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Agriculture Development and Related Theories

Domestication Models

Two Agricultural Theories That Oppose Each Other

There are two main domestication models used to describe the development of agriculture. Some scientists strongly believe hunter-gatherers first cultivated wild plants by putting random wild seeds in the ground near their homes. The first approach supports the idea that domestication was a slow process that happened unconsciously. It is rooted in the concept of the inferiority of hunter-gatherers’ minds who were not intelligent enough to take control of their surroundings, which I do not agree with. The notion of a more conscious, knowledge-based domestication is the main principle of the second model. Its supporters argue that domestication has been more of a single event that happened in a specific place (the Near East). The long and unplanned domestication model might have more support in the scientific community, but, to my mind, it remains illogical and biased.

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The logical fallacy becomes apparent to me in the evidence that is typically presented to support the first approach. Wild and domesticated plants differ in their traits, as the main goal of wild plants is to survive, which often interferes with human plans. Biological mutants are therefore preferable for domestication, the primary goal of which is changing the evolutionary path of the plant so that people can produce it more easily. The slow model establishes that mutations happen gradually through cultivation over thousands of years. Humans used the seeds they harvested from the cultivated fields, planted them again. People, however, had no way of telling the mutants apart, which proves the possibility of a more knowledge-based approach to domestication.

Nowadays, people are not willing to admit that their ancestors were capable of changing their surroundings in such an extreme way. As a species, Homo sapiens survived natural disasters, climate shifts, and food shortages, which made them highly adaptable. Research suggests that humans living 10,000 years ago showed immense cognitive capacities that allowed them to solve problems and develop cumulative networks to initiate change in their communities (Migliano et al., 2020). The short and conscious model does not fail to recognize that older generations were capable of creating innovations such as the domestication of wild plants.

The Green Revolution

Scientific Developments and Advantages

The 18th century is most known for the Industrial Revolution associated with the invention of the steam engine, a spinning jenny, and the electrical telegraph. Scientists’ prognoses regarding the future of humanity, however, were negative as more of them grew concerned with potential famine. Most people at the time lived in rural areas on small, closed farms, which meant that their households were self-sustaining, producing just enough to feed a family without any external inputs. The first changes began with a gradual introduction of a dual-action system when parts of the land were used for growing forage for animals that would, in turn, organically fertilize the rest of the land. Scientists encouraged farmers to utilize innovative chemical fertilizers instead of less effective organic fertilizers. Agriculture began to shift from a ‘closed farm system’ to a system of ‘agriculture for profit’ that focused on mass production and high monetary returns.

As Borlaug created a hybrid between American and Japanese wheat that was easier to fertilize, the Green Revolution began. It introduced semi-dwarfed (with shortened stalks) wheat, rice, and grain, which contributed to the spread of chemical fertilization worldwide and increased crop yields in many developing countries, saving them from starvation. From 1960 to 2000, the wheat yields of Mexico, Pakistan, and India tripled (Harford, 2019). Other advantages of the Green Revolution include the upgrade of local infrastructures, reduction of food prices globally, and higher income levels (Harford, 2019). The revolution was an inevitable positive shift in global agriculture that used scientific advances (chemical fertilization, agricultural machinery, land conservation) to help the world feed its growing population.

The Importance of Genetic Diversity

Providing Legal Protection to Breeders

Breeders contribute to a favorable global process of diversifying agriculture that is struggling to produce sufficient amounts of food to feed the population. They increase agricultural productivity, which supports national and local economies, so government agencies must create specific regulations that would protect breeders on a legal level. Some of the advantages that such legal protection can lead to include more diverse types of breeders, more investments in plant breeding, as well as the development of a completely new industry. After establishing the Union for the Protection of New Varieties and Plants (UPOV), Korea demonstrated higher numbers of applications of foreign and domestic breeders (WIPO, n.d.). The strong accession of UPOV led to Kenya becoming the biggest source of floriculture imports in the European Union (WIPO, n.d.). Granting legal protection results in numerous positive outcomes in terms of gene variety and agricultural development.

Negative Outcomes of the Lack of Biodiversity

Plant domestication marked the beginning of a loss of genetic variation in seeds. When there is not enough diversity, plants start to reproduce by self-pollination, creating a complete genetic copy of the parent, which leads to genes with negative traits such as a low level of environmental adaptability. An example of this would be the famine in Ireland in the 1840s when potato crops were plagued by Phytophthora bacteria, and Irish people started dying of starvation at an alarming rate being too dependent on a single type of potato, the Lumper Potato (Yang et al., 2017). Some of the other disadvantages of the Green Revolution include the “low susceptibility of a food supply to pathogens” (Kumar, 2017, p. 55). This leads to the growing use of agrochemicals, including dangerous pesticides that poison more than 1 million people annually (Kumar, 2017). According to Kumar, limited crop cultivation, including agricultural machinery and pesticide production, is highly dependent on non-renewable energy sources (2017). Loss of genetic diversity ultimately leads to numerous health and environmental issues, so it is crucial to create initiatives to make positive changes in seed variation.

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References

Harford, T. (2019). The man who helped feed the world. BBC News. Web.

Kumar, P. (2017). Green Revolution and its impact on environment. International Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, 5(3), 54-57. Web.

Migliano, A., Battison, F., Viguir, A., Page, A. E., Dyble, M., Schlaepfer, R., Smith, D., Astete, L., Ngales, M., Gomez-Gardenes, J., Latora, V., & Vinicius, L. (2020). Hunter-gatherer multilevel sociality accelerates cumulative cultural evolution. Science Advances, 6(9). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax5913.

WIPO (n.d.). Benefits of plant variety protection. Web.

Yang, X., Tyler, B. M., & Hong, C. (2017). An expanded phylogeny for the genus Phytophthora. IMA Fungus 8, 355–384. doi: 10.5598/imafungus.2017.08.02.09.

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