Origins of Food Production

Category: Economy


Food production started several centuries ago in various parts of the world. It involved change from hunting and gathering food from the forests to farming/agriculture. The revolution mostly involved three aspects of life namely: technology, social and behavioral. It was essential in the development of the human race as it formed the basis of human civilization. Though there is no clear evidence showing exactly which areas were the first to start crop domestication, the main foods were the large seeded grasses and cereals like the maize, rice, wheat and beans among others. Humans began relying more on cultivated plants than the wild plants. Food production revolution occurred worldwide though in different times and with different species of food (Rollefson, Garry 83-87).

In Asia, cereal grasses and wild grains were the first to be cultivated in areas like Jericho, Jordan, Syria, Babylon and Iran at about 14,000 years BP. Rice and other root crops like yams also had their first cultivation in Asia, in Thailand and China respectively. The farmers used to practice what has come to be known as vegiculture where live plants are replanted. The region introduced most of foods to Europe with Russia and the Scandinavian countries leading the revolution. In Africa, wheat, flax and lentils were domesticated along river Nile while most of the root crops were cultivated in West Africa. In South America, potatoes, beans, peanuts and maize were being cultivated while North America had oily seeds, squash and beans to cultivate. The Agricultural revolution is among the slowest to have taken place compared to other revolutions like the industrial revolutions. The early centers of food production were usually characterized by hilly landscape, and they were subtropical or tropical areas. Climate changes played a key role in the revolution as it occurred after the end of ice age. The climates were more warm and wet than during the previous era. Climate to date still affects food production in the modern society and to a great extent, influencing what to be and what not to be cultivated in a given area (Mannion 45-49).

The early man was largely associated with hunting and collection of wild fruits and foods. However, as time evolved, these practices started declining and people started adopting domestication of both plants and animals. Scientists and archaeologists over the time have tried to explain what led to abandonment of hunting and dependence on wild fruits to food production. Various hypotheses have been put forward explaining the origins of food production revolution.

Population Pressure Theory

The supporters of this theory lead by Mark Cohen and E. Boserup argue that, the increase in population during the late period of ice age increased the pressure on the humans to change their lifestyle. They argue that, human depleted the available wild foods as they increased in numbers thus forced to adopt means to maintain themselves. As a result, they started domesticating the plants to produce food. It was out of necessity that agriculture was born. The theory is purely based on environmental deterioration forcing human to compete for the available resources thus developing ways of to increase the same resources. The theory has gained popularity for the sense that, the increase of the population has always forced the human to develop an idea for survival. However, it lacks a clear mark on the revolution time scale. It also fails to acknowledge that the populations are never limited by resources (Weisdorf 166-168). The population growth can lead to other ways of sustaining itself like technological improvement so not necessarily agriculture. Others criticize it, in that, population pressure was a common event in the Pleistocene era and had resulted to population regulation. When population rises, it exerts pressure on the environment and at the end collapses thus regulating itself. Without the regulation, agriculture would have occurred during that era.

Ecological Theory

The theory, which is associated with Harris, is more based on a biological positive feedback from an environment changes as a result of an increase in the population. It identifies that there are specific environmental conditions which are likely to attract a hunter-gatherer to settle to agriculture. It is best suited for explaining the origin of food production. Its main focuses are locality and time. The hunter-gatherers are not at one time under stress for lack of food thus will rarely be forced to agriculture by lack of it. It also explains that the need to be on the move by these people will conflict with the need for production of food despite the reduction of the food. Thus, there have to be favorable conditions that lead to agriculture and, according to the scholars, they are: a) favorable environment including the soils, and b) easy foods to domesticate must also be available (Mannion 51-58). The theory argues that, unless these two conditions are found together, then the gatherers would not have settled for food production. The availability of resources on the highlands led to agricultural developments and in turn settlement. The need to outdo one another, made people work hard on the lands resulting in permanent plant domestication development. When there is enough farming, settled life emerges giving hunting a competition. The establishment of farming in an area tends to dominate any neighboring habitat which has got a conducive environment.

Climatic Theory

Compared with the other theories discussed above, the Climatic theory has a more external approach to the agricultural revolution. It has several hypotheses, which argue that, food production was a result of search for survival that was triggered by climate changes. One of its campaigners, V.Gordon in his oasis hypothesis, expressed that changes in climate by the end of Pleistocene made humans need a different strategy. Occurrence of droughts made people move to fertile isolated areas where they had to maximize the food produced. These areas were known as oases. Another of its supporters, Binford, argued that the climate changes led to rising sea levels which forced people from the coastal areas move to the inland. This resulted to population pressure on those living there hence the need to cultivate food to feed the increased population. His hypothesis has been criticized, as the pressure from population was not new to the environment, and so it would have taken place even in the Pleistocene era, and only the last climate change (end of Pleistocene period) led to food production. The climatic hypothesis argues that with the rapid environmental changes during the end of the Pleistocene era, agriculture was the only way out for hunters and gatherers (Mannion 49).


As discussed above, each theory has its weaknesses as well as their strengths. With the population, readiness, inventor assuming that mankind made the move towards agriculture without environment in mind. If these were the case, food production would not be preserved for the highlands, and the habitats with the favorable climates. On the other hand, the climate and ecological theories do not pay much attention to human efforts. With hunting being an integral part of life and also fun to man, climate changes and environmental deteriorations alone were very unlikely to drive a man to agriculture (Weisdorf 167).

Scientists and archaeologists have failed to agree on one approach with some trying to combine the most three favored to come up with a good explanation. They have combined the ecology and the population to predict the developments of food productions. This way they argue that with stability of climate after the Pleistocene, agriculture became possible while increasing population made those who adapted farming become competitive thus developing agriculture. It is a very open discussion as there is no clear evidence to show what came first between population increase and climate.

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