Some 866 million farmers feed the world

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a recent report which highlights that as the world’s population grows and resources become increasingly scarce in some parts of the planet, some 866 million people work in agriculture.

In its latest statistical yearbook on the nutritional and economic dimension in the world, the UN body reveals that it is more than a quarter of the world’s workforce, and that these peasants and farmers thus produce 3,600 billion dollars of added value.

Compared to 2000, these figures represent a 78% increase in economic value, produced by 16% fewer people. In this batch, Africa posted “a rate of growth twice as high”.

FAO’s annual statistical yearbook includes hundreds of pages of data drawn from more than 20,000 indicators and covering more than 245 countries and territories. The document covers topics such as agricultural employment, agri-food trade, the use of fertilizers and pesticides around the world, as well as environmental and climatic factors.

4.74 billion hectares of agricultural land

According to the World Bank, agriculture is also a key factor in economic growth. In 2018, it accounted for 4% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and, in some least developed developing countries, its share can exceed 25% of GDP.

Some 4.74 billion hectares of the earth’s surface is agricultural land, including grasslands and pastures as well as crops. This figure is down 3% from 2000, but is six times lower in terms of land area per capita, with Africa again leading the way.

Meanwhile, global food exports reached $1.42 trillion, a factor of $3.7 trillion since 2000. Globally, the largest food exporting countries in gross terms are the United States, the Netherlands and China.

World average of 2,960 calories/person/day

The largest net exporters are Brazil followed by Argentina and Spain. The largest net importing countries were China, Japan and the United Kingdom.

The FAO paper also considered dietary energy intake. This key indicator of food security has increased in all regions since 2000, particularly in Asia.

The global average is now 2,960 calories per person per day. This is a 9% increase, peaking at 3,540 calories per person per day in Europe and North America.

Since 2000, the production of primary crops, such as sugar cane, maize, wheat and rice, has increased by 52% between 2000 and 2020 to reach 9.3 billion tons. Vegetable oil production increased by 125% over this period, with palm oil production increasing by 236%.

Pesticide use in decline since 2017

According to the UN institution, meat production, led by chicken, increased by 45%, while the growth rate of fruits and vegetables was 20% or less.

Sugarcane is the world’s largest crop by volume, growing 1.9 million tonnes per year. Next comes maize, with 1.2 billion tonnes

According to the FAO, pesticide use worldwide peaked in 2012 and started to decline in 2017. The countries with the highest pesticide application per hectare are Saint Lucia, Maldives and Oman.

Regarding climate and environmental factors and their impact on agri-food systems, the report shows that the average temperature in 2021 was 1.44°C higher than the average from 1951 to 1980. Europe experienced the highest temperature variation, followed by Asia, with Oceania registering by far the smallest variation.

Greenhouse gas emissions on agricultural land have decreased by 4% between 2000 and 2020, with 70% of them being generated at the farm level. Beef and sheepmeat are the source of most carbon dioxide emissions, with cattle being on average 50 times more numerous than chickens.

The emission intensity of cereals is much lower, although rice emits more than five times more than wheat and coarse grains.

The rate of greenhouse gas emissions varies greatly from region to region, reflecting the large differences in production efficiency. “For example, the emission intensity of beef is almost four times higher in Africa than in Europe,” the FAO concluded.

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