Arable land is defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as land currently used, or potentially capable of being used, to grow seasonal crops. This definition excludes land used for pasturing, for tree-farming (or “silviculture”), or for more durable agricultural products such as vineyards, orchards, and coffee and rubber plantations. Non-arable land can sometimes be made arable, for example by removing forests or tilling pasture land. Some land, such as mountains, tundra, or desert, is permanently non-arable. The word “arable” comes from the Lain word arabilis, meaning “able to be plowed.”
In 2016, India had the most arable land in the world, at 156.4 million hectares, or about 604,000 square miles. That constitutes almost 53 percent of the entire land mass of India. By contrast, the United States comes in second, with about 152.2 million hectares of arable land (about 588,000 square miles), which is only 16.8 percent of U.S. land mass. Bangladesh has the highest percentage of arable land, at 58 percent. Greenland is the largest country with no arable land, while the smallest nation—the small city-state of Vatican City—has none as well.
According to the FAO, in the year 2013, the world’s arable land amounted to 1,407 million hectares, or about 5.4 million square miles. Arable land worldwide has decreased by nearly one-third since 1961, because of re-forestation, soil erosion, and desertification caused by global climate change.