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Farming: Feeding the Global Economy

Our key facts on the global farming industry and its importance in the world.

September 4, 2002

Our key facts on the global farming industry and its importance in the world.

Agriculture is big business — and makes up a significant portion of world trade. In the United States and Europe, farming involves growing crops for cash and is a small part of the total economy. But in places like Africa, it is often a staple — and the only way to get food on the table. Our new Globalist Factsheet explores the role of agriculture at the start of the 21st century.

How many people used to work in agriculture?

Back in 1800, between 75% to 80% of the working population in the developed world was engaged in agriculture.

(American Economic Review)

What is the share of farmers in the United States today compared to China?

47% of Chinese workers still work in agriculture — compared with less than 3% of Americans.

(Washington Post)

How much water does farming use?

In the developing world, 80% of water usage goes into agriculture, a proportion that scientists have deemed unsustainable.

(National Intelligence Council)

How important is farming to the global economy?

Between 1972 and 1998, the value of world agricultural production has doubled — from $224 billion to $438 billion. Agriculture accounts for 11% of the value of all world exports.

(World Trade Organization)

How important is farming to the economy of sub-Saharan Africa?

In 2000, agriculture accounted for over 50% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP — and employed roughly 70% of the workforce.

(The Economist)

How important are U.S. farm exports to the country’s economy?

As of 2000, U.S. agriculture exports amounted to $51 billion — and are projected to reach $57 billion by 2002. That is less than 0.6% of U.S. GDP.

(Institute for International Economics)

Which country has the biggest share of the world agricultural market?

In 2000, the United States had over 19% of the global market share in agricultural exports. That compares to 17.5% for the EU, whose share is the second highest.

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

How much do agricultural trade barriers cost the developing world?

As of 2002, trade barriers are estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa $2.5 billion in lost exports annually.

(Washington Post)

How can this be remedied?

If the WTO succeeds in its Doha agenda of halving trade barriers in agriculture and textiles, developing countries would gain more than $200 billion a year in additional income by 2015.

(World Trade Organization)

Who is one of the biggest buyers of U.S. agricultural products?

As of 1999, Japan imported $8.9 million of U.S. farm products — almost 19% of total U.S. farm production.

(New York Times)

How important are exports to U.S. agriculture?

As of 2001, one in three acres of U.S. farmland was planted for export — generating revenues of almost $53 billion.

(Office of the U.S. Trade Representative)

How big are the subsidies that U.S. farmers receive?

The average U.S. farmer receives about $20,000 in government subsidies each year.

(Oxfam International)

Are these subsidies evenly distributed?

Two-thirds of U.S. farm subsidies go to 10% of subsidy recipients — most of whom earn more than $250,000 annually.

(Washington Post)

How do U.S. subsidies compare to the ones paid out in the EU?

The European Union spends 2.5% of its GDP on support to agriculture — more than the OECD average or the United States.

(The Economist)

But how does that break down at the individual farmer's level?

The EU supports domestic farmers with average payments of $16,000 per year, compared to $20,800 in the United States.