Between 1961 and 2009, the world’s cropland grew by 12 percent, but agricultural production expanded 150 percent, thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops. 

But one of the “warning signs” flagged by the SOLAW report is that rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing in many areas and are today only half of what they were during the heyday of the Green Revolution. 

Overall, the report paints the picture of a world experiencing an increasing imbalance between availability and demand for land and water resources at the local and national levels. The number of areas reaching the limits of their production capacity is fast increasing, the report warns.

25 percent of the earth’s lands are degraded

SOLAW provides for the first time ever a global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources. Fully one quarter are highly degraded. Another 8 percent are moderately degraded, 36 percent are stable or slightly degraded and 10 percent are ranked as “improving.” The remaining shares of the earth’s land surface are either bare (around 18 percent) or covered by inland water bodies (around 2 percent).  (These figures include all land types, not just farmland.) 

FAO’s definition of degradation extends beyond soil and water degradation per se and includes an assessment of other aspects of affected ecosystems, for instance biodiversity loss.

Large parts of all continents are experiencing land degradation, with particularly high incidences down the west coast of the Americas, across Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and throughout Asia. The greatest threat is the loss of soil quality, followed by biodiversity loss and water resources depletion.

Some 1.6 billion hectares of the world’s best, most productive lands are currently used to grow crops. Parts of these land areas are being degraded through farming practices that result in water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution, and nutrient loss.