Thoughts on innovation in agriculture in the 21st century
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp
Date: September 30, 2016 09:11AM
Historical development of food production
The first great innovation in ensuring food security took place around
12,000 years ago ni the area known as the "fertile crescent" - the broad arc
of land which stretches from the Persian Gulf in Iraq through Syria and The
Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. This was the transition from a "wild
collector" life style to agriculture or animal husbandry which is known as
the "Neolithic Revolution".
Crop farming, cattle breeding and food storage were the prerequisites for a
settled life style. Up to this time humans were hunter-gatherers but
climatic factors probably led to a limitation of year-round supplies of
food, so that storage of food reserves became necessary. It is not clear
whether the beginnings of agriculture came from a considered decision not to
consume all food stocks but to sow some, or from the observation that food
stored in the ground started to sprout. However, in either case the erection
of suitable fencing to protect the crops was certainly an important step.
The latest research suggests that the first settlements were centred around
existing shrines or sanctuaries. It is also presumed that this development
originated in three different geographical locations and that the relevant,
genetically different, ethnic groups had no communication with each other.
In Germany, the settlements of the band ceramists are linked to the
beginnings of farming, and an important example is the settlement on the
Michaelsberg near Bruchsal which probably existed already 3,500 years ago.
The area lies at a height which was safe from the annual flooding of the
Rhine plains which then occurred.
The image of agriculture is first and foremost the provision of food.
. Food production in Europe is in the middle of a conflict between food
supply, food safety, economics, environmental politics and regional cultural
interests. In developing countries by contrast it is a matter of simple
survival of the explosive increase in population. The English pastor and
economist Malthus postulated that population increases exponentially but
food production only linearly - although this was disproved in Europe,
perhaps he is right concerning developing countries.
Growth of the World Population
. At the present time 7.44 billion people live on the earth, and this number
increases by 3 per second, i.e. 260,000 every day (as comparison Basle has
. World population growth: 400 BC - 30 million; birth of Christ - 250 mio;
1650 AD 500m; 1850 - one billion; 1930 - 2bn; 1975 - 4bn; 1999 - 6bn; July
2016 - 7.44 bn.
. In 2025 it is expected that 9 bn people will be living on the planet.
. 270 mio kilojoules are required during a human life, and every day 3.4 mio
tons of food, which is equivalent to 170,000 railways wagons each containing
. Food production needs soil, water, sun and seed; in addition fertilizer,
weed control, plant disease, pests; then come harvest, storage, processing
and animal husbandry for eggs, milk and meat.
Food is a fundamental need for humans:
Together with clothing and shelter food is one of the basic human needs. Foe
millennia man lived in harmony with nature. Until 1840 there were fewer than
1 billion people on the earth. Nature and man himself prevented a greater
expansion by means of disease and war.
Since the development of modern medicine in the 19th century Europe has seen
a dramatic decrease in child mortality and increase in life expectancy, and
the population doubles over ever shorter periods. A growth in birth rate has
been observed for years and now three humans are born every second, meaning
that every hour 10,000 more arrive in the world than die.
The problem in agriculture is that in the industrialized nations of western
Europe there is a 2% advance in the technology of food production while the
population stagnates. By contrast, technical progress in developing
countries is less than the increase in population, exactly as Malthus
predicted 100 years ago.
In the light of today's knowledge an increase in agricultural land area is
not possible. Agriculture needs soil, light, warmth, and water as well as
seed and nutrients. Many deserts have resulted from heat and a lack of water
and it is difficult to render them suitable for agriculture. Many areas in
zones of arid climate have been made useful for agriculture through
artificial watering, but salinization has now rendered them difficult to
Thus the strategies for ensuring food supply has to be different in
industrial nations to those in developing countries, above all with a view
to CO2 emission and the related problem of global warming.