New maps produced by American scientists reveal that the planet is running out of fertile land.  Consequently food production will soon be unable to keep up with the Earth’s rapidly increasing population.

According to the Guardian (6 December) the maps reveal that almost 40% of the worlds land mass is being used to grow crops or graze cattle.

By combining satellite images of land cover with census data from every country in the world scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were able to create detailed maps global land use.

Presented to a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this week the maps reveal mans footprint on the earth during 2000.  For comparison the scientists have recreated the situation in 1700 to show how things have changed.

“The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle,” said Navin Ramankutty a member of the research team. 

In comparison, only 7% of the world’s land was being used for agriculture in 1700.

The maps reveal that major expansion in agriculture is in Brazil and Argentina where the rainforest has been cut down to make way for soybean production, mainly for export to Europe and China.

Meanwhile agricultural production in Europe and North America has dropped as land is gobbled up by urbanisation.

The research also indicates that there is little room for further agricultural expansion.