Map of the Month: How Many People Work in Agriculture?

The map of the month series on Resource Watch explores open source maps on the state of the planet’s natural resources, biodiversity, commerce and people. Our analysts curate data sets that are peer-reviewed or based on transparent, established methodology.

Food is essential to our livelihoods, but the proportion of people working in food production has declined over time. As countries develop, technology improvements and increasing yields typically lead to fewer people working in agriculture.

The chart below shows data from the World Bank on employment in agriculture over time. Globally, about 1 billion people* work in the agricultural sector, about 28% of the population employed in 2018. This is down from 44% in 1991.

But there are stark differences in employment in agriculture between rich and poor countries: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 69% of employed people work in agriculture; in the United States, only 1% work in the sector.

Data from the World Bank on the proportion of people working in agriculture, as a fraction of people employed, is shown below.

What Factors Could Affect Agricultural Employment?

Along with employment data, other data sets on agriculture and climate can help governments understand how recent and future changes to climate affects their economy. The agricultural sector is vulnerable to drought, flood and extreme temperatures. The Vegetation Health Index from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates the health of vegetation based on a number of factors, including precipitation and temperature over the past week. Indices below 40 indicate vegetation stress, where crop and livestock losses might be expected. Indices above 60 indicate healthy vegetation.

We estimated the number of people employed in agriculture based on World Bank data on the total labor force minus unemployed to get the number of people employed. Then the number of people employed multiplied by proportion employed in agriculture gives the number of people employed in agriculture. See the code on this calculation on Github. According to the World Bank, the agriculture sector consists of activities in hunting, fishing and forestry, as well as growing crops and raising livestock.
Feature photo from Flickr/ILO in Asia and the Pacific.
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