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AGRICULTURE. Origins of Agriculture. When humans domesticated plants and animals for their use Agriculture - deliberate modification of the earth’s surface through cultivation of plants and rearing of animals to obtain sustenance or economic gain Cultivate - “to care for”

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Origins of agriculture
Origins of Agriculture

  • When humans domesticated plants and animals for their use

  • Agriculture - deliberate modification of the earth’s surface through cultivation of plants and rearing of animals to obtain sustenance or economic gain

  • Cultivate - “to care for”

  • Crop - any plant cultivated by people

Hunter gatherers
Hunter Gatherers

  • Today 250,000 people still survive this way

  • .005% of human population

  • Small groups in isolated locations

  • Arctic, interior of Africa, Australia, and South America

Earliest plant cultivation
Earliest Plant Cultivation

  • According to cultural geographer Carl Sauer

    • Vegetative planting - reproduction of plants by direct cloning from existing plants, such as cutting stems and dividing roots

    • Seed agriculture - (later) - reproduction of plants through annual planting of seeds that result from sexual fertilization. Practiced today by most farmers.

Agricultural hearths vegetative planting
Agricultural Hearths(vegetative planting)

  • Southeast Asia

    • Diverse climate & topography encouraged growth of variety of plants

    • More sedentary population because relied on fishing more than hunting

    • Taro, yam, banana, palm

    • Diffused north and east to China and Japan and west to India, southwest Asia, Africa, and Mediterranean

    • Dog, pig, & chicken first domesticated animals

  • West Africa - oil palm and yam

  • Northwest South America - manioc, sweet potato, arrowroot

First seed agriculture eastern hemisphere
First Seed Agriculture(Eastern Hemisphere)

  • Western India -

    • diffused to Southwest Asia where wheat and barley were domesticated & where animals were first intergrated with plant agriculture. Cattle, sheep & goats plowed the land & were fed crops.

    • Diffused to Mediterranean & Europe

  • Northern China

    • Millet diffused to Southeast Asia

  • Ethiopia

    • Millet and sorghum, did not diffuse widely

First seed agriculture western hemisphere
First Seed AgricultureWestern Hemisphere

  • Southern Mexico

    • Extended into Guatemala and Honduras

    • Squash and maize (corn)

  • Northern Peru

    • Squash, beans, cotton

    • Llama, alpaca, turkey

  • Multiple origins of agriculture means that people have always produced food in distinctive ways. Based on climate & cultural preferences

Forms of agriculture


produced for consumption

work by hand

most people work (more than 1/2 of workers are farmers)

shifting cultivation

nomadic herding

intensive subsistence (rice dominant or not rice dominant)

plantation agriculture


produced for market (mainly food processors - agribusiness - part of the food production industry)

Machines & scientific advances (fertilizer, etc)

few laborers (less than 1/10 of workers in MDCs are engaged in farming)

livestock & ranching


dairy farming

mixed crop



Forms of Agriculture

World agricultural regions
World Agricultural Regions

  • Whittlesey’s map from 1936

    • Most widely used

    • 11 main agricultural regions & 1 where it’s nonexistent (5 regions in LDCs, 6 regions in MDCs)

    • Sorted practices by climate (2 maps, one of climate regions & Whittlesey’s are similar)

    • Strong correlation between climate & agriculture (Much of the West is dry and also home to ranching)

Agriculture in ldcs
Agriculture in LDCs

  • Shifting cultivation

  • Pastoral nomadism

  • Intensive subsistence agriculture

  • Plantation farming

Shifting cultivation
Shifting Cultivation

  • Tropics (high temp, high rainfall)

  • Amazon, Central & West Africa, Southeast Asia

  • 250 million people

  • Usually small villages that grow food on surrounding, communal land

  • Two Hallmarks of Shifting Cultivation

    • Slash and burn agriculture

    • Farmers grow crops on a cleared field for only a few years until soil is depleted, then leave fallow so soil can recover

Process of shifting cultivation
Process of Shifting Cultivation

  • Cut down trees & brush

  • Remainder is burned & ashes add nutrients to soil

  • Swidden (cleared area)

  • Land is hoed and planted

  • crops grow for 3 years, then nutrients are depleted and fields are left fallow for 6-20 years.

Shifting cultivation1
Shifting Cultivation

  • Main Crops

    • SE Asia - rice

    • S America - maize, manioc

    • Africa - millet, sorghum

    • Also: yams, sugarcane, plantains

    • Families grow for their own needs, so one swidden may contain many crops & look chaotic

  • Land Ownership

    • Traditionally, village owns land & allocates parts to families, but changing

    • 1/4 world’s land area, but less than 5% of people

Future of shifting cultivation
Future of Shifting Cultivation

  • Declining in the tropics at 30K sq. mi/yr

    • Replaced by logging, ranching & cash crops

    • Critics: “inefficient way to feed many”

    • Defenders: “most environmental kind of agriculture”

      • No fertilizer or pesticides

      • Allow native plants to grow back in fallow years

      • Protects against erosion, soil damage & unbalanced ecosystems

    • Loss of shifting cultivation could harm diversity of cultures (agriculture connected to social, religious, and political customs

Pastoral nomadism
Pastoral Nomadism

  • Subsistence ag. based on herding animals

    • Depend on herds for life, but eat mostly grain

  • Dry climates, crops impossible

  • N. Africa, Middle East, central Asia

    • (Bedouins of Saudi Arabia, Masai of East Africa)

  • 15m people, on 20% of world’s land area

  • Declining - gov’ts forcing

    Nomads to settle because

    want access to lands for

    irrigation, mining, oil

Intensive subsistence agriculture
Intensive Subsistence Agriculture

  • Most of Ag in LDCs (needed in densely populated areas)

  • Small farms, fragmented

  • Ag density is high (lotsof farmers per unit of land) - land must be very productive

  • Most done by hand

  • Waste no land (roads kept narrow to maximizefarmland)

  • Asia divided: wet rice dom. & not dom.

Intensive subsistence ag wet rice dominant
Intensive Subsistence Ag. Wet Rice Dominant

  • “wet rice” - practice of planting rice on dry land in nursery & then moving to flooded field to promote growth

  • Small % of Asia’s agricultural land, but largest source of food for region

  • Southeast China, East India, Southeast Asia

  • “sawah” - flooded rice field

  • Rice harvested by hand. To separate husks (“chaff”) from seeds, the heads are “threshed”- beaten or stomped on. Lighter chaff is “winnowed” - allowed to be blown away by wind. To be eaten, outer “hull” must be removed with mortar and pestle.

  • Grown on flat land: river valleys and deltas

  • Population pressure has forced up hillsides: terracing

  • Double cropping - 2 harvests per year (only in warm climates & alternate with a crop that can be grown in drier months, like wheat.)

Intensive subsistence not rice
Intensive Subsistence Not Rice

  • Same characteristics as wet rice dom., just different crops (human power, work land intensively, no land wasted)

  • Low precipitation & harsh winters (can’t grow rice)

  • Interior India, NE China

  • Wheat, barley, millet, oats, corn, soy & cash crops like cotton, tobacco, flax

  • Crop rotation - can get more than one harvest per year by putting different crops in fields

Plantation farming
Plantation Farming

  • Commercial Agriculture (MDCs) found in LDCs, tropics of Africa, Asia, Latin Am.

  • Large farm specializing in 1 or 2 crops

    • Cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, bananas, tea

  • Remote locations

    • Workers imported & provided with housing, food, social services

    • Try to spread out work throughout year to make use of labor force.

    • Many goods processed on plantation (tobacco) - easier to ship