Where, When, How and Why

Diamond, J. 1999. Chapter 4: Famer Power; Chapter 5: History’s Haves and Have-Nots; Chapter 6: To Farm Or Not To Farm; Chapter 8: Apples or Indians in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Norton, New York, New York.

Where did food production begin? When did it begin? How did it begin? Why did food production develop here and not in other ecological suitable areas? – These are the questions that comprise the essence of Diamond’s story and in many ways it is a chronicle for the advent of agriculture.

Firstly Diamond talks about, why once after it came about food production proceeded to take over the world, “why did [hunter-gatherers] adopt food production at all? Well, as Diamond proclaims there are many “benefits” to plant and animal domestication over hunter-gathering. In short, “the first connection is the most direct one: availability of more consumable calories means more people (pg.86).” These food surpluses had a profound effect indeed – “the development of settled, politically centralized, socially stratified, economically complex, technologically innovative societies (pg.92)” — the hunter-gatherers didn’t stand a chance. However this was not the only factor and Diamond points out the other factors that “tipped the competitive advantage away from [hunter gatherers] and toward [food production] (pg.109)”:

  1. Decline in the availability of wild foods.
  2. Increase availability of domesticable wild foods.
  3. Cumulative development of technologies for collecting, processing, and storing wild foods.
  4. The two-way link between the rise in human population density and the rise in food production

The easiest question for Diamond to answer was: where did food production begin and when did it begin? Today we know that food production began in the Fertile Crescent around 8500 B.C. We also have a good understanding from the pervious reading, ‘how to make an almond’ how food production came about. The more interesting question and that which Diamond focuses most of his energy on, is why did food production develop here and not in other ecological suitable areas? The fact that food production started in the Fertile Crescent is fascinating as today we consider many parts of it “as somewhat dry or ecologically degraded (pg.94),” whereas today’s agricultural centers weren’t able to develop it independently. The four factors above explain why food production developed in the Fertile Crescent along with many other traits, not least the Mediterranean climate and a high percentage of plants suitable for domestication.

I like Diamond’s style and his non-scientific language; his ability to tell a good story speaks to a large audience. The one difficulty I found with his writing was trying to connect the chapters together in order to create a chronicle for the advent of agriculture; Diamond seems to wander when explaining the factors that lead to food production.

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