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In geography, arable land (from Latin arare, to plough ) is a form of agricultural land use, meaning land that can be (and is) used for growing crops. David Ricardo incorporated the idea of arable land into economic theory.
Of the earth's 57 million square miles (148,000,000 km²) of land, more than 12 million square miles (31,000,000 km²) is arable.
Most of the arable land on earth is around the largest rivers on earth. Some examples are: the Nile River, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Yellow River, the Amazon River, and the Rhine River. These rivers flood regularly, overspilling their banks. When the flood is over, the rivers recede, leaving behind rich silt. This silt is excellent fertilizer for crops. Even if the land is overfarmed, and all the nutrients are depleted from the soil, the land renews its fertility when the next flood comes. Rivers and streams can make desert land arable.
On unarable land, farming is nearly impossible unless more advanced methods of agriculture are used. Unarable land usually has no source of fresh water, and is often too hot (desert), too cold (arctic), too rocky, too mountainous, too salty, too rainy, too snowy, or too cloudy. Clouds block the sunlight plants need for photosynthesis (making sunlight into food). The plants starve without light. Starvation and nomadism often exist on unarable land. Unarable land is sometimes called 'wastes', 'badlands', 'worthless' or 'no man's land'.
Sometimes, unarable land can be turned into arable land. New arable land makes more food, and can prevent starvation, saving lives. This also makes the country more self-sufficient and politically independent, because the country doesn't have to buy food from other countries. Making unarable land arable often involves digging new irrigation canals and new wells, aquaducts, desalination plants, planting trees for shade in the desert, hydroponics, fertilizer, nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, reverse osmosis water processors, mylar insulation or other insulation against heat and cold, digging ditches and hills for protection against the wind, and greenhouses with internal light and heat for protection against the cold outside and to provide light in cloudy areas.
Some examples of infertile unarable land being turned into fertile arable land are:
- Aran Island: This island off the west coast of Ireland, (not to be confused with the Isle of Arran in Scotland's Firth of Clyde), was unarable because it was too rocky. The people covered the island with a shallow layer of seaweed and sand from the ocean. This made it arable. Today, they grow crops there.
- Israel: Israel was mostly unarable desert until desalination plants were built on the coast. The plants turn salt water into fresh water for farming, drinking, and washing. They created their own large fresh water source.
Some examples of fertile arable land being turned into infertile unarable land are:
- Droughts like the 'dust bowl' of the Great Depression in the U.S. turned farmland into desert.
- Rainforest Deforestation: The fertile tropical forests turn into infertile desert land.
- Romans' destruction of Carthage: At the end of the Punic Wars, the victorious Romans sowed the earth with salt, to symbolize total victory. The Roman symbol meant that Carthage would never grow back - their civilization ended. Crops won't generally grow in salty soil. This is why salt water from the ocean can't be used to water crops.
- Each year more arable land is lost to desertification and erosion from human industrial activities. Irrigation of farm land also increases the sodium, calcium, and magnesium in the soil. This process steadily concentrates salt in the ground, decreasing productivity for crops that are not salt-tolerant.
- Urban sprawl: In the United States, about 2.2 million acres (8,900 kmē) of land was added to urban areas between 1992 and 2002, much of it farm land now paved.
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