Countries With The Least Arable Land

Surprisingly, some of the countries most reliant on agriculture for securing their futures have environments that are unsuitable for farm production

Agricultural land refers to those portions of land that are either arable, under permanent pasture, or under permanent crop cover. Arable land refers to land that is capable of being plowed and used to grow crops. Expansion of arable land will remain an important factor in many countries that rely heavily on agriculture, especially in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa where populations, and their food needs, continue to grow. According to a recent World Bank report, the countries with the smallest percentages of land used for agriculture today include Suriname, Greenland, Singapore, the Bahamas, the Seychelles, and Norway.

Suriname: A Warm Clime With Little Farming

Agricultural land as a percentage of total land area in Suriname was last measured at 0.53% in 2011, according to the World Bank. This was the smallest relative land area available for agricultural use as compared to every other nation in the world. The figure has remained constant at around 0.5% from 2011 to 2013. The country sits on the northeastern coast of South America, with an estimated population of 539,276 (2013). The economy of Suriname is dominated by the bauxite mining industry, which accounts for more than 15% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 70% of its export revenues. The limited agricultural products that are grown include rice, bananas, timber, and coconuts. The sum of these, however, contribute minimally to the country’s GDP. With only 0.53% of land cultivatable, farming plays a secondary role in its economy, despite employing around 12% of its workforce. The land used for agriculture is not likely to increase in future, as the country is heavily focused on increasing its level of industrialization.

Farmland is Minimal on the Icy Island of Greenland

According to the same World Bank report, Greenland’s percentage of land that is used for agriculture accounted for 0.6% of its total land area as of 2013. The land use for agriculture had remained unchanged at around 0.6% since 2011. Agriculture in the ironically-named nation of Greenland is discouraged by the glaciers and other forms of ice that cover most of the island, and only 4% of GDP there is sourced from the agricultural sector. Primarily due to climatic factors, the percentage of land used for agriculture in Greenland is not likely to rise in the future. In another far northern country, we see the percentage of land used for agriculture in Norway is 2.7%, which is significantly higher than that one of Greenland, though still low by global standards. The utilizable agricultural area in Norway has remained stable over the 2000-2010 timeframe, totaling around 1 million hectares across all years in that period.

Singapore Grows Skyscrapers, Not Wheat

The percentage of land used for agriculture in Singapore has seen a slight decline to 0.9%, from the previous figure of 1%, according to the 2013 World Bank report. This is partly because of the fact that the limited land available for farming in Singapore has been disappearing rapidly still, as more and more towering apartments shoot up. The country has also seen an influx of immigration, resulting in a further crowding of Singapore’s living spaces and available land.

Growth of Egyptian Farmland

The percentage of land available for agriculture in Egypt is 3.8%, as of the 2013 report by World Bank. Nevertheless, the percentage of agricultural land has been increasing steadily since 2011, when the figure stood at 3.6%, increasing slightly in 2012 and further increasing to the highest on record in 2013. More than 90% of Egypt is desert, and agriculture there is almost entirely dependent upon irrigation systems. The Egyptian agricultural land base totals about 3.5 million hectares. For decades, Egypt has tried to increase its agricultural land through land reclamation, which explains why the percentage of the land for agriculture is increasing there. It is very likely that agricultural land in Egypt will continue to increase, as reclamation and irrigation efforts intensify in response to its populace's domestic food needs.

Land Use Changes Vary by Region

From the table below and insights given above, it is evident that some countries on our list have made efforts to increase the land available for agricultural usage. This trend is likely to continue in the future. Other countries are much more limited by nature and their surrounding environments. One such example is Greenland, where snow and ice cover leave little room for agriculture, and the size of the agricultural land will likely remain unchanged for a long time. Furthermore, rapid urbanization threatens what agricultural land does exist in many countries on our list. For many herein, dependence on foreign growers for food resources may be a fact of life for them well into the foreseeable future.

Agricultural Land As % Of Land Area

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RankCountryAgricultural land (% of land area)
1Suriname0.53 %
2Greenland0.57 %
3Singapore0.95 %
4Bahamas1.40 %
5Faroe Islands2.15 %
6Papua New Guinea2.63 %
7Norway2.70 %
8Brunei Darussalam2.73 %
9Seychelles3.25 %
10Egypt3.78 %
11Solomon Islands3.86 %
12United Arab Emirates4.57 %
13Oman4.74 %
14Hong Kong4.86 %
15Qatar5.82 %
16Belize7.01 %
17Canada7.18 %
18Finland7.43 %
19Sweden7.48 %
20Central African Republic8.15 %
21Guyana8.52 %
22Kuwait8.62 %
23Libya8.73 %
24Laos10.12 %
25Equatorial Guinea10.12 %

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