned into infertile land include:

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "arable, adj. and n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2013.
  2. ^ The World Bank. Agricultural land (% of land area) Archived 17 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ FAOSTAT. [Statistical database of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] Glossary. 1 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Eurostat. Glossary: Arable land. Archived 7 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ IPCC (2019). Shukla, P.R.; Skea, J.; Calvo Buendia, E.; Masson-Delmotte, V.; et al. (eds.). IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems (PDF). In press.
  6. ^ "FAOSTAT Land Use module". Food and Agriculture Organization. Archived from the original on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  7. ^ a b "FAOSTAT Land Use module". Food and Agriculture Organization. Archived from the original on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  8. ^ United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1961. Land capability classification. Agriculture Handbook 210. 21 pp.
  9. ^ NRCS. 2013. Summary report 2010 national resources inventory. The United States Natural Resources Conservation Service. 163 pp.
  10. ^ Agricultural Land Commission. Agriculture Capability and the ALR Fact Sheet.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Conacher, Arthur; Conacher, Jeanette (1995). Rural Land Degradation in Australia. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press Australia. p. 2. ISBN 0-19-553436-0.
  12. ^ "Desertification - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics". Retrieved 20 June 2024.
  13. ^ Johnson, D.L., S.H. Ambrose, T.J. Bassett, M.L. Garfield Bowen, D.E. Crummey, J.S. Isaacson, D.N. Johnson, P. Lamb, M. Saul, and A.E. Winter-Nelson. 1997. Meanings of environmental terms. Journal of Environmental Quality 26: 581–589.
  14. ^ Eswaran, H.; R. Lal; P.F. Reich (2001). "Land degradation: an overview". Responses to Land Degradation. Proc. 2nd. International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification. New Delhi: Oxford Press. Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  15. ^ Ian Sample (31 August 2007). "Global food crisis looms as climate change and population growth strip fertile land". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2008.
  16. ^ Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems (PDF). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2019. p. 5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 February 2020. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  17. ^ Le, Quang Bao; Nkonya, Ephraim; Mirzabaev, Alisher (2014). "Biomass Productivity-Based Mapping of Global Land Degradation Hotspots". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2465799. hdl:10419/106616. ISSN 1556-5068. S2CID 126829880.
  18. ^ "Artificial intelligence makes restaurants and farms more sustainable". European Investment Bank. Archived from the original on 29 July 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  19. ^ "24 billion tons of fertile land lost every year, warns UN chief on World Day to Combat Desertification". UN News. 16 June 2019. Archived from the original on 28 June 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  20. ^ "Goal 15 targets". UNDP. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2020.