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Figure 2.4 Trends in cropland area from 1990-2005 in six different regions of the world (FAO 2009b). Cropland areas have increased in the tropics, but have decreased in Europe and North America.

Africa

Europe North America Oceania South America

Figure 2.4 Trends in cropland area from 1990-2005 in six different regions of the world (FAO 2009b). Cropland areas have increased in the tropics, but have decreased in Europe and North America.

a geographic unit of comparable size. For example, when FAO released the FRA2005 report, the press release stated that "the annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 was 7.3 million hectares/year—an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama." Such comparisons do not provide much context unless one knows how large Sierra Leone is and how this relates to the size of our planet. Moreover, it does not provide a sense of the pace at which we are depleting this resource. The real question that we need to address, especially in the context of sustainability, is: Are we going to run out of agricultural or forest land?

To address this question in terms of cropland, we first need a measure of the total area of global land that is potentially suitable for cultivation. We used

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