If The World Adopted A Plant-Based Diet We Would Reduce Global Agricultural Land Use From 4 To 1 Billion Hectares

Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture, with most of this used to raise livestock for dairy and meat. Livestock is fed from two sources – lands on which the animals graze and land on which feeding crops, such as soy and cereals, are grown. How much would our agricultural land use decline if the world adopted a plant-based diet?

Research suggests that if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a smaller need for land to grow crops. The research also shows that cutting out beef and dairy (by substituting chicken, eggs, fish, or plant-based food) has a much larger impact than eliminating chicken or fish.

Posted  updated 1 year ago

The expansion of land for agriculture is the leading driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Half of the world’s ice- and desert-free land is used for agriculture. Most of this is for raising livestock – the land requirements of meat and dairy production are equivalent to an area the size of the Americas, spanning all the way from Alaska to Brasil.



The land use of livestock is so large because it takes around 100 times as much land to produce a kilocalorie of beef or lamb versus plant-based alternatives. This is shown in the chart.  The same is also true for protein – it takes almost 100 times as much land to produce a gram of protein from beef or lamb, versus peas or tofu.

Of course, the type of land used to raise cows or sheep is not the same as cropland for cereals, potatoes, or beans. Livestock can be raised on pasture grasslands, or on steep hills where it is not possible to grow crops. Two-thirds of pastures are unsuitable for growing crops.

This raises the question of whether we could, or should, stop using it for agriculture at all. We could let natural vegetation and ecosystems return to these lands, with large benefits for biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

One concern is whether we would be able to grow enough food for everyone on the cropland that is left. The research suggests that it’s possible to feed everyone in the world a nutritious diet on existing croplands, but only if we saw a widespread shift towards plant-based diets.

Credits: Main photo by Tom Fisk


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