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Q&A: cultivable land in Latin America 1950 - 1990

Question: I am working on a project on agrarian reform in Latin America and I'm looking for data on cultivable land area between 1950 and 1990. The World Bank (WDI) has time-series data on arable but not cultivable land.

Answer: For any sort of international statistical question, always start with the following databases. They can all be found on the Stanford Library Databases page under the subjects "Government Information: International and Foreign" and "Statistics and Numeric Data." Note that they are subscription databases and therefore are accessible only to Stanford students, faculty and staff. Check this page for directions on setting up your proxy if you're off-campus.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also a good place to check. their FAOSTAT statistical database is freely available, "provides access to over 3 million time-series and cross sectional data relating to food and agriculture ... and contains data for 200 countries and more than 200 primary products and inputs." You can find the information in individual country profiles.

There are also many statistical resources in print, and this is sometimes the only way to find statistics before 1960. My favorites are:

  • UN Statistical Yearbook (SSRC: HA12.5U63) which goes from 1950 - present
  • Index to International Statistics (SSRC Government Documents: Z7552 .I53 and in microfiche: MFICHE570). This guide to the statistical publications of international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) is the librarian's and researcher's best friend and is available from 1983 - present. Even though it is reproduced in LexisNexis Statistical, sometimes it is best to browse by subject and country.
  • International historical statistics 1750 - 2000. This resource is in 3 volumes: The Americas, Europe, and Africa, Asia and Oceania, and can be found in call# HA in the Information Center: Statistics Shelves

I also searched Socrates and found a World Bank working paper called "Economic Growth and the environment" by Dennis Anderson (HG3881.5 .W57 P63 V.979) that includes "cultivable land area" from 1950 - 1990 with projections to 2030.

Lastly, a note on statistics. The resources that I've listed above all contained variables for "arable land" but the questioner was looking for "cultivable land." It is extremely important to look at variable definitions in the resources that you're citing to see how the organization collects and defines its data. in this case, a quick email to the FAO garnered this interesting tidbit:

...there is not really one definition for it, but it often depends on the definition each country individually uses for this variable. I'm also not sure what you mean by yearly data of cultivable land? According to us, this is a value about "potential" and therefore is not a value that differs from year to year.

So be careful out there. the land of international statistics is fraught with semantics and differing ideas about statistical definitions.

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