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17 Dec 2012: ‘Peak Farmland’ Reached, as
Yields Rise and Growth Slows, Report Says

The amount of agricultural land needed to feed the world’s population has reached its peak as a result of improved crop yields and slower population growth, and as much as 10 percent of the land currently used for farming could be “restored to Nature” within 50 years, a team of experts says. In an analysis published in the journal Population and Development Review, three researchers from Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment (PHE) predict that the 1.53 billion hectares (3.78 billion) acres of arable land and farming areas that existed in 2009 could drop to 1.38 billion hectares (3.41 billion acres) by 2060. That would allow an area the size of 2 ½ Frances to be restored to natural conditions. “Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many have feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers,” said Jesse Ausubel, director of the PHE and lead author of the report. The PHE study stands in stark contrast to a recent UN report, which predicted that by 2050 another 70 million hectares of land would have to be cultivated to feed a growing population. The new report does not account for several factors that could undermine its projections, including major disruptions from climate change and the rate of development of agricultural land for biofuels.

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