Image credit: World Food Trucks - Photo: 2022

A New Study Tells Where Our Food Comes From

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) — Since the start of agriculture 10,000 years ago, many crops have been domesticated. However, not all are made equal as some play an important role in providing food and nutritional security globally, including wheat, corn, rice, and potatoes.

At the same time, the globalization efforts of the past century created a global food production system with agricultural products such as wheat, corn, and potatoes being cultivated worldwide.

Yet, some vast countries such as the United States, China, India, and Brazil produce most of the food. They also play an essential role in global food security as some countries heavily rely on the exports coming from these countries.

In the last two decades, the production of crops worldwide increased by over 53%, reaching a record high of 9.8 billion tons in 2020. While a plethora of agricultural commodities are produced worldwide, in 2019, only four crops account for half of the world’s agricultural production. Sugar cane tops the list with 1.9 billion tons, accounting for 21% of the total output. It is followed by corn with 1.1 billion tons (12%) and rice and wheat with 0.8 billion tons (8%) each.

The University of the Potomac has thoroughly researched datasets from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and produced a report titled Where Does Our Food Come From. It ranks the most produced agricultural commodities by country and the world’s largest food producers and exporters.

The agricultural products, most cultivated in countries around the world are cow milk, sugan cane, the Corn, wheat, rice, paddy, potatoes.

Today, 37 countries have cow milk as their top agricultural product. Germany is one of the biggest milk producers, with over 33 million tons of milk produced every year. In monetary terms, this adds to 12.9 billion US dollars.

While sugarcane originated in South and Southeast Asia, it is commonly used in various regions worldwide, with 37 countries accounting for sugar cane as their top production crop.

Corn is the most produced cereal globally, with over 1.1 billion tons produced in 2020. Corn became a widely cultivated crop because of its ease of cultivation, drying, storing, and transport.

Though it was first cultivated in Central America and Mexico, corn is grown in all continents, excluding Antarctica. In 2020, over 165 countries produced corn, with 16 listing corn as their most cultivated harvest.

The United States is currently the top producer of corn, with over 360 million tons produced, holding a market value of $52.4 billion. It is followed by China, which in 2020 had 260.8 million tons of corn. From the other side of the world, Brazil harvested over 103.9 million tons of corn, ranking as the world’s third-largest producer. Together, these three countries produced about two-thirds of the world’s corn.

Ukraine, another big player in corn production, cultivated over 30.2 million tons, valued at $5.2 billion in trade. Its neighbor Russia lists corn as its most produced agricultural product, with 13.8 million tons produced in 2020. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February put a halt to agriculture in Ukraine. At the same time, countries around the world are shutting off trade with Russia. This disruption made the price of corn jump by 19.1% in March 2022 compared to the previous month.

Since it was first domesticated in 9,600 BC, wheat has played a key role in food and nutritional security worldwide. Today, after corn, wheat is the most produced agricultural product globally, with over 760.9 million tons of wheat cultivated in 2020.

Its favorable cultivating conditions allowed wheat to become a crash crop for countries in every direction.

In 2020, wheat was grown by 126 countries worldwide, while 13 of them had wheat as their most produced crop, including Russia, France, and Canada.

China is the world’s biggest wheat producer, with over 134.2 million tons of wheat produced in 2020, holding a $53.4 billion value in global trade. India is the second-largest producer, with over 107.5 million tons of wheat cultivated.

Russia, the third-largest wheat producer, harvested over 85.8 million tons of wheat. At the same time, its neighbor Ukraine is the 8th largest producer globally, with 24.9 million tons of wheat cultivated. Together they account for about 30% of the global wheat trade, making the region one of the major breadbasket regions.

About 13,500 years ago, the Chinese domesticated the first strains of rice. Since then, rice has become a staple food responsible for feeding half of the world’s population. It is cultivated in over 110 countries across the globe which in 2020 reached a total production of 756.7 million tons.

Asia produces 89% of the world’s rice, China being the world’s largest producer of rice with a 211.8 million tons harvest in 2020. India comes as the second-largest rice producer, with 178.3 million tons.

Rice constitutes the most produced crop for 12 countries, including Bangladesh (54.9 million tons), Myanmar (25.1 million tons), Cambodia (10.9 million tons), Nepal (5.5 million tons), and Sri Lanka (5.1 million tons).

Potatoes were first domesticated in the Andes region. They were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers, and from there, potato cultivation spread worldwide. Today, South American countries produce only 5% of the world’s potatoes.

In 2020, half of the world’s potatoes were produced in Asia, with China (78.1 million tons) and India (51.3 million tons) being the world’s largest producers. At the same time, Europe supplied a little less than one-third of the world’s potato production, from which Russia (19.6 million tons) and Ukraine (20.8 million tons) top the list. The United States ranks as the fifth-largest producer, with a yield of 18.7 million tons of potatoes.

Since Russia and Ukraine alone account for one-tenth of the world’s potato production, the Russian invasion of Ukraine surged the market price for potatoes and other staple foods such as pasta, bread, and sunflower oil. Experts predict the potato price will increase up to 30%, which automatically increases the price of many processed foods, including everybody’s favorite potato chips.

7 largest producing countries of agricultural commodities

In 2020, half of the global agricultural production came from Asia, with economies such as China and India being key players in the world’s sphere. Europe harvested one-tenth of the world’s agricultural production, with Russia, Ukraine, Spain, and Germany among the biggest producers.

At the same time, North America produced 826.9 million tons of agricultural products, or about 8.5% of the world’s aggregate output. South America supplied one-sixth of the world’s agricultural output, mainly coming from Brazil and Argentina.

China is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers, with an agricultural production of $1.1 trillion in 2020—a record high. Much of its success in agriculture comes from its vast geographical land, rich soil, and a large workforce. With less than 10% of the world’s arable land, China produces 25% of the world’s grain, making it a critical player in global food security.

In 2020, China was the lead producer of over 30 crops, including wheat, rice, tomatoes, and potatoes. Rice was China’s most produced crop, reaching a value of 353.1 million tons in total. While in that year, China grew over 134.2 million tons of wheat. In global trade, its wheat production is valued at $53.4 billion. China is also the top producer of potatoes (78.1 million tons), tomatoes (64.7 million tons), cucumbers (72.7 million tons), and spinach (28.5 million tons).

The United States has been a significant player in agricultural production for the longest time, thanks to its land composition, natural resources, and technological advances. In 2020 the US agricultural production accounted for $134.7 billion, about 0.6% of its national GDP.

In 2020, the United States was the world’s largest producer of corn (360.2 million tons), harvesting about one-third of global production. It also produces over half of the global almond output and over one-third of global blueberry production.

The United States ranks as the top producer of cow milk (101.2 million tons), chicken (20.4 million tons), meat (12.3 million tons), and sorghum (9.4 million tons).

Also, the US is the second-largest producer in the world for: Soybeans (112.5 million tons), Sugar beet (30.4 million tons), Pig meat (12.8 million tons), and Apples (4.6 million tons).

Over the past 20 years, Russia’s agricultural industry has been rapidly growing, with its production value increasing from $10 billion in 2000 to $85.5 billion in 2020. Thanks to investment and technological development, its cereal output turned Russia into a global player in food production, feeding over 2 billion people worldwide.

Today, Russia is the world’s largest producer of barley and sugar beets accounting for 13% and 14% of the world’s total production, respectively. Russia also cultivates over a third of global sunflower seeds production and one-sixth of oats output.

Russia is also the third-largest producer of wheat and rye. In 2020 alone, it produced over 85.8 million tons of grain and 2.3 million tons of rye.

Thanks to the rising global demands, technological advancement, and increasing prices, Brazil’s agricultural industry has been accelerating fast. In 2020, its agricultural production value reached $85 billion, a 30.4% increase from 2019. To catch up with the rapid growth, Brazil is expanding its agricultural land, which in 2020 was about one-third of Brazil’s total area. The expansion constitutes a 22% increase from 9 years ago.

Brazil is known for its production of grains, cereals, beans, and oilseeds. In 2020, Brazil produced one-third of the world’s production of soybeans (121.7 million tons), coffees (3.7 million tons), and oranges (16.7 million tons).

About half of global sugarcane production (40.5%) comes from Brazil, along with one-sixth of the worldwide meat production. It is also the third-largest producer of corn (103.9 million tons), cow milk (36.5 million tons), and chicken (13.7 million tons).

In 2016, the agriculture sector accounted for 23% of the country’s GDP, and 59% of the workforce made a living from agriculture. The agricultural industry is essential for India’s food and security as it is estimated that 70% of the rural population depends mainly on agriculture.

In 2020, India produced half of the world’s mango production (24.7 million tons) and 20% of global wheat production (107.5 million tons). A quarter of the global output of rice (178.3 million tons), sugar cane (370,5 million tons), and bananas (31.5 million tons) came from India.

India also ranks as the second-largest producer of: Milk (87.8 million tons), Tomatoes (20.5 million tons), Potatoes (51.3 million tons), and Oranges (9.8 million tons).

With favorable climate conditions and long history of agriculture cultivation, Spain continues to be a leading European producer, offering a vast array of agricultural products. In 2020, the value of agricultural production in Spain was $54.4 billion, a 3.5% share of the country’s GDP.

Spain is well known for its vegetables and fruits. In 2020, over one-third of agricultural output came from vegetable and fruit cultivation.

Spain is also the world’s top producer of olives, with over 8.1 million tons of olives produced in 2020, accounting for 39.1% of total production. Also, it is the second-largest producer of barley (11.4 million tons) and peaches (1.3 million tons). It also produced one-tenth of the world’s almonds, reaching a market value of $507.6 million.

Grape cultivation in Spain is a tradition that today supplies the market with 6.8 million tons, making Spain the third-largest producer of grapes globally.

Today, Ukraine is an agricultural superpower, which plants over two-thirds of its agricultural land, an area larger than New Mexico. The growth of Ukraine’s agriculture is partly due to its rich fertilized soil and modernization efforts in the past decades.

In 2020, Ukraine was among the world’s largest producers of wheat, corn, sunflower seeds, barley, sugar beets, potatoes, and soybeans. Together, the production of these crops in Ukraine holds a market value of $21.4 billion.

Ukraine is the biggest producer of sunflower seeds (13.1 million tons), harvesting over a quarter of the global sunflower production. That’s why the price of sunflower oil has increased by 25% since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Considered one of Europe’s major breadbasket regions, Ukraine produces over 30.2 million tons of corn, 24.9 million tons of wheat, and 7.6 million tons of barley. Together these three crops account for $10.9 billion in the market. Besides, Ukraine is also the world’s third-largest producer of potatoes and pumpkins, with about 21 million tons and 1.3 million tons produced in 2020. [IDN-InDepthNews — 30 July 2022]

Image credit: World Food Trucks

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