Help us improve this section of the site. Can we get your feedback? Click here


Metadata Glossary

Indicator NameAgricultural irrigated land (% of total agricultural land)
Long definitionAgricultural irrigated land refers to agricultural areas purposely provided with water, including land irrigated by controlled flooding.
SourceFood and Agriculture Organization, electronic files and web site.
TopicEnvironment: Land use
Aggregation methodWeighted average
Statistical concept and methodologyIrrigated agricultural area refers to area equipped to provide water (via artificial means of irrigation such as by diverting streams, flooding, or spraying) to the crops. In non-irrigated agricultural areas, production of crops is dependent on rain-fed irrigation. Agricultural land constitutes only a part of any country's total area, which can include areas not suitable for agriculture, such as forests, mountains, and inland water bodies. Agricultural land can also be classified as irrigated and non-irrigated land. In arid and semi-arid countries agriculture is often confined to irrigated land, with very little farming possible in non-irrigated areas.
Development relevanceWorldwide, irrigated agriculture accounts for about four-fifths of global water withdrawals. The share of irrigated land ranges widely, from 4 percent of the total area cropped in Africa to 42 percent in South Asia. The leading countries are India and China with about 30 percent and 52 percent of all cropland irrigated, respectively. Without irrigation and drainage, much of the increases in agricultural output that has fed the world's growing population and stabilized food production would not have been possible. In the dry sub-humid countries, irrigation is critical for crop production. Due to highly variable rainfall, long dry seasons, and recurrent droughts, dry spells and floods, water management is a key determinant for agricultural production in these regions and is increasingly becoming more important with climate change. World Bank estimates that rainfed agriculture is most significant in Sub-Saharan Africa where it accounts for about 96 percent of the cropland. Irrigation and drainage continue to be an important source of productivity growth, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America that still have large untapped water resources for agriculture. In other regions where the scope for further expanding irrigated agriculture is limited, more efforts are needed to enhance the policy, technical, and governance aspects of agricultural water use. Agricultural land covers more than one-third of the world's land area. In many industrialized countries, agricultural land is subject to zoning regulations. In the context of zoning, agricultural land (or more properly agriculturally zoned land) refers to plots that may be used for agricultural activities, regardless of the physical type or quality of land. Data on agricultural land are valuable for conducting studies on a various perspectives concerning agricultural production, food security and for deriving cropping intensity among others uses. Agricultural land indicator, along with land-use indicators, can also elucidate the environmental sustainability of countries' agricultural practices. Agriculture is still a major sector in many economies, and agricultural activities provide developing countries with food and revenue. But agricultural activities also can degrade natural resources. Poor farming practices can cause soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. Efforts to increase productivity by using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and intensive irrigation have environmental costs and health impacts. Salinization of irrigated land diminishes soil fertility. Thus, inappropriate use of inputs for agricultural production has far-reaching effects. There is no single correct mix of inputs to the agricultural land, as it is dependent on local climate, land quality, and economic development; appropriate levels and application rates vary by country and over time and depend on the type of crops, the climate and soils, and the production process used.
Limitations and exceptionsThe data are collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) from official national sources through annual questionnaires and are supplemented with information from official secondary data sources. The secondary sources cover official country data from websites of national ministries, national publications and related country data reported by various international organizations.. The FAO tries to impose standard definitions and reporting methods, but complete consistency across countries and over time is not possible. Thus, data on agricultural land in different climates may not be comparable. For example, permanent pastures are quite different in nature and intensity in African countries and dry Middle Eastern countries.
Other notesAreas of former states are included in the successor states.
License URL
License TypeCC BY-4.0