More Land for Food?

With prices for foodstuffs rising to new levels around the world, the question of whether — or where — agricultural land could be expanded to increase the supply of key staples has become a pressing matter. We wonder: Which of the following regions has the most potential to expand its arable land?

A. East Asia
B. South Asia
C. Sub-Saharan Africa
D. Latin America

A. East Asia is not correct.

East Asia and the Pacific has only 14% of the world's arable land — but 31% of the world population.

In regions such as East Asia as well as Europe, expansion of agricultural areas is difficult because land constraints are considerable. Around the world, there is at most 12% more arable land available that is not currently forested or subject to erosion or desertification, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

B. South Asia is not correct.

South Asia has 15% of the world's arable land — and 22% of the world population. Asia's options for expanding arable land are quite limited. Fertilizer usage is already high — and without destroying forests, there is little potential for an expansion of agricultural areas, according to the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council.

By 2050, the world population is projected to increase by 50%, to 9.1 billion people. By that time, the world will need twice as much food as it did in 2000 — using less water and little more land than is in use today.

C. Sub-Saharan Africa is correct.

Africa's share of the world's arable land (11%) is in line with its share of the world population (11%).

However, by 2030, Africa's share of the world population will reach 18%. By this time, arable land area in developing countries will increase by about 120 million hectares, an increase of 13%. Half of this increase — 60 million hectares — is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa.

For this to occur, public and private investment in agricultural research needs to increase, and government policies toward farmers need to improve.

D. Latin America is not correct.

Similar to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America's share of the world's arable land (10%) is similar to its share of the world population (9%).

Latin America is one of the few regions in the world where arable land is still available that is not currently forested or subject to erosion or desertification. The region accounts for roughly one-third of the potential increase in arable land in developing countries by 2030 — but less than the 50% accounted for by sub-Saharan Africa.

Word count: 429