The importance of agriculture today
Is agriculture still important these days? FAO statistics show that at the beginning of the new millennium, agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing ensured the sustainability of 2.57 billion people, including active people and their unemployed families. This figure represents 45 percent of humanity. Agriculture is still the engine of the economies of most developing countries and in industrialized countries, agricultural exports reached almost $300 billion in 2001. In the history of mankind, few countries have experienced rapid economic growth and overcome poverty without these advances.
Trade statistics treat agriculture as an economic activity among others. But agriculture is a lifestyle, heritage, cultural identity, ancient pact with nature, the agriculture here is priceless. In addition, these statistics do not include the contribution of agriculture to the survival of habitat and landscape, soil conservation, watershed management, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation. Recently the farm has grown and reflects a realization by citizens of the importance of their agricultural heritage. It allows them not only to enjoy the quiet of nature but also to learn about the origin and cultivation methods of the products they consume.
But perhaps the crucial role of agriculture is it first to ensure the livelihood of more than 850 million undernourished people living mostly in rural areas of poor countries. For these people, there is no other way to satisfy their hunger as they must produce their own food, or even to sell their agricultural products as the financial resources are necessary for their survival.
At the World Food Summit in 1996, then five years later in 2002 the Heads of State and Government pledged to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. In addition, the Millennium development set by the United Nations include halving poverty and hunger by 2015 as well as safeguarding a sustainable environment.
Many international initiatives and civil society networks, such as the “International Alliance against Hunger” serve global forum allowing people of different cultures and backgrounds to exchange their views and experiences and engage to act together to reduce hunger worldwide. The TeleFood FAO aims to raise awareness of this same problem through cultural events, such as concerts. World Food Day provides an opportunity at local, national, and international levels to further dialogue and enhance solidarity.
The human and cultural creativity, the right vision, active partnerships, support from the international community and the work of institutions such as FAO, will lead undoubtedly to defeat the fight against hunger and poverty.
Technology and Vision
When modern science and traditional cultures weigh equal weight in problem solving, impressive and lasting results are possible.
Just think of the oca, a traditional tuber and staple food for 10 million people living in the Andes. By applying the technique of “meristem culture” and with a modest research grant, a student of the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, has sought in the 1980s to remove an inborn virus that decreased yields this culture. He removed a piece of meristem – plant tissue consisting of cells capable of actively dividing – and got a whole plant virus-free. The crop yield doubled.
The following steps were as important as scientific discovery. Rather than trying to sell this variety of “super oca” farmers without resources of the Andes, the researcher reflected on the nature and uses of oca in its cultural context. He had cleared the virus a variety of this plant, but each agro-ecological zone had its own variety suitable for millennia to the altitude, climate and local soil and resistant to diseases and pests premises. What’s more, each variety suited to the needs and preferences of the community that cultivated it.
A single variety of “super oca” could not prosper wherever oca was cultivated. The researcher then wisely decided to collect varieties from different areas to get laboratory versions free of virus and ship each to its place of origin. Since the crop was not normally sold but consumed by the farm family or exchanged with neighbors in the same area, this strategy proved a cheap and well targeted solution to reduce poverty and improve food safety.
The Effects of the Potato on Culture
The potato was the first root crop to be the foundation of a civilization: the Incas. They also produce corn, cotton and llama wool and dispose of irrigation technology, as well as processing and storing refined food, however Incas depended on the ability of the potato push on any corner of topsoil menial heights of the Andes in South America.
A field of root crops feeds more people than a wheat field with an equivalent area. Though nourishing, roots plants provide less protein and more starch than cereals. Bulkier, they are also more expensive to transport. Therefore, these cultures tend to be consumed locally by the poorest.
These features were deeply modify diets and history of Europe. The Spaniards introduced the potato to Europe in the sixteenth century and its use is reported in southern Europe during the two centuries that followed. But it was not until the eighteenth century that demography and science intervened to propel the humble tuber on northern European tables. Practically at the same time, as population pressure, food demand increased, the scientists finally managed to get early maturing varieties of potato adapted to climatic conditions of Northern Europe.
In the opinion of a german writer, the potato, because of its rapid growth and its low cost, liberated the masses from hunger, has facilitated the emergence of a stronger working masses and allowed the agricultural labor force to work in the factories of the nineteenth century. Industrial development has then led to the emergence of a solidly constituted working class which he said has democratized Europe.
Moreover, the cultural impact of the potato in Ireland, where it has become a staple in the eighteenth century, was controversial. If the potato has been praised for liberating the poor from hunger, some critics felt that she had also depleted Ireland, by growing its population from three to eight million people in less than a century, which had driven down wages. The potato was even accused of “mere” food, primitive without cultural resonance compared to wheat which is to be harvested, beaten, ground, pulped, kneaded and baked as bread, with all the connotations and symbolism religious that attach to that food.
The irony of history is that, when blight destroyed the harvest of potatoes in Ireland, in 1845 – causing the famine, to the extent that the survival of the population depended on one crop – the scientists have had to return to the Andes to find a variety resistant to the disease.
The interdependence of genetic resources remains extremely strong in all regions and in all countries of the world. The dialogue between cultures is necessary to maintain, exchange and utilize these resources and the related information and ensure thereby food security and agricultural sustainability now and in centuries to come.