Why Agriculture Was a Mistake

Many historians believe that agriculture was a key step in the development of civilization. It increased our food supply and allowed for greater societal, economic and technological advancements.

But Jared Diamond, author of ‘Collapse’ and ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ has argued that agriculture was the worst mistake in human history. He says people went from frolicking in the wilderness to lives of drudgery and limited diets.

1. It led to malnutrition and starvation

Some historians argue that farming was a mistake and that humans would be better off returning to hunter-gatherer ways. One such scholar, Jared Diamond (author of ‘Collapse’ and ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’), even called agriculture “the worst mistake in human history”.

He argues that we went from frolicking in the wild to a life of drudgery and a diet based on a few staple crops like wheat, barley, rice, and maize. As a result, people experienced malnutrition and a host of new diseases that didn’t exist before.

In addition, the reliance on maize led to nutritional deficiencies because the crop is hard on the soil and doesn’t provide the full range of nutrients that people need. This is why it’s important to grow a variety of different types of food in our gardens and farms today. This is also an important part of Climate Smart Agriculture, a way of growing that’s good for the planet and promotes healthier eating habits.

2. It brought about deep class divisions

Agriculture is a vital part of any economy and supplies food to the world. It also provides raw materials for industries, such as textiles and biofuels. Traditionally, most people were involved in agriculture to some extent. However, as societies developed, farming became a specialized career choice instead of an everyday necessity.

As agriculture became more specialized, farmers looked for ways to maximize their yield. This led to the development of different farming methods, such as crop rotation, fertilizer use, and chemical sprays.

This 2nd agricultural revolution also caused land ownership to change. Farmers began to develop larger plots and sell them for profit. This lead to class divisions and social inequality.

3. It led to the spread of disease

The emergence of agriculture brought with it the rise of infectious disease. The shift from a diverse diet to dependence on one or a few staple crops resulted in malnutrition, which is the perfect environment for parasitic infection. Moreover, concentrating people into a small area increased the likelihood of disease spread by mosquitoes and other insects.

Some historians have viewed the invention of agriculture as the single worst mistake in human history, with disastrous implications for social inequality and ill health. Jared Diamond, author of ‘Collapse’ and ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, is the most vocal proponent of this view. More recently, Yuval Noah Harari, author of ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, has made similar claims. Several recent studies support these claims. For example, a rice-based diet leads to low iron absorption and increases the risk of anaemia. Undernourishment also exacerbates the severity of infections like diarrhoea, malaria and measles. The reduction in biodiversity that accompanies agricultural intensification can also increase the incidence of zoonotic diseases, such as tick-borne encephalitis and salmonella.

4. It led to the emergence of large cities

Regardless of its precise origins, agriculture soon gave people the ability to sustain far more of their populations than could hunter-gatherers. One reason is that the average farm produces 100 times more food than a forest full of edible plants.

The other reason is that farming allowed people to live sedentary lives rather than constantly shifting camp. That led to lower death rates and boosted birth rates.

It also meant that families no longer had to share a single camp site or hunting grounds, and women had fewer problems with childbirth. But that also encouraged infertility, and archaeological mummies show that, among farming societies, many more men than women suffered from tuberculosis.

These changes eventually led to the development of large cities. But they didn’t happen overnight. Within a short window, intensive farming developed independently in the Fertile Crescent, the Yangzi and Yellow River basins of China, the New Guinea highlands, and elsewhere. Those early societies then began to trade and settle, resulting in the emergence of modern civilizations and all that goes with them—arts, culture, science, a booming economy, and complex language.

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