How Did We Get Here? The 5 Stages That Shaped Our Food Sector

Sustainability

Author: Liri ShabtaiFeb 19, 2021

The current, outdated system was once a solution in creating the high crop yields we thought we needed to feed an ever-growing population. Now, we are facing the consequences of hyper-industrialized agriculture — air and water pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and land degradation– the list goes on.

It’s impossible to tackle climate change without transforming our food system. The United States’ agricultural sector is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the energy sector. Because of this, our process for producing food is no longer an effective solution to sustaining a habitable planet for future generations. In fact, we don’t want to sustain this system, which places high yields before the well-being of the natural environment and ultimately the long-term viability of the farm, the waters, and the Earth. Especially, when the dispersal of food is inefficient and unequal. Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population—but more than 690 million people still go hungry. We are currently at 7.6 billion people globally which means the world’s farms can currently support 1.5x the global population. That is enough to feed 10 billion people. Our current, yet outdated system was once a solution in creating the high crop yields we thought we needed to feed an ever-growing population. But now, we are facing the consequences of hyper-industrialized agriculture — air and water pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, and land degradation– the list goes on.

The question is, how did we get here? Well, it took centuries and an iconic transformation that gave humans the ability to live fruitful lives, rather than hunting and gathering to survive another day. Here, we’ll break down the five stages that changed humanity, and the upcoming revolution that will connect us back to our ecological cycles through technological processes that mimic nature.

Stage 1: Hunting and Gathering No Mo’ (~10,000 BC)

 As far as we can gather, the Neolithic Revolution marks a change from a predominantly hunting and gathering style of survival to one based on subsistence agriculture. The gradual transformation took place in modern day Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan– a region known as the fertile crescent. Historians theorize that this slow agricultural transition occurred around 10,000 BC and spread from the Near East, and then eventually across Europe between 8,500 and 4,000 years ago.

The neolithic period introduced some of the first farming methods, including fire-stick agriculture to foster the growth of edible plants, eliminate non-instrumental plants, and attract game. According to archaeologists, dogs were likely one of the first animals to be domesticated. Known as (hu)man’s best friend, they played an integral role in day-to-day hunting activities.

Many other animals were tamed during the neolithic period for agriculture, such as sheeps, goats, cattles, pigs, camels, and even llamas (my personal favorite). Through the domestication of both plants and animals, quality of life was elevated and social relationships grew stronger.

In most cases, agricultural revolutions spur from one key factor: a high demand — yet low supply — of food resources. Whether the catalyst ranged from extreme weather to population growth, the adoption of subsistence-based farming during the Neolithic Revolution greatly increased the quality of life productivity of labor and encouraged the adoption of new technologies.

Stage 2: The First Signs of Mechanization (1700s)

The Agricultural Revolution marked the increase in agricultural production in Britain between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. It gave birth to well-known farming practices, such as crop rotation and selective breeding. Farming in this era was redefined through machinery, and thus, the rise in agricultural productivity gave farm workers freedom to join labor forces, adding to the urban workforce on which industrialization depended. Without an agricultural revolution based on mechanization, there would be no possibility for the well-known industrial revolution that reinvented our worldview.

The most important agricultural gain from this period was crop rotation. The practice of growing a series of different types of crops in the same area in sequenced seasons. This benefits the soil by reducing erosion and increasing fertility and crop yield. Other tools include the plough, the seed drill, and the threshing machine, which all were used to improve the efficiency of agricultural operations.

The increase in agricultural production and technological advancements during the Agricultural Revolution contributed to unprecedented population growth and new agricultural practices, triggering rural-to-urban migration, development of a somewhat regulated agricultural market, and the emergence of industrial farmers.

Stage 3: The Not So “Green” Revolution (1950s)

 In the 1940s in Mexico, American scientist and agronomist Norman Borlaug began testing new disease resistant, high-yield varieties of wheat. The new mechanized wheat varieties allowed Mexico to produce a surplus of wheat needed to feed its country, leading it to become a wheat exporter in the 1960s. This success was the catalyst to the global dispersal of Green Revolution technology in the fifties and sixties. However, these developments were also a fear-based approach to halt a communist revolution within the U.S.

The crops developed during the Green Revolution were high yield varieties, and therefore were domesticated plants bred specifically to respond to fertilizers and produce an increased amount of crops per acre. Since synthetic fertilizers are largely what made the Green Revolution possible, they forever changed agricultural practices because high yield crop varieties cannot grow successfully without the help of these fertilizers.

In addition, the development of high yield varieties meant a loss in biodiversity. In India, for example, there were about 30,000 rice varieties prior to the Green Revolution, today there are around ten. All of which are the most productive types. By having this increased crop homogeneity, commonly seen in monocultures, crops are prone to disease and pests because there were not enough varieties to fight them off. In order to protect these few varieties, pesticide use grew as well.

Stage 4: Good Morning GMOs (1970s)

Humans have been selecting desirable crop traits and altering genetics for over 30,000 years. While our ancestors were unaware of genetics, they were still able to influence the DNA of other organisms by a process called “selective breeding.” The enormous breakthrough for genetically engineered organisms (GMO) began in 1973, when two scientists developed a method to cut out a gene from one organism and paste it into another. Using this method, they transferred a gene that encoded antibiotic resistance from one strain of bacteria into another, bestowing antibiotic resistance upon the test subject.

In 1995, the first pesticide-producing crop was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after rigorous testing. Crops have also been genetically engineered to resist herbicides, making it easier for farmers to control unwanted plants in their fields. Perhaps the most infamous herbicide resistant crops are the Roundup Ready or glyphosate-resistant plants largely supported by Monsanto. Scientists have also genetically engineered crops to increase nutrition value, such as added vitamin A to Golden Rice.

During the last 18 years, GMO cropland represented an agricultural production area of more than 150% of the size of countries such as the USA or China. And with the revolution’s groundbreaking abilities, there are some dire consequences. For example, biodiversity loss, “super pests”, and contamination.

Stage 5: The Internet of Things (2010)

Today, we take the impacts of past agricultural endeavors into account and focus on healing environmental systems through technological monitoring. With the growing adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices have penetrated every aspect of our life, from health and fitness, home automation, to smart cities and industrial IoT.

With smart farming we can maintain soil quality, predict weather conditions, track crop growth progress, and produce high yields. This technology provides an unprecedented level of situational awareness down to the individual plant level, allowing farmers to dial-in irrigation and amendment needs, creating a new level of precision and resource efficiency.  Overall, creating a farming experience that is both sustainable and efficient.

2020: Enter UpTerra

With all of the data now being collected globally about the impact of climate change on agricultural production, the question is where do we go next?  How do we return health to our soils, waters, and people?

At UpTerra, we use a deep understanding of resonance or unified physics to build solutions to dramatically reduce water, fertilizer, and pesticide consumption while boosting yields, improving the health of the soil microbiome, and elevating the health of the entire farm ecosystem. Our mission is centered around environmental remediation, sustainable resource management, production optimization and food safety. We honor and respect the farming innovations that got us to this moment and are ready to embrace a new agricultural revolution that focuses on the wellbeing of all life. By mimicking nature (a technique referred to as biomimicry), we move towards a new farming paradigm that promotes balance, regeneration, and the amplification of indigenous wisdom. Thank you for joining us.

Next: An Introduction to Regenerative AgTech

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