Staple Food Crops of the World

Staple Food Crops of the World

Our MapMaker layers show how many tons of cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sweet potatoes, wheat, and yams were produced per country on average from 2010 to 2012.


6 - 12+


Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Geography

A crop is a plant that can be grown and harvested for food or profit. By use, crops fall into six categories: food crops, feed crops, fiber crops, oil crops, ornamental crops, and industrial crops. Food crops, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, are harvested to feed the more than 7 billion people on Earth. Climate, accessibility, trade, and culture are just some of the geographic factors that influence the popularity of a food crop in a given region. Grains, such as corn, wheat, and rice, are the world’s most popular food crops. In fact, these crops are often the basis for food staples. A food staple is a food that makes up the dominant part of a population’s diet. Food staples are eaten regularly—even daily—and supply a major proportion of a person’s energy and nutritional needs. Cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sweet potatoes, wheat, and yams are some of the leading food crops around the world. These layers of our MapMaker Interactive display how many tons of these crops were produced per country as an average from 2010 to 2012. As you look through the different map layers on food crops, keep in mind that these crops don’t always feed people near where they are grown. Crops grown in one place might be exported to another, and where those crops were grown from 2010 to 2012 does not reflect where they were produced historically or even where they might grow in the future. A map, among many things, is a temporary portrait of a changing world.

Fast Fact

  • Croplands cover 1.53 billion hectares on Earth, which is about 12% of Earth’s ice-free land.

Fast Fact

  • Cereals account for more than half of the world’s harvested area. Cereals are grain-producing grasses, such as wheat, rice, maize, and millet. Of the 2.3 billion tons of cereal produced, about a billion tons are destined for food use, 750 million tons for animal feed, and the remaining 500 million tons is either processed for industrial use, used as seed, or wasted.

Fast Fact

  • Rice is the primary crop and food staple of more than half the world’s population. Asia is the world’s largest rice-producing and rice-consuming region. Rice is also becoming an increasing food staple throughout Africa.

Fast Fact

  • More of Earth’s surface is covered by wheat than by any other food crop, despite it trailing maize and rice in the sheer amount of tons harvested. About 65% of wheat harvested is used for food, 17% for animal feed, 12% for industrial use such as biofuels, and the rest for various uncategorized uses.

Fast Fact

  • Plantains and bananas belong to the same genus; the primary difference between the plants is that plantains tend to be cooked or processed prior to consumption, whereas bananas are often eaten raw. Plantains, which fruit year-round, are major staples in West and Central Africa, the Caribbean, and coastal South America.

Fast Fact

  • Yams are a major staple in West Africa, where they are consumed mainly as “fufu,” a gelatinous dough. Fufu can also be made from cassava and plantains.

Fast Fact

  • Approximately 75% of the world’s agricultural land is devoted to raising animals, including cropland devoted to animal feed and pasture for grazing land.
Media Credits

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National Geographic Education Staff
National Geographic Society
Livia Mazur, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, BioBlitz Education Consultant
Hadrien Picq, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, BioBlitz Education Consultant
Last Updated

September 2, 2022

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