Global Cropland Maps Make Global News

By all accounts we will run out of food in the not-so-distant future at our current rate of global food production. 

But new maps with better accuracy and finer detail than ever before are making headlines. Armed with these, scientists can better visualize where we can increase food production by capturing the share of cropland and production intensity around the globe. Crowd-sourcing of data, a ranking exercise of existing products, and a number of individual cropland maps all came together to create two new cropland maps, for a more accurate visualization of where in the world crops are cultivated.

Maps include a global cropland percentage map at 1 kilometer resolution for the year 2005, developed by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), including key members of HarvestChoice. Knowing where cropland is located is key information for policymakers and regional and global food security planning.

“Current sources of information on cropland extent are not accurate enough for most applications,” says IIASA researcher Steffen Fritz, who led the project. “The global cropland map is an attempt to provide a better product than currently exists using a low cost solution.”

The study also presents the first ever global field size map based entirely on crowd-sourced data—an important proxy for mechanization and human development. "The field size map is really unique—no such global product currently exists," says See.

Compared to other available cropland maps, the new maps are both more detailed (higher resolution), but also more accurate in terms of agreement between different data products.

"If you want to close yield gaps, you need to know where you are currently cultivating and what kind of soil there is," says Fritz.

Fritz points to a country like Zambia in southern Africa as having a lot of potential for development. "You have relatively low population density and there's a likely to be quite a bit of potential," he says. "There could be areas on the savannah for cropland. The maps help us see where this increase in production could happen."

Download and explore
The new maps are freely available via the Geo-Wiki Web site. Just open the application, select "Cropland" from the drop-down menu, and explore (Registration required).

Fritz et. al. 2015. Mapping global cropland and field size. Global Change Biology


HarvestChoice, 2015. "Global Cropland Maps Make Global News." International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC., and University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. Available online at

Mar 16, 2015