Global Cropland Area Database (GCAD) derived from Remote Sensing in Support of Food Security in the Twenty-first Century: Current Achievements and Future Possibilities

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The precise estimation of the global agricultural cropland- extents, areas, geographic locations, crop types, cropping intensities, and their watering methods (irrigated or rainfed; type of irrigation) provides a critical scientific basis for the development of water and food security policies (Thenkabail et al., 2012, 2011, 2010). By year 2100, the global human population is expected to grow to 10.4 billion under median fertility variants or higher under constant or higher fertility variants (Table 1) with over three quarters living in developing countries, in regions that already lack the capacity to produce enough food. With current agricultural practices, the increased demand for food and nutrition would require in about 2 billion hectares of additional cropland, about twice the equivalent to the land area of the United States, and lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas productions (Tillman et al., 2011). For example, during 1960-2010 world population more than doubled from 3 billion to 7 billion. The nutritional demand of the population also grew swiftly during this period from an average of about 2000 calories per day per person in 1960 to nearly 3000 calories per day per person in 2010. The food demand of increased population along with increased nutritional demand during this period (1960-2010) was met by the “green revolution” which more than tripled the food production; even though croplands decreased from about 0.43 ha/capita to 0.26 ha/capita (FAO, 2009). The increase in food production during the green revolution was the result of factors such as: (a) expansion in irrigated areas which increased from 130 Mha in 1960s to 278.4 Mha in year 2000 (Siebert et al., 2006) or 399 Mha when you do not consider cropping intensity (Thenkabail et al., 2009a, 2009b, 2009c) or 467 Mha when you consider cropping intensity (Thenkabail et al., 2009a; Thenkabail et al., 2009c); (b) increase in yield and per capita food production (e.g., cereal production from 280 kg/person to 380 kg/person and meat from 22 kg/person to 34 kg/person (McIntyre, 2008); (c) new cultivar types (e.g., hybrid varieties of wheat and rice, biotechnology); and (d) modern agronomic and crop management practices (e.g., fertilizers, herbicide, pesticide applications). However, some of the factors that lead to the green revolution have stressed the environment to limits leading to salinization and decreasing water quality. For example, from 1960 to 2000, the phosphorous use doubled from 10 million tons to 20 MT, pesticide use tripled from near zero to 3 MT, and nitrogen use as fertilizer increased to a staggering 80 MT from just 10 MT (Foley et al., 2007; Khan and Hanjra, 2008). Further, diversion of croplands to bio-fuels is already taking water away from food production; the economics, carbon sequestration, environmental, and food security impacts of biofuel production are net negative (Lal and Pimentel, 2009), leaving us with a carbon debt (Gibbs et al., 2008; Searchinger et al., 2008). Climate models predict that in most regions of the world the hottest seasons on record will become the norm by the end of the century-an outcome that bodes ill for feeding the world (Kumar and Singh, 2005). Also, crop yield increases of the green revolution era have now stagnated (Hossain et al., 2005). Thereby, further increase in food production through increase in cropland areas and\or increased allocations of water for croplands are widely considered unsustainable and\or infeasible. Indeed, cropland areas have even begun to decrease in many 3 parts of the World due to factors such as urbanization, industrialization, and salinization. Furthermore, ecological and environmental imperatives such as biodiversity conservation and atmospheric carbon sequestration have put a cap on the possible expansion of cropland areas to other lands such as forests and rangelands. Other important factors limit food security. These include factors such as diversion of croplands to biofuels (Bindraban et al., 2009), limited water resources for irrigation expansion (Turral et al., 2009), limits on agricultural intensifications, loss of croplands to urbanization (Khan and Hanjra, 2008), increasing meat consumption (and associated demands on land and water) (Vinnari and Tapio, 2009), environmental infeasibility for cropland expansion (Gordon et al., 2009), and changing climate have all put pressure on our continued ability to sustain global food security in the twenty-first century. So, how does the World continue to meet its food and nutrition needs?. Solutions may come from bio-technology and precision farming, however developments in these fields are not currently moving at rates that will ensure global food security over next few decades. Further, there is a need for careful consideration of possible harmful effects of bio-technology. We should not be looking back 30– 50 years from now, like we have been looking back now at many mistakes made during the green revolution. During the green revolution the focus was only on getting more yield per unit area. Little thought was put about serious damage done to our natural environments, water resources, and human health as a result of detrimental factors such as uncontrolled use of herbicides-pesticides-nutrients, drastic groundwater mining, and salinization of fertile soils due to over irrigation. Currently, there is talk of a “second green revolution” or even an “ever green revolution”, but clear ideas on what these terms actually mean are still debated and are evolving. One of the biggest issues that are not given adequate focus is the use of large quantities of water for food production. Indeed, an overwhelming proportion (60-90%) of all human water use in India goes for producing their food (Falkenmark, M., & Rockström, 2006). But such intensive water use for food production is no longer tenable due to increasing pressure for water use alternatives such as increasing urbanization, industrialization, environmental flows, bio-fuels, and recreation. This has brought into sharp focus the need to grow more food per drop of water leading to a “blue revolution”

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Global Cropland Area Database (GCAD) derived from Remote Sensing in Support of Food Security in the Twenty-first Century: Current Achievements and Future Possibilities
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Publisher location Boca Raton, Florida
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description 45 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Title Land resources: monitoring, modelling, and mapping
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N