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photo credit: Scott Butner via photopin cc
photo credit: Scott Butner via photopin cc

Visions of the future often include a vast human population stripping the planet of its resources and destroying the natural environment. This makes sense. We’ll need to use more and land to feed the ever-increasing number of hungry mouths. One day we might even experience something similar to the 1970s science fiction film Soylent Green, where mankind survives on algae and only the very rich eat meat. But sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Between 1961 and 2009, global cropland should have increased 3 billion hectares, if farmers had achieved the same yields per hectare. In fact, land used has increased only 12 percent, due to improved agricultural products and methods. For example, Chinese farmers used 120 million hectares less land in 2010 than they would have used in 1961 to produce the same amount of maize.

These positive findings come from a team of scientists at Rockefeller University, New York, who analysed data on global land use, population growth and the U.N.’s crop production index for the last 50 years. The team believes that we now stand at ‘peak farmland’, and that the next century will see the release of an area of land larger than France back to nature. In some countries, such as Chile, areas of farmland are already reverting to forest.

It’s hard to imagine, but maybe one day the must-see holiday destination will be a humble farmer’s field.

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