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Early agriculture


Agriculture involving domestication of plants and animals was developed at least 10,000 years ago, although even earlier people began altering plant and animal communities for their own benefit through other means such as fire-stick farming. Agriculture has undergone significant developments since the time of the earliest cultivation. The Fertile Crescentof Western Asia, Egypt and India were sites of the earliest planned sowing and harvesting of plants that had previously been gathered in the wild. Independent development of agriculture occurred in northern and southern China, Africa's Sahel, New Guinea, parts of Indiaand several regions of the Americas. Agricultural practices such as irrigation, crop rotation, fertilizers, and pesticides were developed long ago but have made great strides in the past two centuries. The Haber-Boschmethod for synthesizing ammonium nitrate represented a major breakthrough and allowed crop yield sto overcome previous constraints.
In the past century, agriculture in the developed nations, and to a lesser extent in the developing world, has been characterized by enhanced productivity, the replacement of human labor by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, selective breeding, and mechanization. The recent history of agriculture has been closely tied with a range of political issues including water pollution, biofuels, genetically modified organisms, tariffs, and farm subsidies. In recent years, there has been a backlash against the external environmental effectsof mechanized agriculture, and increasing support for the organic movementand sustainable agriculture.



Origins



A traditional hunter-gatherersociety in the Wind River Mountainsof Wyoming, 1870.
Scholars have developed a number of hypotheses to explain the historical origins of agriculture. The transition from hunter-gathererto agricultural societies, based on evidence from south west Asia and China, indicates an antecedent period of intensification and increasing sedentism known as the Natufian
in south West Asia and the Early Chinese Neolithic in China. Current models indicate that a range of food resources was being used more intensively. Wild stands that had been harvested previously started to be planted. Evidence is also now emerging that the crops grown initially were wild and not domesticated.[4] Crops such asemmer andeinkorn wheat do not appear to have become domesticated until well into the Neolithic and 'ancient cultivated rice' (Oryza sativa) took 3000 years to become domesticated.
Localised climate change is the favoured explanation for the origins of agriculture in the Levant. The fact that farming was 'invented' at least three times elsewhere, suggests that social reasons may have been instrumental. When major climate change took place after the last ice age (c. 11,000 BC), much of the earth became subject to long dry seasons. These conditions favoured annual plants which die off in the long dry season, leaving adormant seed or tuber.


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