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Likely decline in the number of farms globally by the middle of the century


Farm number and size are deemed important for a variety of social and environmental outcomes, including yields, input use efficiencies, biodiversity, crop diversity, climate change and concentration of power in food systems. Using a model incorporating theoretical drivers of the creation and consolidation of farms within countries, I historically reconstruct the number of farms on Earth over 1969–2013 and predict their future evolution. I show that under current development trajectories, the number of farms globally will probably decline from the current 616 million (95% CI: 495–779 million) in 2020 to 272 million (95% CI: 200–377 million) by the end of the twenty-first century, with average farm size doubling. In some regions, such as Europe and North America, we will see a continued decline from recent history, whereas in other regions, including Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Oceania, and Latin America and the Caribbean, we will see a turning point from farm creation to widespread consolidation. The turning point also occurs for sub-Saharan Africa, but much later in the century. This world in which significantly fewer large farms replace numerous smaller ones carries major rewards and risks for the human species and the food systems that support it.

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Fig. 1: Predicting farm numbers from nationally representative agricultural censuses.
Fig. 2: The historical and future evolution of farms broken down by region (1969–2100).
Fig. 3: Predictions of farm numbers broken by development group.
Fig. 4: The global historical and future evolution of farms (1969–2100).

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The datasets used and created in this study are archived at the Zenodo public:

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I thank M. Fasiolo for statistical advice and N. Ramankutty and the Land Use and Global Environment Laboratory for constructive feedback. Portions of this work were funded by a start-up grant from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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Correspondence to Zia Mehrabi.

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Nature Sustainability thanks John-Oliver Engler, Jordan Chamberlin and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Mehrabi, Z. Likely decline in the number of farms globally by the middle of the century. Nat Sustain 6, 949–954 (2023).

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