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*Numbers of acquired and given land on the images above are taken from the Land Matrix in 2015.

From the Soil Atlas 2015:

  • It takes 500 years to naturally build up 2cm of fertile top soil.

  • Topsoil teems with life: in addition to earthworms, lice, spiders, mites, springtails and others, a handful of soil contains more microorganisms – bacteria, fungi and archaea – than there are humans on earth. These organisms decompose plant residues, turn them into humus, and distribute this fertility-giving substance throughout the soil.

  • The soil that we grow food on is just a thin layer that covers different areas of the earth. We loose millions of hectares of land every year through erosion, farming with agro chemicals and systems of monoculture, building roads and cities, cutting down forests.

  • An estimated 20 to 25 percent of soils worldwide are already affected by degradation, and another 5 to 10 million hectares – about the size of Austria (8.4 million hectares) degrade each year.


  • Humus stores nutrients and water, and gives the soil a stable structure with many pores. It also contains carbon that plants originally absorbed from the air in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. This makes soil one of the most important active carbon pools. The soil organic matter stores 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon, globally – this is almost three times more carbon than in all above ground biomass including trees, shrubs and grasses.

    1 hectare of cultivated land stores about 110 tons CO2.
    1 hectare of grassland stores 160 tons CO2.
    Moors cover only 3% of the earth’s surface, however they store 30% of the carbon in the soil.
    It takes 1 year for a moor to grow by 1mm.


Governments and companies acquire or lease large amounts of land in developing countries, mainly for industrial food and biofuel production. This creates rising prices for land, and often leads to the displacement of local people.

  • Small farmers feed the world: of 460 million farms in 111 countries, 72% are smaller than 1ha.

  • Nearly half the world’s farmers are women. Especially in less industrialized countries, farming is by far the most important source of livelihood for women. However, they are often disadvantaged when it comes to having the legal right to land.

  • It is estimated that "land grabbing" affects 10-30% of the arable land worldwide.

  • Land prices are rising almost everywhere. If individual or communal rights are not assured, local people are forced off the land.

  • In the EU, large companies receive major subsidies for acquiring land. Small farmers are not able to purchase land anymore. In Romania for example, the value for land has risen by 1,817% in the last 10 years.


  • Over 90% of the world’s soymeal is destined for industrial livestock. Soy cultivation has been a major driver of deforestation in South America. In Argentina the spraying of the soy plantations with pesticides and herbicides is associated with increased rates of respiratory problems, birth defects and miscarriages.

  • In 2012 19 million hectares of land were used for growing soybeans.


  • Europe is the continent that is most dependent on land located outside its borders. The European Union’s land footprint is an estimated 640 million hectares a year, an area 1.5 times the size of its 28 member countries. This land is located in other parts of the world, including China, Mongolia, Russia, Brazil and other countries, some of which cannot provide basic food needs and resources for their own citizens. The land footprint figures currently available do not include many key imported materials such as cotton, minerals and metals. If they were included, the EU’s land footprint would probably be even higher.

  • Palm oil, used as a food ingredient, is another example. The virtual area imported has more than doubled since 2000, from 1 to 2 million hectares – though the virtual area for oilseed rape, another vegetable oil, has tripled to nearly 3 million hectares during the same period. Production has particularly damaging environmental and social effects in Indonesia and Malaysia, the biggest palm oil producers. These countries are biodiversity hotspots and have insecure land rights. Establishing new plantations often means clearing forests and displacing small-scale farmers and indigenous people.