Land and Farm Production: Availability, Use, and Productivity of Agricultural Land in the World

33 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2014 Last revised: 5 Oct 2020

Date Written: October 30, 2014


Population and income growth determine increasing demand for agricultural products, especially food products; and agricultural production requires land. This paper analyses historical trends in growth of agricultural production (total and per capita, at world level and for major regions) during the half century since 1961 to 2011, and the relative contributions to such growth coming from additional land and from increased land productivity, and summarises the latest studies on availability of extra suitable land.

World production has been growing steadily ahead of population, causing a rising tendency in agricultural and food output per capita; such growth has been achieved with very little addition of extra land; land use for agriculture peaked around 1990 and has been stagnant or declining since; extra land contributed just about 5% of agricultural output growth from 1961 to 2011, and almost nothing in the latest decades.

On the other hand, land suitable for rain-fed crop production that is not forested, not built-up, not otherwise protected, and not yet cropped, is quite abundant. However, projections of future agricultural growth, even under very conservative hypotheses, do not envisage much increase in the use of extra land.

Available estimates show that agricultural Total Factor Productivity (TFP) is the dominant factor in agricultural growth, and that growth of agricultural TFP is accelerating. The world produces more than enough food relative to the needs of the world's population (though unequal access persists), and is very far from running out of land to sustain agricultural growth in the future, even assuming less progress in productivity in the coming decades.

Keywords: land, land productivity, agriculture, agricultural productivity, agricultural frontier, arable land, crop land suitability, land use

JEL Classification: Q16, O13, O3, O47, Q15, Q16, Q24

Suggested Citation

Maletta, Hector E., Land and Farm Production: Availability, Use, and Productivity of Agricultural Land in the World (October 30, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Hector E. Maletta (Contact Author)

Universidad del Pacífico ( email )

Av Salaverry 2020
Lima, 11

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