CHAPTER 18: Traditional Livelihoods of Rural Peoples (de Blij & Murphy)
1) Primary Activities – the extractive sector; direct extraction of natural resources from the environment; hunting and gathering, herding, fishing, mining, lumbering,…
2) Secondary Activities – the manufacturing sector; processes raw materials and transforms them into finished industrial products; production of an almost infinite range of commodities (toys, chemicals, buildings, …)
3) Tertiary Activities – the service sector; engaged in services; transportation, banking, education, …)
4) Quaternary – concerned w/ collection, processing, and manipulation of information & capital (finance, administration, insurance, legal services)
5) Quinary – require a high level of specialized knowledge or skill (scientific research, high-level management)
1) Agriculture – the deliberate tending of crops and livestock in order to produce food and fiber.
2) Before farming – a recent innovation (12,000 yrs.), hunting and gathering – have been forced into more difficult environments; agriculture permitted people to settle permanently with the assurance food would be available (storage)
3) Before farming: early communities improved tools (sticks, baskets), weapons (clubs, spears), innovations (fire)
a) Metallurgy: separating metal from ores, developed prior to plant & animal domestication
b) Fishing – after Ice Age (12,000 – 15,000 yrs ago), coastal regions become warmer
c) Alternating periods of plenty and scarcity
4) 1st Agricultural Revolution: 12,000 yrs ago (Neolithic Era) Fertile Crescent, China , N. Africa …
a) Accompanied by a modest population explosion
b) Domestication – animal (about 40 species today) occurred after people became more sedentary
5) Subsistence farming: self-sufficient, small scale, low technology; food production for local consumption, not for trade (Central & South America, Subsaharan Africa, S.E. Asia)
a) Some are confined to small fields; very likely they do not own the soil they till
b) Can promote cohesiveness w/in society, share land, food surpluses, personal wealth is restricted; cultivators are poor – but free
c) Shifting Cultivation – (slash & burn) Cultivation where tropical forests are removed by cutting & burning, ash contributes to soil fertility; clearings are usually abandoned after a few years for newly cleared land (150-200 million people)
6) 2nd Agricultural Revolution: began at end of Middle Ages, benefited from Industrial Revolution, improved methods of cultivation, harvesting, and storage
7) Johann Heinrich von Thünen’s (1783-1850) Spatial Model of Farming
a) Witnessed the 2nd Agricultural Revolution firsthand (in Rostock , Germany ), first effort to analyze spatial character of economic activity
b) Concentric rings formed, within which particular commodities or crops dominated, and others were replaced (without any visible change in terrain, soil, or climate)
c) Closest to town – perishable items, high priced (dairy, strawberries)
d) Next ring – less perishable, bulkier crops (wheat, grains)
e) Outer ring – livestock, ranching
f) Von Thünen’s model assumes: 1) flat terrain, 2) soils and conditions are constant, 3) no barriers to transportation to market
8) Third Agricultural Revolution (Green Revolution), still in progress (began in 1960’s)
a) Based on higher yielding strains using genetic engineering
b) Will the Green Revolution eliminate world hunger, or will human population use up the benefits? Argument for both sides…
CHAPTER 19: Rural Settlement Forms
1) Form – influenced by culture, environment,…
2) Function – impression of social and economic needs (eg. livestock under same roof as people in Eastern Europe )
3) Materials – reflect local availability (not as important as it was in the past: why?) and purpose
4) Spacing – relationship between density of houses and intensity of crop cultivation
a) Dispersed settlement – houses lie far apart from each other (eg. US Midwest ; machines, not hand)
b) Nucleated (agglomerated) settlement – compact, closely packed settlement sharply demarcated from adjoining farmlands (eg. Java; most prevalent residential pattern in rural areas, land use is just as intense)
The first topic in Chapter V of the summary outline, the development and diffusion of agriculture, is covered well in most human geography textbooks. Most textbooks follow the presentations of economic land agricultural activity that is based on the notions of the nineteenth-century geographer Edward Hahn that were modified and further articulated in the United States by Carl Sauer. The structure of the AP course and most textbooks follows conventional thinking that classifies economic activity into primary, secondary, and tertiary activities. Primary activities are those that are using the resources of the environment directly such as hunting and gathering, farming, and timbering, mining, and fishing.
Neolithic Agricultural Revolution
There are major events in the history of the world that are quite transforming; the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic times was one of those events. The invention of agriculture enabled the human population to differentiate itself from the higher primates. By applying agricultural technologies in very simple forms, humans were able to increase the carrying capacity of the earth's surface by many, many times. Every culture on the surface of the earth engages in agriculture in some form. We obviously need food to eat, and cultures have developed practices for storing food until times of shortage and for moving food from areas of high productivity to areas of high consumption.
In addition to the circulation of food, other aspects of food production attract the attention of human geographers. The spatial patterns of the dietary laws that govern consumption and production of crops and animals around the world have fascinated many geographers. Carl Sauer's seminal work, the Agricultural Origins and Dispersals, published by the American Geographical Society in 1952, is the springboard for all contemporary geographical discussions about the origins of agriculture. Sauer believed there were eleven separate centers of plant and animal domestication. This great invention probably occurred first in the areas of the tropical seashores where settled fishermen were able to produce enough surplus so that they could invest some of their wealth and time into the experimentation and nurturing of plants and animals. Sauer and others argue that large herd animals may have been domesticated first for ceremonies and then later used for other purposes. They conclude this because the religious personages in the early agricultural communities had the time to rear young herd animals to the stage at which they could actually participate in religious ceremonies. But of course, no one really knows for sure. The movement of humans around the surface of the earth diffused plants and animals to nearly every possible environment. Some of the movements are well documented; others are only vaguely understood.
Evolution of Energy Sources and Technology
The increasing availability of animal energy expanded humans' ability to till the soil. Techniques of harnessing animals evolved from the early forms of tying plows to the heavy horns of cattle to the advanced harnessing system for horses. Europeans developed the heavy horse collar which enabled the weight that the animals were pulling to be transferred to their powerful shoulders and away from their windpipe and neck. This made the horse much more effective. The use of large draft horses enabled farmers to till heavier, more productive soils, which ensured better yields of grain. Better yields meant more food for animals and eventually large, more powerful animals. Although agricultural technology evolved in all parts of the world, the process was slow. Farmers were reluctant to experiment with new, risky ventures for fear of crop failure and famine.
Regions of plant and animal domestication
All the popular textbooks and atlases have maps and charts that portray the assumed regions of plant domestication. These maps are important because they illustrate the areas where the wild ancestors of modern crops might be found. The genetic material in the world of our ancestors is considered precious, because it is essential for creating new varieties of domesticated plants.
Agricultural Systems Associated with Major Bio-Climatic Zones
There are two things that must be considered when teaching the contemporary regional patterns of agricultural production. One is the relationship between agriculture systems and the climatic zones, and the second is the complicated set linkages among the production areas and the consumption areas. All forms of economic activity are involved in the shift of agriculture products to food.
Most atlases and textbooks contain a version of a map based on the map drawn by Derwent Whittlesey and published by the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in1936. Unfortunately, no agricultural geographer has attempted to modernize this map, and therefore it must be used with caution. This map attempts to portray the major agricultural regions in the world. One way to deal with this part of the course is to have your students study this map making sure they understand the key. The map shows a pattern of about thirteen varieties of agriculture that reflect environmental zones. For example, the nomadic herders are found in the arid regions of north and south Africa , the eastern horn of Africa , southwest Asia , central Asia and northern Eurasia . Shifting cultivation is focused primarily in tropical forests and on the savanna margins of the forests in South America , Africa , and Southeast Asia , and particularly Indonesia .
What Whittlesey calls rudimentary sedentary cultivation really should be thought of as subsistence agriculture. Another of his categories is intensive subsistence tillage, one form making heavy use of rice and another form really using wheat rather than rice. These circulation systems are essentially the same, but each utilizes a little different crop mixture due to the climatic differences. Livestock ranching, like nomadic herding and shifting cultivation, does seem to follow major climatic zones.
If students look at the map with some fundamental understanding of environmental zones, they will see very clear patterns. However, this map is only the beginning, because farmers have greatly modified the environment and even destroyed major components of it to bring this pattern into reality. The forests that once covered Europe have long been cleared, as have the forests that once covered part of North America east of the Mississippi . The tilling of the soil breaks up and eradicates the indigenous or natural vegetation. The crops that grow in particular places are dramatically modified from their original ancestors and in many cases bear little resemblance to the native plants that were in the area before agriculture. Wheat, for example, the dominant plant on the northern plains of theUnited States , has its origins in southwest Asia . The corn that blankets the Midwest of the United States and the Danubian basin had its origin in Mesoamerica .
Production and Food Supply — Linkages and Flows
The concentration of a crop is illustrated by commodity maps in an atlas such as Goode's. Wheat, for instance, is produced in the central and northern plains ofNorth America and in the area around the Rio Plata Pampas of Argentina . In Europe , it is found from the British Isles to Syria . Other concentrations are found in the Ukraine and to the Far East along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Wheat is also grown in the Indus and Ganges Valleys and in northern China . Further concentrations exist in southeastern and southwestern Australia . Wheat, the staff of life, is traded in a worldwide pattern from these areas of successful production to areas of population concentration where the it is converted to flour. The map of wheat movements in Goode'sWorld Atlas is critical to an understanding of the many connections. North America , South America , and Australia are major exporters of wheat. Most of the exported wheat goes to Europe , the Middle East , and China .
Maize or corn, another major crop that is exported, is heavily concentrated in North America , which is the largest production region. Secondary regions are in the Danubian basin and in China and Java. Corn is also grown in southern Brazil and Argentina and in parts of Africa . African corn, however, does not enter world trade. Most corn flows out from the American Midwest, down the Mississippi , out the port of New Orleans , and through the Panama Canal to major consumption regions in China . Another flow from North America moves to the Middle East and western Europe. Unlike wheat, which is consumed directly by humans in the form of bread, corn is usually fed to animals and consumed indirectly by humans.
Rice is the third major grain that moves in world trade. Enormous concentrations of rice production occur in south China and Indochina . Surpluses from these areas flow to Africa , Europe , and to the Middle East . Rice is also produced to a lesser extent in the Mississippi Valley where it enters world trade, again, flowing largely to Africa and Europe .
Other commodity flows of interest are the movement of coffee and tea from the tropics to the mid latitudes. Likewise, there is a flow of sugar from the coastal regions of South America and islands of the Caribbean and southeast Asia, and the northeast coast of Australia .
Currently, there is controversy about the flow of food around the world. Many governments think of food as a strategic material and want to ensure that their local production is adequate should warfare interrupt the flow of international trade.
In addition, farmers using their political clout have raised barriers to prevent the import of food from areas in which food is produced more efficiently. One of the significant developments in international trade and food in the 1990s has been the growing resistance in Europe to importing American crops that have been produced using the technologies known collectively as genetic engineering. While selective breeding of crops and livestock has been going on consistently for thousands of years, the breakthrough of genetics in the last 25 years has enabled more sophisticated manipulations of the characteristics of the crop through gene splicing and introducing genetic material from other plants into the seed corn. This has alarmed many people around the world, both in production areas and in consumption areas. If this opposition to genetically modified crops increases, tremendous problems will develop because of the growing reliance of American farmers on the superior productivity of the new crops.
Land Use and Location Models
Like other forms of economic activity, agriculture is influenced by transportation costs or the friction of distance. The major variable of bio-climatic influences is modified by the accessibility factor. It has been observed many times that on areas of seemingly homogeneous landscape, a pattern of land use will have developed that is dependent upon transportation costs.
The most fundamental model of that pattern was developed by von Thunen in the nineteenth century to describe and explain land uses on the north German plain. The von Thunen model has been described in all the popular textbooks. The illustration presented here is one of many. The important thing about the von Thunen model is the way in which it enables students to think about accessibility and to break free from explanations of agriculture that are based on out-moded notions of ethnicity and environmental determinism. The model is particularly useful in explaining the sequence of agriculture that occurred with the settlement of North America when a combination of so-called frontier crops — which were primarily wheat and small grains mixed with ranching, particularly cattle ranching — was developed. These activities moved from east to west across the continent with the expansion of the urban system and improved transportation. Therefore, even though the most ideal bio-climatic zone for wheat production would be the Ohio Valley and the great prairies of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, wheat is grown on the high plains farther west in the arid region. Again, wheat is grown there not because those areas have the best growing climate, but because it is the crop that will yield a profit in that site and not suffer from competition with other agriculture types.
Extensive agriculture at the edge of the von Thunen models or rings involves large land areas. An average-sized farm in Saskatchewan is 1000 acres, while a farm in North Dakota is 1300 acres. In contrast, farms engaging in intensive commercial agriculture close to the market may average 40 acres or less in size. Maps of relative value per acre of farmland show the von Thunen principal quite clearly. Land close to markets has much higher value than more distant land.
The von Thunen Model Explained
The von Thünen model of agricultural land use was created by farmer and amateur economist J.H. Von Thünen. His model was created before industrialization and is based on the following limiting assumptions:
In an Isolated State with the foregoing statements being true, Von Thünen hypothesized that the following pattern would develop:
There are four rings of agricultural activity surrounding the city. Dairying and intensive farming occur in the ring closest to the city. Since vegetables, fruit, milk and other dairy products must get to market quickly, they would be produced close to the city (remember, we don't have refrigerated oxcarts!)
Timber and firewood would be produced for fuel and building materials in the second zone. Before industrialization (and coal power), wood was a very important fuel for heating and cooking. Wood is very heavy and difficult to transport so it is located as close to the city as possible.
The third zone consists of extensive fields crops such as grains for bread. Since grains last longer than dairy products and are much lighter than fuel, reducing transport costs, they can be located further from the city.
Ranching is located in the final ring surrounding the central city. Animals can be raised far from the city because they are self-transporting. Animals can walk to the central city for sale or for butchering.
Beyond the fourth ring lies the unoccupied wilderness, which is too great a distance from the central city for any type of agricultural product.
Even though the Von Thünen model was created in a time before factories, highways, and even railroads, it is still an important model in geography. The Von Thünen model is an excellent illustration of the balance between land cost and transportation costs. As one gets closer to a city, the price of land increases. The farmers of theIsolated State balance the cost of transportation, land, and profit and produce the most cost-effective product for market. Of course, in the real world, things don't happen as they would in a model.
Settlement Patterns and Urban-Rural Connection
About half the world's population still lives in rural regions dominated by agriculture. The architecture of these settlements varies from place to place, although it is possible to see broad patterns. The building materials reflect local conditions as well as the availability of commercially produced products from elsewhere. There is a relationship between the form of the architecture and the function that is quite visible in certain areas. Because most agriculturists live in villages, it is important to view in some detail the nature of these rural settlement patterns.
Villages are frequently referred to as nucleated settlements. This is in contrast to dispersed settlement, which is the basic pattern that exists in the Midwest where individual farmhouses are separated from one another, and the farmers live on their own property.
Environmental and Social Impacts of Intensification
Nucleated settlements, in general, conform to fundamental cultural features in the landscape. They reflect the social structure within the village, as well as the local environmental situation, such as road, dike, or levy along a river. Most frequently, the older villages were defensive in nature. The houses were close together and surrounded by some sort of wall Even though the threat of invasion is over in most places, these villages persist in their compactness and lack of a regular street pattern.
Geographers have classified villages according to their shape or form. Linear villages, with houses lined up along a road are called strassendorfs. Other villages are described as round village, a cluster village or a walled village. The village pattern was, of course, transferred to the United States with the initial colonial settlements in New England and Pennsylvania . However, with the movement over the Alleghenies and Appalachians into the interior, the preference for village settlements was broken. The Northwest Ordinance Act established rules for selling land owned by the federal government. It also established a way to survey the territory and called for the settlement of farmers on their own land. This is usually associated with Thomas Jefferson's idea of democracy and belief that the scattered farmers were more independent than those living in villages.
In various part of the world, agriculturists built villages using materials that were at hand. In areas where there was plenty of wood, the houses were built of wood. Where wood was not available, farmers used various types of brick. Sun-dried brick, or adobe, is very common in the sunny areas. Fired, or baked brick, is more common in the areas where the adobe is less suitable. Houses were also built of stone, and in some locations, poles and sticks were woven together and plastered over with mud.
The basic point of all this is that agriculturists were close to the environment and used whatever materials they had at hand. As transportation improved and manufactured products could be brought into areas, vernacular styles and building materials tended to disappear under the pressure of mass production.
The size and the structure of villages and other forms or rural settlement reflect the availability of space and local environmental conditions. The North American farmstead is larger than many villages in Africa , Asia , and Europe . Likewise, the North American farm has a highly differentiated set of buildings reflecting the function of the activities. The pre-modern village tended to be much more compact with a building used for several different functions.
Introduction to Modern Agriculture
The second agricultural revolution reached its peak during the hundred and fifty years from the post Civil War era to 2000. This period saw the development of barbed wire, various forms of harvesting machines (particularly Cyrus McCormick's reaper), and the tractor — first with a steam engine and then with a gasoline engine — which replaced draft animals. The revolution's major impact was the reduction in the number of people needed to operate farms.
The third agricultural revolution, beginning approximately about 250 years after the start of the second, has three distinctive features. The first is the removal of the lines between agriculture as a primary activity and secondary and tertiary activities. Farmers and agriculturists now engage in the primary activity of crop production, some sort of secondary activity of manufacturing or processing the crops, and tertiary activities of marketing and advertising their products through co-ops and other marketing organizations. The second distinctive feature of this agricultural revolution is more intensive mechanization; biotechnology is the third. Mechanization began replacing animal and human labor in the United States during the late nineteenth century. After World War II, mechanization spread to Europe and other parts of the world. Machines have gotten larger, more powerful, and more efficient.
The biotechnological phase began with chemical farming — the substitution of inorganic fertilizers and manufactured products for manure and humus to increase soil fertility. Chemicals were also used to control pests, and a wide variety of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides have been produced in a never-ending effort to enhance the yields. This became widespread in the United States in the 1950s and spread to Europe in the 1960s and to the rest of the world during the last three decades of the twentieth century.
Food processing — adding economic value to agriculture products — is the third part of the revolution, and the part that is achieving (or attracting or gaining) the most energy and investment. While the first two phases of the revolution are focused on inputs into the agricultural process, the third is focused on output. Farmers frequently talk about the third phase as "value added," and of course it's the third part that involves agriculturists in secondary and tertiary activities. One of the indications of this has been the use of the term "agribusiness" in the United States to describe the blending of old agricultural farm-centered cultures to this new, more integrated form of production and culture. One of the most significant features of the third revolution is the elimination of the difference between urban and rural life styles.
The industrialization of agriculture in general has caused a number of changes in agrarian societies. First, there has been change in the application of rural labor as machines replace or enhance the efficiencies of human labor. In a sense, the industrialization of agriculture creates surplus labor in the rural areas that can be used for other urban activities. Second, there is the development and introduction of new and innovative inputs such as seeds, chemicals, and different kinds of technologies that supplement or replace locally produced products. Third, there has been a development of substitutes for some kinds of agricultural products. Fourth, new uses for agricultural products have been developed. The conversion of corn to sugar for use in soft drinks is an example.
The third revolution began in the1960s when a combination of technology was made available to countries in Asia and Mexico in an effort to improve the diets of people these regions. Publicists labeled this the "Green Revolution," and it has attracted much attention. But the Green Revolution is just one part of the exporting or diffusion of industrial agriculture from the core to the periphery. In general, we can think of this as a globalization of industrial agriculture or the development of a unified agricultural system that involves most of the populations of the earth.
It all began in the mid 1940s when the Rockefeller Foundation of the United States sent some agriculturists from the United States to work in Mexico to see if they could export some of the technology developed in the United States that increased wheat production. The results were phenomenal. Within seven years new forms of wheat seeds were available and in the1960s the effort was transferred to other countries. The man most associated with this is Norman Borlaug, who for most of the past five decades has lived in developing nations, teaching the techniques of high-yield agriculture. He received the Nobel in 1970, primarily for his work in reversing the food shortages that haunted India and Pakistan in the 1960s.
The Green Revolution was based on the development of new higher yielding hybrid seed varieties, a technology that was developed in the Midwest in the 1930s. The aggregate increases in production were significant. In Asia , rice production grew 66% between 1965 and 1985. India became self-sufficient in wheat production by the 1980s. In addition to the higher yields, agronomists developed plants that were shorter so they used less nutrients to produce straw. The Green Revolution included the new plants, both higher yielding and some with different characteristics, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and capital improvements. Successful farmers were those who were able to implement the entire package. They gained significant amounts of wealth, while their neighbors who were unable to invest at this rate found their competitive edge in the economy worsening.
Consumption, Nutrition, and Hunger
Despite the dramatic increase in food supply and reduction in hunger in the world as a result of the diffusion of Green Revolution technology, there have been numerous people who have found reasons to criticize this innovation. The division between rich and poor that existed in the rural areas of the developing countries was made wider by the Green Revolution. Some observers argue that the economic conditions that arose from the political power created by the Green Revolution more than offset the gains that were accomplished in increasing the food supply. Others argue that the crops produced by with Green Revolution technology are less nutritious, less flavorful, and less palatable. They also point out that the fertilizers and chemicals used in the revolution come from fossil fuel, a nonrenewable resource. Critics also feel that the Green Revolution can increase erosion and environmental contamination. The need for capital from the West to implement the changes to infrastructure has put pressure on the economies to grow more crops for export and take land away from production of crops for local consumption. It's also pointed out that the Green Revolution focus has been on rice, corn, and wheat, which are crops that are of particular interest in Asia andMexico , but have had little impact in Africa . In addition, the return on the investment is lower in Africa , because the agriculture is based on a different sort of crops, and soil fertility is considerably less than in Asia and Mexico .
Whatever the critics say, it is clear the Green Revolution was successful. The countries in which it was put into place have been able to feed their populations. While the technology may have created problems, the alternative would be food shortages and hunger. Neither is a viable alternative.
The latest revolution in agriculture is being spread about the world from the core to the periphery through a variety of agencies. First among these agencies are the international efforts developed by the core nations over the years, primarily the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These organizations promote the diffusion of technology, but also support organizations that can usually be called developmental.
Governments have for many years regulated the flow of food goods in and out of their countries to maintain production, consumption, and their own national corporate profits. This is accomplished primarily by offering either direct or indirect subsidies to agricultural producers to keep foodstuffs affordable. Over the years, farmers in the United States , for example, produced tremendous grain surpluses. These surpluses were purchased and stored by the government to sell at a time when prices increased. However, grain cannot be stored indefinitely, so the government would either donate or sell it a very low cost to other nations. This had the effect of undermining the price for locally grown grain in the receiving areas and hurt local producers. Therefore, agriculture can never be thought of in purely economic terms. Politics are the order of the day.
In addition to being concerned with their internal food production, core states have also engaged directly and indirectly in the agricultural sectors of other nations. Aid for food and agriculture development is widespread and popular around the world. When the receiving states asked for the aid, the charitable organizations and the donor states were happy to send it. Many large-scale agricultural development projects have been initiated around the world, but not all been successful. One of the lessons learned from attempting to increase food supply through external aid is that large-scale environmental modification schemes generally have been unsuccessful. Small-scale projects sensitive to local, cultural situations and environmental concerns seem to be more successful over the long run.
A useful way to envision the industrialization of agriculture is as a complex circulation system based on the urban industrial cores. The nature of agriculture changes and becomes more urbanlike as land devoted to agricultural activities becomes more tightly connected to the urban industrial cores. Agriculture has divisions of labor and the farm workers are not self-sufficient. They buy their food in grocery stores, and get all the inputs from off-farm sources.
When thinking about the organization of industrial agriculture, the most important concept is agribusiness. This refers to a system of economic and political relationships that organize food production from the development of the genetic makeup of the seeds to the retailing and consumption of the agricultural product.
Agribusiness is organized into flows of political and economic power that are focused on commodity or food chains. A food chain is usually composed of inputs, production, outputs, distribution, and consumption. There is an associated landscape with each of these factors. Many of these commodity or food chains link a variety of physical environments together. They also link areas of production and consumption served by manufacturing areas.
In a sense, agribusiness occurs at a global scale in the same way that a subsistence village worked in the preindustrial area. In the subsistence village, forms of production, processing, distribution, and consumption were organized at the local scale. Occasionally, several villages interacted and exchanged surpluses. Now, with industrialization and the intense increase in circulation technology, entire regions of the world are linked together in the form of production, processing, and consumption.
The Europeans developed the first global system that linked together food production in the colonial territories with consumption in the European sector. Early in the colonial period, a food regime began in which wheat production in the Shenandoah Valley was linked with consumption in France . In the nineteenth century,Australia , Canada , and New Zealand specialized in producing food for Europeans.
Environmental Change — Desertification, Deforestation, etc.
As we have seen, traditionally there is a correlation between types of agriculture and bioclimatic zones. The growth of any organism in the plant kingdom is dependent on water, solar energy, and nutrients from the environment. Therefore the environment makes a major impact. By harvesting timber and grazing flocks in the highlands, farmers modified the landscape around the Mediterranean Sea . Erosion was increased and major decreases in fertility occurred. Other ancient civilizations also impacted their environment through irrigation and the consequent increase of salt in the soil. Agriculturists still make major impacts on the environment. Once the soil vegetation cover is broken, the soil is susceptible to wind and soil erosion. This continues on steep slopes or in areas where wind is intense. In addition, agriculturists have used varieties of chemicals that have huge impacts on nonagricultural life. the use of chemicals such as DDT is widespread.
Perhaps the most dramatic impacts have occurred on the margins of arid regions where agriculturists, for a variety of reasons, have expanded into areas that have thin topsoil and vegetation. Overgrazing and tillage caused a change in the nature of this landscape that increased the rate of erosion thereby creating desert-like soils on the surface. The desertification process was accelerated by short-term climatic fluctuations in some areas, but primarily human activity is the cause.
It's a cliché to say that farmers have had more impact on the environment than any other sector of the economy. Whether this is true or not is impossible to measure. What is clear is that agribusiness has new ways, using biotechnology, to modify the environment. Biotechnology refers to the process or the technology that uses living organisms or parts of organisms to make or modify products, to improve plants or animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses. Biotechnology is distinct from the Green Revolution because it uses gene manipulation, tissue cultures, cell fusion, embryo transfer, cloning, and a variety of techniques unknown to the agriculturists of the 1950s. Biotechnology has been able to produce what are sometimes called superplants that produce their own fertilizers and pesticides and are resistant to disease an their development of microorganisms. Through cloning, it is possible to take tissues from one plant, insert them in another to form new plant, and produce millions of identical plants thereby reducing the chances of variation in yields from particular seeds.
While the critics talk about cloned material making plants more susceptible to diseases, elm trees with resistance to the Elm Virus have been successfully cloned and planted in great numbers in the American Midwest. The debates about biotechnology certainly are vociferous, and there is really no way for a geographer to determine which side is going to be correct. It is clear that biotechnology is a continuation of the industrialization of agriculture. It is also based in private ownership and capitalism. Biotechnological processes are patented. Seeds that are patented cannot be grown by the farmers unless they pay the company that developed them. There are also some notions that if these crops are exported to the developing world to increase the efficiencies in agriculture, there will be a social disruption caused by the new seeds. As with any change, there is no reason to expect its benefits will be equally distributed. It seems the issue with biotechnology is what are the options of not exporting these more efficient crops and not using this technology.