Australia is a large country, covering 7.69 million square kilometres, with a relatively small population of 20 million (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005). Agriculture accounts for a paltry 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) and only 6.88% of the land surface is under arable cropping, with 0.03% under permanent crops. In 1997, 5% of the labour force was directly engaged in agriculture ( htm) compared with 22% in industry and 73% in services. These statistics set it a world apart from densely populated agrarian countries such as India and China.

Although agriculture has declined from being a major contributor to national wealth (>27% of gross national product (GNP) in the late 1980s), it still has a strong export focus. There have been considerable structural adjustments in agriculture in the last 20 years in response to Australia's commitment to free trade, removal of input and output subsidies and widespread application of 'user-pays' principles in service sectors. The recent strength of the mining sector with strong global demand for iron and aluminium has contributed to the relatively small contribution of agriculture to GNP.

©CAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution: Opportunities and Threats to Development (M. Giordano and K.G. Villholth)

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