Global maps of cropland extent and change show accelerated cropland expansion in the twenty-first century

Peter Potapov, Svetlana Turubanova, Matthew C. Hansen, Alexandra Tyukavina, Viviana Zalles, Ahmad Khan, Xiao Peng Song, Amy Pickens, Quan Shen, Jocelyn Cortez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Scopus citations


Spatiotemporally consistent data on global cropland extent is essential for tracking progress towards sustainable food production. In the present study, we present an analysis of global cropland area change for the first two decades of the twenty-first century derived from satellite data time-series. We estimate that, in 2019, the cropland area was 1,244 Mha with a corresponding total annual net primary production (NPP) of 5.5 Pg C year−1. From 2003 to 2019, cropland area increased by 9% and cropland NPP by 25%, primarily due to agricultural expansion in Africa and South America. Global cropland expansion accelerated over the past two decades, with a near doubling of the annual expansion rate, most notably in Africa. Half of the new cropland area (49%) replaced natural vegetation and tree cover, indicating a conflict with the sustainability goal of protecting terrestrial ecosystems. From 2003 to 2019, global per-capita cropland area decreased by 10% due to population growth. However, the per-capita annual cropland NPP increased by 3.5% as a result of intensified agricultural land use. The presented global, high-resolution, cropland map time-series supports monitoring of natural land appropriation at the local, national and international levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
Number of pages10
JournalNature Food
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


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