Image: Associated Press

Cities will grow alongside growing populations, turning the land in their wake into housing and infrastructure. And when that happens, we can goodbye to the food, a new study warns.

Urban populations are expected to nearly double from 2000 to 2030, and the total amount of urban land will triple to support the influx of people during that same period. Given that 60 percent of farmland sits right next to cities, these projections beg the question of what’s going to happen to our crops. After combining data on cropland and growing urban areas into a model, a team of researchers has found that expanding cities will devour two percent of the world’s cropland by the 2030. The results are published this week Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Two percent might not sound a lot, but that’s an average over the entire world. Around 80 percent of the cropland losses will occur in developing, rapidly expanding urban areas in Africa and Asia, a quarter of them in China alone. China might soon see a five percent loss in its farmland, and Vietnam over ten percent.

Red denotes places where expanding urban areas will compete with farmland. Image: Creutzig et. al, PNAS

The authors say that some places, like sub-Saharan Africa, might be able to overcome the losses through better technology and management practices. Other places, like Southern Asia, might not be so lucky, since they’re already farming the land heavily or there’s no place for crops to expand, especially considering increased risk from climate change. The researchers also cited studies finding that only a tenth of farmers put out of work in places like Ghana seek more land to keep farming—most just moved into the city and looked for a job.

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Urban farming wouldn’t be enough to overcome the losses either, lead study author Felix Creutzig from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin told The Guardian. Our main hope seems to be that cities manage their own expansion, getting denser rather than growing wider.

So if you were hoping to eventually move to a nice house in a suburb, make sure you’re moving to some crap land and not accidentally gentrifying farmland and kicking the farmer out.

[PNAS via The Guardian]