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The World’s Most Valuable Cash Crop

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The World's Most Valuable Cash Crop

The Most Valuable Cash Crop

What is the world’s most valuable cash crop?

As with most things, it can be complicated and more nuanced to answer. However, ultimately it boils down to a few key factors: total amount planted, the rate of yield, and the revenue per unit sold. It also depends on whether we are looking at the absolute value, or the most value per acre.

The most planted crops throughout the world are wheat and maize (corn). Rice and soybeans are other key staples. However, these are all relatively low yielding and do not make enough revenue per tonne of product produced.

The highest yielding crops are sugar cane, sugar beet, and tomatoes. Sugar cane accounts for about 80% of the world’s sugar production, while sugar beet the remaining 20%.

Not surprisingly, the most lucrative cash crops from a value per acre perspective are illegal in many parts of the world. With a higher risk to grow these, there is a higher reward for the farmers. Cannabis has a value of $47.7 million per square kilometre, while coca weighs in at $37.7 million and opium poppies $6 million per sq. km.

The most lucrative legal crops include tomatoes ($1.4 million per sq. km) and grapes ($625,000 per sq. km). Interestingly, tobacco comes in the middle of the pack with a value of $277,000 per sq. km. Rapeseed (also known as canola) comes in at $60,000 per sq. km.

From an absolute value perspective, the world’s most valuable cash crop is cannabis as well. It is followed by rice, maize, and then wheat.

Original graphic from: Information is Beautiful

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Agriculture

What are the Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa?

From wheat to cassavas, also known as yuca, here are the top cash crops in Africa and their share of global production.

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Cash Crops

What are the Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa?

Agriculture makes up nearly 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy—a higher percentage than any other region worldwide.

From Nigeria to the fertile land across the East African Rift Valley, the continent is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

Given the massive role of agriculture across the region, this infographic from Zainab Ayodimeji shows the most produced cash crops in Africa and their share of total global production.

The Top 20 Cash Crops in Africa

Cash crops, such as coffee or rice, are crops that are produced for a salable market.

With data from the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), here are the most produced cash crops in Africa:

Cash Crop
Tonnes Produced 2019
% of World Production
Cassava192.1M63%
Sugar cane97.3M5%
Maize81.9M7%
Yams72.4M97%
Rice, paddy38.8M5%
Sorghum28.6M49%
Rice, paddy (rice milled equivalent)
25.9M5%
Sweet potatoes27.9M30%
Wheat26.9M4%
Plantains26.7M64%
Potatoes26.5M7%
Fresh vegetables22.0M7%
Oil palm fruit21.9M5%
Tomatoes21.7M12%
Bananas21.5M18%
Groundnuts, with shell16.6M34%
Sugar beet14.3M5%
Onions, dry13.9M14%
Millet13.7M48%
Oranges9.8M12%

Cassava, also referred to as yuca, is the most produced cash crop by a wide margin. With nearly 200 million tonnes of it produced annually, Africa’s production of cassava makes up a majority (63%) of the global total.

While cassavas are not well known in the Western world, they feed 800 million people globally. Cassavas are an essential root vegetable that has similar uses to potatoes.

Sugar cane, maize, and yams are also significant cash crops.

Notably, Africa’s yam production is 97% of the global total. West Africa is known as the “yam belt,” covering Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire. With over 60 million people across the yam belt directly or indirectly involved in its production, yam cultivation is an important component of the region’s economic vitality.

Agriculture Composition of GDP, by Region

While agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s GDP, what role does it play across other regions around the world?

Agriculture portion of GDP, by global region

Like Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is a major part of South Asia’s economy. India produces nearly 24% of rice around the world, while Bangladesh produces over 7% of total global production. Meanwhile, over 14% of the global wheat supply is also produced by India.

On the other hand, agriculture makes up just 1% of North America’s GDP. The number of farms in the U.S. peaked in the 1930s and has sharply declined from almost 7 million to 2 million in 2020.

The Future of Africa’s Cash Crops

Despite Africa’s expansive agriculture sector, there remain bottlenecks to productivity.

In light of these challenges, several technological advances have the potential to improve farmers’ bottom lines. For instance, precision technology measures rainfall, soil information, and soil productivity. At the same time, remote sensing technology can provide information on weather and climate.

This, coupled with the majority of the world’s uncultivated arable land, presents a significant opportunity for cash crops going forward. By one estimate, cereal and grain production has the potential to increase threefold.

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Agriculture

Visualizing the World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age

How much has the world’s land use changed over the last 10,000 years, and how have forests been impacted?

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The World’s Loss of Forests Shareable

Visualizing The World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age

How much of Earth used to be covered by forests, and what portion is covered today?

The effects of deforestation on the climate are already being seen and felt, and these repercussions are expected to increase with time. That’s why more than 100 world leaders pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at the COP26 climate summit.

As today’s graphic using data from Our World in Data highlights, the world’s forests have been shrinking since the last ice age at an increasingly rapid pace.

Earth’s Surface Area: 10,000 Years Ago

To examine the deforestation situation properly, it helps to understand Earth’s total available surface area. After all, our world can feel massive when glancing at maps or globes. But of the roughly 51 billion hectares in total surface area on Earth, more than 70% is taken up by oceans.

What’s left is 14.9 billion hectares of land, not all of which is habitable. Here is how the land was allocated 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age and before the rise of human civilizations.

Uninhabitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

  • Barren land (19% or 2.8bn ha)—Includes deserts, salt flats, exposed rocks, and dunes
  • Glaciers (10% or 1.5bn ha)—The vast majority concentrated in Antarctica

Habitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

  • Forest (57% or 6bn ha)—Includes tropical, temperate, and boreal forests
  • Grassland (42% or 4.6bn ha)—Wild grassland and shrubs
  • Freshwater (1% or <510M ha)—Lakes and rivers

By 2018, forests had receded to just 4 billion hectares. What happened?

Forests and Grassland Recede for Agriculture

Once humans figured out how to cultivate plants and livestock for regular sources of food, they needed land to use.

For centuries, the loss of greenery was relatively slow. By 1800, the world had lost 700 million hectares each of forest and grassland, replaced by around 900 million hectares of land for grazing animals and 400 million hectares for crops.

But industrialization in the 1800s rapidly sped up the process.

Percentage of Habitable Land17001800190019502018
Forest52%50%48%44%38%
Grassland38%36%27%12%14%
Grazing6%9%16%31%31%
Crops3%4%8%12%15%
Freshwater1%1%1%1%1%
Urban<1%<1%<1%<1%1%

While half of Earth’s loss of forests occurred from 10,000 years ago to 1900, the other half or 1.1 billion hectares have been lost since 1900. Part of this loss, about 100 million hectares, has occurred in the more recent time period of 2000 to 2018.

The biggest culprit?

Though urban land use has rapidly grown, it still pales in comparison to the 31% of habitable land now being used for grazing livestock. Most of that land came at first from repurposed grasslands, but forests have also been cleared along the way.

Where Will Food Come From?

Countries pledging to stop deforestation have two major hurdles to solve: financial and survival.

Firstly, there are many companies, jobs, and economies that rely on producing and marketing goods made from forests, such as lumber.

But more importantly, the world’s rising use of land for crops and agriculture reflects our rapidly growing population. In 1900, the global population numbered just 1.6 billion people. By 2021, it had exceeded 7.9 billion, with hundreds of millions still affected by food shortages every day.

How do you feed so many without needing more land? Meat’s extremely large footprint makes prioritizing crops more attractive, and research into other solutions like lab-grown meat and grazing erosion prevention is ongoing.

As the effects of climate change become increasingly felt, it’s likely that countries, companies, and people will have to embrace many different solutions at once.

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