Accurate and reliable information on the spatial distribution of major crops is needed for detecting possible production deficits with the aim of preventing food security crises and anticipating response planning. In this paper, we compared some of the most widely used global land cover datasets to examine their comparative advantages for cropland monitoring. Cropland class areas are compared for the following datasets: FAO-GLCshare (FAO Global Land Cover Network), Geowiki IIASA-Hybrid (Hybrid global land cover map from the International Institute of Applied System Analysis), GLC2000 (Global Land Cover 2000), GLCNMO2008 (Global Land Cover by National Mapping Organizations), GlobCover, Globeland30, LC-CCI (Land Cover Climate Change Initiative) 2010 and 2015, and MODISLC (MODIS Land Cover product). The methodology involves: (1) highlighting discrepancies in the extent and spatial distribution of cropland, (2) comparing the areas with FAO agricultural statistics at the country level, and (3) providing accuracy assessment through freely available reference datasets. Recommendations for crop monitoring at the country level are based on a priority ranking derived from the results obtained from analyses 2 and 3. Our results revealed that cropland information varies substantially among the analyzed land cover datasets. FAO-GLCshare and Globeland30 generally provided adequate results to monitor cropland areas, whereas LC-CCI2010 and GLC2000 are less unsuitable due to large overestimations in the former and out of date information and low accuracy in the latter. The recently launched LC-CCI datasets (i.e., LC-CCI2015) show a higher potential for cropland monitoring uses than the previous version (i.e., LC-CCI2010).
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