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India outranks US, China with world’s highest net cropland area

New Delhi : India outranks the United States and China with the world's highest net cropland area, a high-resolution interactive global map of croplands recently launched by the US Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed.

At 179.8 million hectares, India is ahead of the 167.8 million hectares in the US and 165.2 million hectares in China. The new map is expected to help to ensure global food and water security in a sustainable way.

The map establishes that there are 1.87 billion hectares of croplands in the world, which is 15 to 20 per cent — or 250 to 350 million hectares (Mha) — higher than former assessments. The change is due to more detailed understanding of large areas that were never mapped before or were inaccurately mapped as non-croplands.

While earlier studies showed either China or the United States as having the highest net cropland area, this study shows that India ranks first, with 9.6 per cent of the global net cropland area. Second is the United States with 8.9 per cent, followed by China with 8.8 per cent and Russia with 155.8 Mha, or 8.3 per cent.

Europe along with South Asia are labelled “agricultural capitals of the world,” as cropland accounts for more than 80 per cent of some countries in those regions. In comparison, only about a fifth of land in US and China is dedicated to growing food.

Croplands make up more than 80 per cent of Moldova, San Marino and Hungary; between 70 and 80 per cent of Denmark, Ukraine, Ireland and Bangladesh; and 60 to 70 per cent of the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, Gaza Strip, Czech Republic, Italy and India. The United States and China each have 18 per cent croplands.

“The map clearly shows individual farm fields, big or small, at any location in the world,” said Prasad Thenkabail, USGS research geographer and Principal Investigator for the GFSAD30 Project Team.

“Given the high resolution of 30 meters and 0.09 hectares per pixel, a big advantage is the ability to see croplands in any country and sub-national regions, including states, provinces, districts, counties and villages.”

With current global population close to the 7.6 billion mark and expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it is of increasing importance to understand and monitor the state of agriculture across the world. The new map is expected to be useful to international development organizations, farmers, decision makers, scientists and national security professionals.

“This map is a baseline and starting point for higher level assessments, such as identifying which crops are present and where, when they grow, their productivity, if lands are left fallow and whether the water source is irrigated or rain fed,” said Thenkabail.

“Comparisons can be made between the present and past years as well as between one farm and another. It is invaluable to know the precise location of croplands and their dynamics to lead to informed and productive farm management.”

The map is critical for reasons of water security too.

Not only does it and accompanying data have significant food security implications, but it is also critical as a baseline for assessing water security. Nearly 80 per cent of all human water use across the world goes towards producing food, and this research provides insight on “crop per drop,” which is an assessment of the amount of crops produced per unit of water.

In water use efficiency in agriculture, India, however is behind the US and China, besides several other countries.

The role of satellite monitoring has gained importance in recent years as experts look at details like water usage per hectare for different crops for better water management on farms.

The USGS, which led the project, provided invaluable Landsat imagery. The USGS acquires, processes, archives and distributes — freely to anyone in the world — Landsat data from 1972 onwards till date. This project used a one-of-a-kind dataset primarily of Landsat satellite imagery from the year 2015. Remote sensing is critical to achieving a global perspective as well as objective and unbiased information.

The new map has also gone through rigorous validation, leading to an overall accuracy of 92 per cent. Validation was performed by an independent team for 72 zones across the world.

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