A Brief History of Agriculture
From the early beginnings to today.
At the dawn of history, humans were living in nomadic tribes that moved from place to place, hunted, and gathered seeds, fruits, and other edibles they could find in nature.
The earliest proof of settlement traces back to 21 000 years ago in what was then the Fertile Crescent.
Historians estimate the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution to 12 000 years ago, also called the beginning of the Neolithic period.
Contrary to popular beliefs, agriculture began with the domestication of animals (pigs, then cows, descendants of aurochs) around 11 000 BC.
It was only some 1 500 years later or so that humans began to plant and domesticate seeds.
On the scale of history, the Agricultural Revolution happened “at the same time”. In practice though, several thousand years split the earliest farmers from the latest ones.
Finally, some tribes never made the switch (the Inuit, the Ayoreo, the Awá, etc).
Why Did Humans Settle?
Anthropologists have come up with different theories that seek to explain why humans went from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle.
The beginning of agriculture coincides with the end of the Ice Age in 11 000 BC. The weather changed and welcome long periods of dryness during which certain plants died, leaving seeds ready for consumption and plantation.
Other theories proposed that the discovery of bread, or beer (or both) encouraged humans to settle and domesticate plants to increase production.
Another theory explains that humans domesticated plants due to over-hunting animals that became extinct as a result.
In any way, tribes did not become sedentary within a week, a month, or even years. It is suggested that in the beginning, hunter-gatherers cultivated small fields to rely on in case they didn’t find anything to hunt.
As time passed by, the biggest animals became extinct so tribes had to increasingly rely on agriculture until the shift was complete.
The Evolution of Farming Techniques
Agriculture enabled humans to get more food and as a result, the number of people drastically increased. This meant that farmers had to become more productive to feed these people.
Very quickly, peasants began using animals to assist them in their work by ploying the soil, for example.
Each civilization had its own agricultural problems to deal with and therefore came up with different solutions.
The rise and fall of the level of the Nil often flooded and destroyed the fields, so the Egyptians dug and built canals that evolved into a complex irrigation system.
The Aztecs, which were growing their food around a lake due to its fertile ground, invented culture on terrace, and understood the principle of fertilizer. Since they lacked space, they also came up with chinampa known as “floating gardens.”
Chinampa were rafts that the Aztecs filled with earth from the bottom of the lake (rich in nutrients). These rafts floated on the lake and were used to cultivate different types of plants.
Back in Europe, the Romans were heavily dependent on one another for their food production. Different areas of the empire grew different products. Some soils were better suited for cereal production, while others were reserved for the culture of olives.
Overall, the Romans produced more food than they consumed which enabled them to export and trade, particularly with the Middle East.
The Middle Age
When the Roman Empire collapsed in 476, the Arab Caliphates that were once dependent on Roman exports had to develop their own farming production techniques and capabilities.
They introduced several innovations:
- Development of an irrigation system with dams and reservoirs.
- Development of a scientific method. Farming manuals were written and distributed everywhere.
- New crops, such as aubergines, rice, apricots, almond, saffron, figs, bananas, or artichokes.
These were introduced to Europe via Spain which was under Arab rule.
But the innovation that had the biggest impact on efficiency was crop rotation. Intensive farming depleted the soil and prevented it from regenerating.
The seeds sown into the fields did not develop well (or none at all) which led to a decrease in food production.
Crop rotation enabled the soil to “rest” and regenerate, which improved the output.
The discovery of America in 1492 introduced new plants to Europe, namely tomatoes, potatoes, corn (maize), tobacco, pineapple, and cocoa (which soon will be used for chocolate).
American plants spread in Europe while Europe sent over their grains like wheat, mainly.
Because European weather and environment were different than in America, Europeans invented greenhouses to protect American plants.
Noticing that certain plants grew better and faster, greenhouses spread worldwide. Sometime later, Americans invented storage silos.
The Industrial Revolution
The invention of the steam engine, the railway, and the mechanization of manual work led to impactful transformations in agriculture.
The tractor enabled one farmer to cultivate an area with an efficiency unseen previously.
The mechanization and automation of agriculture led to a mass exodus of farmers from campaigns to cities as industrialization was ramping up.
The subsequent development of container shipping, the refrigerator, the understanding of genetics, and the mass production of fertilizer eventually led to the agriculture of today.
Despite reaching an advanced understanding of agriculture and important production volumes, modern agriculture is not without controversy.
The use of fertilizers and pesticides pollutes the soil and water and may be detrimental to health.
This is why the European Commission has encouraged farmers in the EU to shift their production methods to sustainable practices.
As a land investment marketplace, LandEx plans to support farmers in Estonia and other countries in shifting their production methods for a greener future.
When you invest with LandEx, you directly participate in the new green agricultural revolution.
Invest today on landex.ai, and start your land investment journey!
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