This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Agriculture is, along with ceramics production, sedentism, and herding, a major component of the Neolithic as it is defined in Europe. Therefore, the agricultural system of the first Neolithic societies and the dispersal of exogenous cultivated plants to Europe are the subject of many scientific productions. To work on these issues, archaeobotanists rely on residual plant remains—crop seeds, weeds and wild plants—from archaeological structures like detritic pits, and, less often, storage contexts. To date, no plant with an economic value has been identified as domesticated in western Europe except maybe opium poppy. The earliest seeds identified on archaeological sites dated to about 5500–5200
The Neolithic pioneers settled in an area that had experienced previously a long tradition of hunting and gathering. The Neolithization of Europe follows a colonization model. The Mesolithic groups, although having exploited more or less intensively the plant resources, such as hazelnut, did not significantly change the landscape. The impact of their settlements and their activities are hardly noticeable through palynology for example. The control of the mode of reproduction of plants has certainly increased the prevalence of Homo sapiens, involving, among others, a demographic increase and the ability to settle down in areas that were, until then, not well-adapted to year-round occupation. The characterization of past agricultural systems, such as crop plants, technical processes, and the impact of anthropogenic activities on the landscape is essential for understanding the interrelation of human societies and the plant environment. This interrelation has undoubtedly changed deeply with the Neolithic Revolution.
John M. Marston
The ancient Near East was one of the earliest centers of agriculture in the world, giving rise to domesticated herd animals, cereals, and legumes that today have become primary agricultural staples worldwide. Although much attention has been paid to the origins of agriculture, identifying when, where, and how plants and animals were domesticated, equally important are the social and environmental consequences of agriculture. Shortly after the advent of domestication, agricultural economies quickly replaced hunting and gathering across Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia. The social and environmental context of this transition has profound implications for understanding the rise of social complexity and incipient urbanism in the Near East.
Economic transformation accompanied the expansion of agriculture throughout small-scale societies of the Near East. These farmsteads and villages, as well as mobile pastoral groups, formed the backbone of agricultural production, which enabled tradable surpluses necessary for more expansive, community-scale economic networks. The role of such economies in the development of social complexity remains debated, but they did play an essential role in the rise of urbanism. Cities depended on agricultural specialists, including farmers and herders, to feed urban populations and to enable craft and ritual specializations that became manifest in the first cities of southern Mesopotamia. The environmental implications of these agricultural systems in the Mesopotamian lowlands, especially soil salinization, were equally substantial. The environmental implications of Mesopotamian agriculture are distinct from those accompanying the spread of agriculture to the Levant and Anatolia, where deforestation, erosion, and loss of biodiversity can be identified as the hallmarks of agricultural expansion.
Agriculture is intimately connected with the rise of territorial empires across the Near East. Such empires often controlled agricultural production closely, for both economic and strategic ends, but the methods by which they encouraged the production of specific agricultural products and the adoption of particular agricultural strategies, especially irrigation, varied considerably between empires. By combining written records, archaeological data from surveys and excavation, and paleoenvironmental reconstruction, together with the study of plant and animal remains from archaeological sites occupied during multiple imperial periods, it is possible to reconstruct the environmental consequences of imperial agricultural systems across the Near East. Divergent environmental histories across space and time allow us to assess the sustainability of the agricultural policies of each empire and to consider how resulting environmental change contributed to the success or failure of those polities.
Confidence in the projected impacts of climate change on agricultural systems has increased substantially since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. In Africa, much work has gone into downscaling global climate models to understand regional impacts, but there remains a dearth of local level understanding of impacts and communities’ capacity to adapt. It is well understood that Africa is vulnerable to climate change, not only because of its high exposure to climate change, but also because many African communities lack the capacity to respond or adapt to the impacts of climate change. Warming trends have already become evident across the continent, and it is likely that the continent’s 2000 mean annual temperature change will exceed +2°C by 2100. Added to this warming trend, changes in precipitation patterns are also of concern: Even if rainfall remains constant, due to increasing temperatures, existing water stress will be amplified, putting even more pressure on agricultural systems, especially in semiarid areas. In general, high temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are likely to reduce cereal crop productivity, and new evidence is emerging that high-value perennial crops will also be negatively impacted by rising temperatures. Pressures from pests, weeds, and diseases are also expected to increase, with detrimental effects on crops and livestock.
Much of African agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change lies in the fact that its agricultural systems remain largely rain-fed and underdeveloped, as the majority of Africa’s farmers are small-scale farmers with few financial resources, limited access to infrastructure, and disparate access to information. At the same time, as these systems are highly reliant on their environment, and farmers are dependent on farming for their livelihoods, their diversity, context specificity, and the existence of generations of traditional knowledge offer elements of resilience in the face of climate change. Overall, however, the combination of climatic and nonclimatic drivers and stressors will exacerbate the vulnerability of Africa’s agricultural systems to climate change, but the impacts will not be universally felt. Climate change will impact farmers and their agricultural systems in different ways, and adapting to these impacts will need to be context-specific.
Current adaptation efforts on the continent are increasing across the continent, but it is expected that in the long term these will be insufficient in enabling communities to cope with the changes due to longer-term climate change. African famers are increasingly adopting a variety of conservation and agroecological practices such as agroforestry, contouring, terracing, mulching, and no-till. These practices have the twin benefits of lowering carbon emissions while adapting to climate change as well as broadening the sources of livelihoods for poor farmers, but there are constraints to their widespread adoption. These challenges vary from insecure land tenure to difficulties with knowledge-sharing.
While African agriculture faces exposure to climate change as well as broader socioeconomic and political challenges, many of its diverse agricultural systems remain resilient. As the continent with the highest population growth rate, rapid urbanization trends, and rising GDP in many countries, Africa’s agricultural systems will need to become adaptive to more than just climate change as the uncertainties of the 21st century unfold.
Shu Ting Chang and Solomon P. Wasser
The word mushroom may mean different things to different people in different countries. Specialist studies on the value of mushrooms and their products should have a clear definition of the term mushroom. In a broad sense, “Mushroom is a distinctive fruiting body of a macrofungus, which produce spores that can be either epigeous or hypogeous and large enough to be seen with the naked eye and to be picked by hand.” Thus, mushrooms need not be members of the group Basidiomycetes, as commonly associated, nor aerial, nor fleshy, nor edible. This definition is not perfect, but it has been accepted as a workable term to estimate the number of mushrooms on Earth (approximately 16,000 species according to the rules of International Code of Nomenclature). The most cultivated mushrooms are saprophytes and are heterotrophic for carbon compounds. Even though their cells have walls, they are devoid of chlorophyll and cannot perform photosynthesis. They are also devoid of vascular xylem and phloem. Furthermore, their cell walls contain chitin, which also occurs in the exoskeleton of insects and other arthropods. They absorb O2 and release CO2. In fact, they may be functionally more closely related to animal cells than plants. However, they are sufficiently distinct both from plants and animals and belong to a separate group in the Fungi Kingdom. They rise up from lignocellulosic wastes: yet, they become bountiful and nourishing. Mushrooms can greatly benefit environmental conditions. They biosynthesize their own food from agricultural crop residues, which, like solar energy, are readily available; otherwise, their byproducts and wastes would cause health hazards. The spent compost/substrate could be used to grow other species of mushrooms, as fodder for livestock, as a soil conditioner and fertilizer, and in environmental bioremediation. The cultivation of mushrooms dates back many centuries; Auricularia auricula-judae, Lentinula edodes, and Agaricus bisporus have, for example, been cultivated since 600
Mushrooms can be used as food, tonics, medicines, cosmeceuticals, and as natural biocontrol agents in plant protection with insecticidal, fungicidal, bactericidal, herbicidal, nematocidal, and antiphytoviral activities. The multidimensional nature of the global mushroom cultivation industry, its role in addressing critical issues faced by humankind, and its positive contributions are presented. Furthermore, mushrooms can serve as agents for promoting equitable economic growth in society. Since the lignocellulose wastes are available in every corner of the world, they can be properly used in the cultivation of mushrooms, and therefore could pilot a so-called white agricultural revolution in less developed countries and in the world at large. Mushrooms demonstrate a great impact on agriculture and the environment, and they have great potential for generating a great socio-economic impact in human welfare on local, national, and global levels.
Wheat is the most widely grown food crop in the world and the dominant staple crop in temperate countries where it contributes between about 20% and 50% of the total energy intake. About 95% of the wheat grown is hexaploid bread wheat, with tetraploid durum wheat being grown in the hot dry Mediterranean climate and very small volumes of ancient species. About 80% of the dry weight of the mature grain is starchy endosperm. This is the major grain storage tissue, which is separated by milling to give white flour, the outer layers and germ together forming the bran. However, white flour and bran differ significantly in their compositions, with white flour being rich in starch (about 80% dry wt) and protein (about 10% dry wt) and the bran rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals.
Most of the wheat consumed by humankind is in the form of bread, noodles, pasta, and other processed foods, and the quality for processing is determined by two major characteristics: the grain texture (hardness) and the viscoelastic properties conferred to dough by the gluten proteins.
In addition to being a source of energy, wheat also contributes protein and a range of other essential and beneficial components, particularly dietary fiber. However, because most of these components are concentrated in the bran, it is important to increase the consumption of whole grain products or to improve the composition of white flour. Although there is concern among consumers about possible adverse effects of consuming wheat products on health, these are unlikely to affect more than a small proportion of the population, and wheat should form part of a healthy balanced diet for the vast majority.
Mainaak Mukhopadhyay and Tapan Kumar Mondal
Tea, the globally admired, non-alcoholic, caffeine-containing beverage, is manufactured from the tender leaves of the tea [Camellia sinensis (L.)] plant. It is basically a woody, perennial crop with a lifespan of more than 100 years. Cultivated tea plants are natural hybrids of the three major taxa or species, China, Assam (Indian), or Cambod (southern) hybrids based on the morphological characters (principally leaf size). Planting materials are either seedlings (10–18 months old) developed from either hybrid, polyclonal, or biclonal seeds, or clonal cuttings developed from single-leaf nodal cuttings of elite genotypes. Plants are forced to remain in the vegetative stage as bushes by following cultural practices like centering, pruning, and plucking, and they are harvested generally from the second year onward at regular intervals of 7–10 days in the tropics and subtropics, with up to 60 years as the economic lifespan. Originally, the Chinese were the first to use tea as a medicinal beverage, around 2000 years ago, and today, around half of the world’s population drink tea. It is primarily consumed as black tea (fermented tea), although green tea (non-fermented) and oolong tea (semifermented) are also consumed in many countries. Tea is also used as vegetables such as “leppet tea” in Burma and “meing tea” in Thailand.
Green tea has extraordinary antioxidant properties, and black tea plays a positive role in treating cardiovascular ailments. Tea in general has considerable therapeutic value and can cure many diseases. Global tea production (black, green, and instant) has increased significantly during the past few years. China, as the world’s largest tea producer, accounts for more than 38% of the total global production of made tea [i.e. ready to drink tea] annually, while production in India, the second-largest producer. India recorded total production of 1233.14 million kg made tea during 2015–2016, which is the highest ever production so far.
Since it is an intensive monoculture, tea cultivation has environmental impacts. Application of weedicides, pesticides, and inorganic fertilizers creates environmental hazards. Meanwhile, insecticides often eliminate the fauna of a vast tract of land. Soil degradation is an additional concern because the incessant use of fertilizers and herbicides compound soil erosion. Apart from those issues, chemical runoff into bodies of water can also create problems. Finally, during tea manufacturing, fossil fuel is used to dry the processed leaves, which also increases environmental pollution.
Dairy has intertwined with human society since the beginning of civilization. It evolves from art in ancient society to science in the modern world. Its roles in nutrition and health are underscored by the continuous increase in global consumption. Milk production increased by almost 50% in just the past quarter century alone. Population growth, income rise, nutritional awareness, and science and technology advancement contributed to a continuous trend of increased milk production and consumption globally. With a fourfold increase in milk production per cow since the 1940s, the contemporary dairy industry produces more milk with fewer cows, and consumes less feed and water per liter of milk produced. The dairy sector is diversified, as people from a wider geographical distribution are consuming milk, from cattle to species such as buffalo, goat, sheep, and camel. The dairy industry continues to experience structural changes that impact society, economy, and environment. Organic dairy emerged in the 1990s as consumers increasingly began viewing it as an appropriate way of both farming and rural living. Animal welfare, environmental preservation, product safety, and health benefit are important considerations in consuming and producing organic dairy products. Large dairy operations have encountered many environmental issues related to elevated greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle are second only to beef cattle as the largest livestock contributors in methane emission. Disparity in greenhouse gas emissions per dairy animal among geographical regions can be attributed to production efficiency. Although a number of scientific advancements have implications in the inhibition of methanogenesis, improvements in production efficiency through feeding, nutrition, genetic selection, and management remain promising for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy animals. This article describes the trends in milk production and consumption, the debates over the role of milk in human nutrition, the global outlook of organic dairy, the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy animals, as well as scientific and technological developments in nutrition, genetics, reproduction, and management in the dairy sector.
Dominic Moran and Jorie Knook
Climate change is already having a significant impact on agriculture through greater weather variability and the increasing frequency of extreme events. International policy is rightly focused on adapting and transforming agricultural and food production systems to reduce vulnerability. But agriculture also has a role in terms of climate change mitigation. The agricultural sector accounts for approximately a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, including related emissions from land-use change and deforestation. Farmers and land managers have a significant role to play because emissions reduction measures can be taken to increase soil carbon sequestration, manage fertilizer application, and improve ruminant nutrition and waste. There is also potential to improve overall productivity in some systems, thereby reducing emissions per unit of product. The global significance of such actions should not be underestimated. Existing research shows that some of these measures are low cost relative to the costs of reducing emissions in other sectors such as energy or heavy industry. Some measures are apparently cost-negative or win–win, in that they have the potential to reduce emissions and save production costs. However, the mitigation potential is also hindered by the biophysical complexity of agricultural systems and institutional and behavioral barriers limiting the adoption of these measures in developed and developing countries. This includes formal agreement on how agricultural mitigation should be treated in national obligations, commitments or targets, and the nature of policy incentives that can be deployed in different farming systems and along food chains beyond the farm gate. These challenges also overlap growing concern about global food security, which highlights additional stressors, including demographic change, natural resource scarcity, and economic convergence in consumption preferences, particularly for livestock products. The focus on reducing emissions through modified food consumption and reduced waste is a recent agenda that is proving more controversial than dealing with emissions related to production.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Soil erosion by water is a natural process that cannot be prevented. Soil erosion depends on many factors, and a distinction has to be made between humanly unchangeable (e.g., rainfall) and modifiable (e.g., length of the field) soil erosion factors. Soil erosion has both on-site and off-site effects. Soil conservation tries to combine modifiable factors so as to maintain erosion in an area of interest to an acceptable level. Strategies to control soil erosion have to be adapted to the desired land use. Knowledge of soil loss tolerance, T (i.e. the maximum admissible erosion from a given field), allows the technician or the farmer to establish whether soil conservation practices need to be applied in the area or not. Accurately determining the tolerable soil erosion level for an area of interest is crucial for choosing effective practices to mitigate this phenomenon. Excessively strict standards for T would imply over-expenditure of natural, financial, and labor resources. Excessively low T values may lead to excessive soil erosion and hence to decline of soil fertility and productivity and to soil degradation. In this last case, less money is probably spent for soil conservation, but ineffectively. Basic principles to control erosion for different land uses include maintaining vegetative and ground cover, incorporating biomass into the soil, minimizing soil disturbance, increasing infiltration, and avoiding long field lengths. Preference is generally given to agronomic measures over mechanical measures since the agronomic measures reduce raindrop impact, increase infiltration, and reduce runoff volumes and water velocities. Agronomic measures for soil erosion control include choice of the crops and crop rotation, applied tillage practices, use of fertilizers and amendments, and installation of vegetative barriers at the downslope end of the field. Mechanical measures include contour, ridging, and terracing. These measures cannot prevent detachment of soil particles, but they oppose to the sediment transport downhill and can be unavoidable in certain circumstances, at least to supplement agronomic measures. Simple methods can be applied to approximately predict the effect of a given soil conservation measure on soil loss of an area of interest. In particular, the simplest way to quantitatively predict mitigation of soil erosion due to a particular conservation method is the Universal Soil Loss Equation. Despite its empirical nature, this model still represents the best compromise between reliability of the predictions and simplicity in terms of input data, which are generally very difficult to obtain for other soil erosion prediction models. Soil erosion has to be controlled soon after burning.
Agriculture has been the principal influence on the physical structure of the English landscape for many thousands of years. Driven by a wider raft of demographic, social, and economic developments, farming has changed in complex ways over this lengthy period, with differing responses to the productive potential and problems of local environments leading to the emergence of distinct regional landscapes. The character and configuration of these, as much as any contemporary influences, have in turn structured the practice of agriculture at particular points in time. The increasing complexity of the wider economy has also been a key influence on the development of the farmed landscape, especially large-scale industrialization in the late 18th and 19th centuries; and, from the late 19th century, globalization and increasing levels of state intervention. Change in agricultural systems has not continued at a constant rate but has displayed periods of more and less innovation.