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Land cover refers to the actual covering of the surface of the earth at any of its points. This includes plant life such as grasses, trees and forest cover, the sand of the desert, or the concrete and asphalt of developed areas. It is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations as “the observed (bio)physical cover on the earth's surface.” It should be distinguished from land use, which explains what commercial or agricultural purpose to which a part of the earth's surface is being put, but the two may coincide in many cases.

It is estimated that of approximately 13,400 million hectares of dry land in the world, 3,325 million are suitable for cultivation and a further 156 million are used ...

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