Agriculture: How Much Land is Needed to Feed One Person?

Aaron Foyer
land needed to feed each person

Humans invented agriculture between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. Since then, through innovation, technology, and the application of energy, humans have become vastly more efficient at producing food.

The wide-spread adoption of motorized steel machinery, nitrogen-rich fertilizers and pesticides vastly improved agricultural yields. Due to the incorporation of machines and energy, the amount of human labour required to produce wheat and grains dropped 99.7% over the last 200 years.

Over the last 2020 years, the area of agricultural lands across the world have increased roughly 11 times. Agriculture has undergone significant improvements and advancements over time. Some of the major improvements in agriculture include:

  • Irrigation systems: The development of irrigation systems allowed farmers to control the amount and timing of water application to crops. This technology has greatly increased crop yields and improved water management.
  • Mechanization: The use of machinery, such as tractors and combines, has revolutionized agriculture by making it more efficient and increasing productivity. Mechanization has also reduced the need for manual labor and allowed farmers to cultivate more land.
  • Fertilizers: The use of fertilizers, both natural and synthetic, has greatly improved soil fertility and crop yields. By adding essential nutrients to the soil, farmers can increase crop growth and improve the quality of the harvest.
  • Pesticides: The use of pesticides has allowed farmers to control pests and diseases that would otherwise damage crops. This has greatly increased crop yields and improved food security.
  • Genetics and Biotechnology: The development of genetically modified crops has allowed for the creation of plants with specific traits, such as resistance to pests, drought, or disease. Biotechnology has also enabled the development of new crop varieties with improved nutritional content and other desirable traits.
  • Precision agriculture: The use of sensors, GPS, and other technologies to monitor and manage crops has allowed farmers to optimize inputs such as water, fertilizers, and pesticides, reducing waste and improving efficiency.
  • Sustainable agriculture: The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and integrated pest management, has helped to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture while maintaining productivity and profitability.

Overall, these and other advancements have helped to make agriculture more productive, sustainable, and efficient, providing food security for an ever-increasing global population.


Vaclav Smil, How the World Really Works