Path To Civilization: The Agricultural Revolution Simplified

From Foraging to Domestication

A trip down history lane reveals that all humanity was once engaged in similar activities of hunting and gathering. Yes, some many years ago depending on which history book you read, we were all hunters and gathers doing what is commonly referred to as foraging. However, due to climatic changes and need for more food for the growing population, human beings started domesticating some plants and animals in order to meet their food requirements.

The domestication process was mainly based on the crops that naturally grew in the specific regions across the world. In the Near East region barley and peas were common, while in the Syria region we had other cereals growing there. Rice and millet was originally domesticated in the China region while in Mexico we had corn (maize). In North America sunflower, potatoes and tomatoes were domesticated; but they later found their way to Europe where Ireland later became famous as a potatoes’ nation.

According to history books, initial animals to be domesticated were cattle, sheep, goats and pigs within the Eastern Turkey, Iraq and South Western Iran. These animals were domesticated based on their benefits to the human race in terms of food (meat and milk) and clothing (wool and hides). Others such as the donkeys (beasts of burden), horses and camels were domesticated to help the people carry their luggage when moving from one place to the other in search of green pastures for their domesticated animals as well as in search of more fertile land to farm the domesticated crops.

From Domestication to Improved Production Methods

With the domestication of animals and plants over the years people started settling down into communities and abandoning their nomadic lifestyles from the hunting and gathering era. This led to creation of organized societies with systems of governance and community leadership roles started emerging. The genesis of ancient of kingdoms and empires was in the offing; and several centuries later the agrarian revolution as we know it in the Mesopotamia region between the famous rivers of Tigris and Euphrates came into being.

During the agrarian revolution, new methods of food production were adopted in order to increase productivity. First we had the rotational farming whereby about a third or half of the land under which the community practiced open field farming was left empty for some time to replenish its fertility. As population increased, this became unsustainable since more land needed to be cultivated to produce enough food; hence crop rotation was introduced, followed by irrigation systems in order to make use of water from the rivers instead of relying on rain for crop farming.

British Agricultural Revolution

Fast forward to the mid-17th century, we had the agricultural revolution taking place in Britain leading to the emergence of modern civilization in the 19th century. The major change in the British Agricultural Revolution started when the enclosure system of farming was adopted. Formerly land was communally owned and all peasant farmers could work on a given piece of land to produce enough food for the community. With the enclosure system, the rich farmers started fencing off some parts of the land for crop farming and rearing of livestock.

The peasant farmers were first moved into farm-houses within the huge farms owned by the rich farmers; then later moved to common centers that later grew into towns and cities. The purpose was to have as much land as possible available for agriculture for the rich farmers while the peasant farmers were turned into their servants (creating hierarchies and social classes – which are said to be some of the earliest negative social impacts of the agricultural revolution). To cut down costs, the rich farmers built huge houses that had shared utilities for the peasant farmers to use within their residential areas; giving rise to what we have today in towns as rental apartments or flats where only the basic housing facilities are provided.

Rising populations in the cities resulted to congestions and competition on the few shared social amenities. Sewerage systems, transportation, education, health and entertainment facilities were all overstretched and this paved way to modern day slums. All these short-comings were to be solved much later as the industrial revolution crept in.

Transition from Agricultural Revolution to Industrial Revolution

After the enclosure system, came the mechanization of agriculture in order to further increase food production. Planting machines were invented and better storage mechanisms were introduced. With irrigation in use and scientific food production methods being applied, food was in plenty and it became affordable for most of the people both in the rural and urban areas. This meant that people now were spending less on food and had higher disposable income to spend on other things. They could now spend money on building better infrastructure in the urban areas where they lived and their demand for more diversified goods and services gave birth to consumerism which was the major driving force for industrialization.

A food secure people now started venturing into more art, music and other leisure activities. The entertainment industry grew, fashion industry was transformed and to meet their desire for variety in food, food processing industry was boosted. The assembling and processing industries were also accelerated in order to serve the growing need for mechanized solutions both at home, in the farms, in transportation and in the manufacturing plants. Civilization was slowly creeping in and the world was experiencing a new dawn; the industrial revolution.

Historians argue that without the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution would not have been born. It took a food secure people to start exploring other things in life apart from feeding themselves. After the agricultural revolution there was more focus on the arts, music, entertainment, better clothes, better food, better housing, better means of transport, better means of communication and more comfort; leading to higher consumerism which is the predecessor of industrialization.

It is however worth noting that the processes that led to the transition from the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution were not in a systematic sequence, but rather, they were a buildup on different developments happening over different centuries in different parts of the world. The ultimate whole was a sum of a myriad of unrelated processes spanning different centuries, across different geographies and developed by unrelated persons.