AGRICULTURE Man’s life was difficult before he “discovered” how to pow food. People lived in small groups, because it was difficult to provide a large number of people with food. The groups roamed the countryside. constantly looking for animals to kill or wild plants to pick. If they could not spear or trap an animal, and if they did not find plants. they went hungry. Agriculture, often called the “mother of civilization,” changed all that. The word agriculture comes from two Latin words meaning “to plant and to care for the fields.”
But agriculture is far more than planting and raising crops. Agricultural scientists today study soil, climate, how plants grow, how to stop plant enemies, and how to develop better plants. Other scientists study animals. They try to find new ways to raise better ani-mals, and to prevent and cure diseases. Farms, ranches, plan-tations. orchards, gardens, dairies, sheds for beehives, and a great many laboratories and factories are now parts of agricul-ture. The areas where most plants and animals are cared for are called rural areas. “Rural” is an adjective meaning “open country.”
Agriculture employs more than half the people on Earth. But in the United States, only 7 out of every 100 people are now involved in agriculture. Many machines are used on North American farms, ranches, and plantations. Scientific methods are used in crop production and livestock care. Al-though they are a small group of people, U.S. farmers produce more food each year than all the people in the United States can eat. Other parts of the world cannot run farms with so few peo-ple as the U.S. does.
Three of the main reasons for this are the lack of good cropland, the cost of buying and using machines, and the strict following of ancient ways of farming. About seven out of every ten people in Africa live in rural areas and work in agricultural jobs. Three out of every ten people in Europe are “farm folk.” So are six out of every ten in Asia, and five out of every ten in South America.
The Start of Agriculture.
People living in the sunny. fertile lands between the Mediter-ranean Sea and the Persian Gulf are believed to have started agriculture about 15.000 years ago. These people discovered that wild seeds planted in rows, kept clean of weeds, and wa-tered regularly produced large harvests. They lived near their fields to guard them from both human and animal robbers. So they built year-round huts by their fields, with nearby pits for storing crops. After a time these places became villages. Then roads were made between the villages. and the people of one village began to visit and trade with the people of other vil-lages. Villages slowly grew larger and became cities.
The fruit trees and fields of grain attracted wild animals. After many failures, villagers captured and tamed some of the animals.
The first type of animal to be tamed, or domes-ticated, was probably the sheep. Soon dogs were domesticated. then—hundreds of years apart—chickens. pigs, cattle, donkeys. and finally horses. Domestication of these animals took place mostly along the shores of the Mediterranean, and farther east. on the grassy plains of Russia. called steppes, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. These changes caused agriculture to split into three major divisions.