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One of the best ways to understand current agricultural production systems and their philosophical beliefs is to briefly consider the invaluable history of agriculture [Salmon, Hanson, 1964] as no better beginning can be found than in a reminder of the inheritance of the past [Symons, 1972]. The emergence of current production systems has been influenced by the evolution of ideologies and practical skills, which can be found in historical data. Therefore it is important to consider some relevant theories regarding the historical development of agriculture. This will be achieved by the completion of a brief deductive historical account, which can be divided into four different time frames: Prehistoric, Historic through the Roman period, Feudal and Scientific [Bram, Phillips, Dickey, 1983]. However, these periods will only act as a general guideline, as the dates for these time frames vary according to region.

Prehistoric agriculture

The history of prehistoric agriculture is a very broad and speculative topic. The origins and development of prehistoric agriculture are controversially based on theories, assumptions and models [Bender, 1977], for example, the relationship between early agriculture and pastoralism [Symons, 1972]. Bender [1977] believes that there was no break between hunting, gathering and food production as it was a slow transitional process.

Possible pathways to the prehistoric agricultural revolution could include:

  • "Gatherers" a people who only harvest their food resources by reaping or hunting.
  • They do not purposefully propagate or tend the growing organisms.
  • "Intensive gatherers and hunters" who not only gather their resources from natural ecosystems but also care for or provide husbandry for plants and animals.
  • "Agriculturalists" are reliant on at least twenty-five percent of the diet from domesticated plants and animals [Reed, 1977].
Despite the variation of theories, assumptions and models, one thing is apparent, the adaptation of agriculture does seem to have been a slow process [Reed, 1977]. There appears to have been no single path to agriculture, but instead the possible conglomeration of unique events that could have occurred over an extended period of time and possibly in different locations [Reed, 1977].

There is a huge diversification of people, plants and animals across the globe, yet in an agricultural community there appeared to be three basic sets of activities in a food producing subsistence system:

  • Propagation - the selective breeding of animals or sowing of seeds.
  • Husbandry - a set of activities associated with the care of plants or animals while they are growing.
  • Harvesting - the collection of food resources that have been supported by the first two sets of activities.
Early agriculturalists were highly dependent on their selection of soils in the area where they were to live [Fagan, 1974]. This greatly affected their choice as to what agricultural system they used. The two major divisions of agricultural systems are shift agriculture and sedentary agriculture. The former involves the manipulation of a natural system in a random or set pattern and the latter entails the permanent manipulation of an ecosystem, along with the replacement of a natural system by one man-made [Simmons, 1974]. Over a passage of time sedentary agriculture became more intensive and divorced from natural systems [UNE, 1993]. As settlements became more permanent, heavier tool kits could be used, allowing increased land to be cultivated and more lasting housing was built along with possible grain storage [Fagan, 1974]. This led to different land use and social structures [Reed, 1977].

Agriculture and civilisations

The history of agriculture is closely interwoven with the history of humanity. The key to the beginning of civilisation was the discovery and development of agriculture and that agriculture was fundamental to the formation and development of sedentary human civilisation [Burland, Forman, 1985; Salmon, Hanson, 1964; Fagan, 1974; Reed, 1977; Piggott, 1961]. Salmon and Hanson [1964] remind their readers that modern sedentary civilisation is made possible by farmers having a surplus of food to their own individual requirements.

Civilisation occurs when a society has worked out a solution as to how it can live together in a relatively large and permanent community [ed. Piggott, 1961; Bender, 1977]. The permanence of civilisation in ancient times has been limited with most ancient civilisations only being able to continually stay in one location for forty to sixty generations or about one thousand to fifteen hundred years. The more brilliant the civilisation and the stronger the concentration of land by a few, the quicker the resource destruction which in turn contributed to the shorter stay in one area [Carter, Dale, 1974]. However there were three notable exceptions; the Nile, Mesopotamia and Indus Valleys [Carter, Dale, 1974; Cox, Atkins, 1984]. All three valleys shared three common features, fertile soil, dependable water supply for irrigation. and thirdly the land was relatively level with scant rainfall reducing the risk of the soil washing away. These same areas would also appear to be the first major civilisations developed with their culture and economies being based on flood plains watered by large rivers. Today all three areas are now less productive than in ancient times [Carter, Dale, 1974].

The information contained in this publication has been formulated in good faith, the contents do not take into account all the factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice. Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained herein as a substitute for specific professional advice.
S.O.S. Rev 9.2 All rights reserved. Contact: www.healthyag.com © Gwyn Jones 2001

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