A recent study by a group of scientists from around the world finds that by 2030, sprawling mega-cities will squeeze out productive farmland, especially in Asia and Africa, putting a burden on what will be an already overtaxed food system.
The study, “Future urban land expansion and implications for global croplands,” published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that by 2030, as much as 86.5 million acres of productive farmland worldwide—between two and four percent of total farmland—will be lost as the world’s so called mega-cities, generally defined as being more than ten million residents, and the adjoining areas, called “mega urban regions,” take over prime agricultural croplands to make room for a growing population and their activities.
The group of scientists from Yale, Texas A&M, the University of Maryland, and research institutions in Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Austria, found that the world’s most productive cropland—that which is irrigated—is the most at risk. That’s because 60 percent of it is on the the outskirts of large cities. As these cities expand, cropland is lost. According to the study, this irrigated land tends to be twice as productive as the other 40 percent.
“The loss of these critical farmlands puts even more pressure on food producing systems and shows that we must produce strategies to cope with this global problem,” Burak Güneralp, one of the study’s authors and a research assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A & M told Texas A & M Today.
Urban agriculture, the expansion of farming into areas farther from urban centers, and farming intensification practices (such as the heavy use of fertilizers), will offset some of the loss of farmland, say the scientists. Even so, some arid regions, like North Africa and the Middle East, are already pushing the outer limits of land use and don’t have the luxury of expanding farming into new areas away from large cities.