| peoples could live in
closer settlements. Hunters, on the other hand, required from five to ten square miles per person; from three to five herdsmen might get their food supply from a
single square mile; but the agricultural folk used far less land, the amount depending upon their farming techniques, the fertility of
the soil, the kind of crop they cultivated and the availability of water to grow. The result of this change was that food became
more varied and the supply steadier, and a feeling of ownership developed. People wanted to keep and increase their herds, to
hold the land they had cleared and planted, and to guard the stores of food which they had put by for the winter. From this
feeling, property rights, authority, and law evolved.
But these blessings were not unmixed. Arguments, quarrels, and wars arose from the desire to protect and gain territorial rights and, in conflicts over fertile farm and grazing land, some tribes made captives of their vanquished and put them to work on the land, thus beginning the practice of slavery.
Wars fought simply for food
It was to be expected that the first great civilisations should have developed where it was easier to produce food, and that other, hungrier peoples should have been jealous of their more fortunate neighbours. Most of the food plants known today had their origin in the alkaline soils of Asia or in the Mediterranean area, and it was in these regions that the civilisations of China, Mesopotamia, and Egypt flourished. China protected herself - with only limited success - by building a great wall across 1,500 miles of hills and valleys in an attempt to keep out the hungry wandering hordes from the North. In the West, wave after wave of barbarians swept South into the fertile Mediterranean lands in the quest for a better supply of food, the Greeks and Romans forming a part of this flood of invaders. Greece supplied its population with their principal foods (wheat, fruit, and oil) until about the 7th century BC
|But by that time there were too many mouths to feed, and wars were fought from fresh fields; colonies were set up in Asia Minor, Italy, and Sicily,
and more and more grain had to be imported from Thrace (northern Greece), Syria, Egypt, and Libya.
In Rome constant warfare took the farmers away from their fields, but the great landowners who remained behind, instead of raising food crops, began to produce unnecessary luxuries with the help of slave labour. The result was that Rome had to import its wheat and to send out expedition after expedition to conquer new lands. Colonists then went out to secure the conquered territory and to turn it into an agricultural domain.
These are only a few examples of the wars which have been fought for food and food-growing land, and in case there is temptation to think that such wars are a thing of the past, recent history provides a reminder that Adolf Hitler's Germany precipitated the Second World War by an avowed policy of gaining more "living room" (Lebensraum) to support a growing population which was being forced from agricultural work into factories. There is no reason therefore why the future world does not hold further expansionist ideals for some nations, even those who hold the H-bomb and other weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, China's occupation of Tibet is indicative of this constant possibility in the 21st century.
Are we too many?
The initial part of this article explained in general terms how peoples of the world have had to look for new territory to produce more food as their populations increased. Long after the Greek and Roman empires broke up, Spain sent Columbus across an uncharted ocean to find new lands and another route to the Eastern Countries. Nearer our own time, Britain extended her empire to North America and to other parts of the globe rich in agricultural land.
|France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and later Germany, all sought and found new lands to support their
increasing populations(this is quite possibly what will happen in the final analysis in the emerging economies to feed their people
as they too become industrialised. Indeed, Vietnam and Yugoslavia have shown the world that internal expansionist warfare is
hard to stop or win and even when on one side there is the greatest military force on earth involved). In spite of this, few
countries had very much food to spare; grave shortages often occurred and even famines were accepted as an unavoidable evil.
It was not until the end of the 18th century that the nations began to consider seriously whether or not they could continue to increase their populations to find enough food to support them. In 1798 an Englishman named Thomas Robert Malthus published a book entitled 'An Essay on the Principle of Population'. In this book Malthus tried to show that, if humankind continued to increase freely, the number of people in the world would soon be too much for the amount of food which the world could produce.
To illustrate his argument he used mathematics. He argued that, starting from scratch, food supplies and population both doubled themselves in, say, the first 25 years of a given period, but that in longer periods population would outstrip food by an arithmetical progress which was something like the law of compound interest. Malthus assumed that food production increased only by a constant amount, so that in 25 years it would be doubled, but in each successive 25 years it would increase by only one half, one third, one quarter, one fifth, on sixth and so on of the amount available at the beginning of each 25-year period. But, he insisted, populations 'double' themselves in each of those periods, so that unless people had smaller families a balance between food production and population would be achieved
|only by an increase of the death rate through famines, disease, and wars. For many years there were heated
arguments between those who, without thinking very much about it, believing Malthus to be right and others who refused to
accept an idea which suggested that the days of invention, agricultural improvements, and scientific discoveries about food were
Only time could provide the answer, and while these arguments were going on the ghost of famine and over-population ceased to haunt the lands in which the discussion began. People forgot about hunger when North America became a haven for emigrants from over-populated countries, and offered not only rich acres of land but also new food plants to improve the world's diet. Colonial territories were developed, and the network of commerce and trade was spread over the entire world. Science increased the availability supply of food, directly by improving agricultural methods, and indirectly by the invention and discovery of new and improved methods of preserving, storing, packing, and transporting food. Half the world, at least, had no difficulty in feeding its increased populations, and its food resources multiplied rapidly.
This state of affairs lasted until about 1900, when a reverse trend began to appear. We know now why this happened and why the "age of plenty" did not extend to our time. Much of the land in newly-developed territories had been misused and worn out by wrong agricultural methods. Forests, which preserve and enrich the land and carry the water deep down into the soil, had been ruthlessly cut down to make way for crops which would no longer grow on land made barren by bad farming. Grass lands were over-grazed and rivers were allowed to get out of hand and to wash away the soil down to the sea. In addition, two great wars occurred at a time when science and common sense
|2||www.thewif.org.uk - The World Innovation Foundation - October 1999 - March 2000|