Global development of arable land has increased dramatically in South American soyabean and Southeast Asian palm oil areas, according to a Union zur Förderung von Oel- und Proteinpflanzen (UFOP) report, referring to information published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“The continuous growth in population and changes in eating habits due to higher incomes are the drivers of intensification and increases in agricultural production,” UFOP said in a press release on 19 December.

“Most of these increases are the result of expansion and, consequently, direct changes in land use predominantly in the southern hemisphere.”
In Indonesia, for example, the percentage of arable land to total land area had increased from 4.4% in 1964 to 12.4% in 2014, a rise of 281.8%. In Malaysia, the percentage of arable land to total land area was 7% in 1964, increasing to 20.1% in 2014, a rise of 287.1%. In Brazil, the increase was 300% from 1964 to 2014, and Argentina had a 95.9% increase in the same period.

“By contrast, in the northern hemisphere the trend has been in reverse [-27.2% in the EU15 and -12.9% in the USA from 1964-2014] due to nature protection programmes and the need for space to accommodate infrastructure and housing,” UFOP said. “Productivity increases have previously more than offset the reduction in planted area.”

UFOP said the conversion of primeval forest and other land was encountering increasingly strong public and political resistance.

“For this reason, there is a need to create sustainability requirements that are binding on all growing areas, such as those already specified in the EU Renewable Energy Directive for biofuels and cultivated biomass feedstocks required for biofuels production that also applies to non-EU countries.”