Why European Agriculture Developed Faster than South America’s (Pt. 1)

Jagmeet Khabra


Historians and scholars have long been asking themselves whether or not Europe won the agricultural revolution and if so, how and why that happened. Before answering that question, though, it is important to explore why Europe became so much more advanced than South America. In the late 1400s, it became evident that Europe had more advanced weapons, technology, and immunity to diseases, even though agriculture first developed in the Fertile Crescent (which is in the Middle East). Over time, crops and animals from the Fertile Crescent spread into Europe and triggered an explosion of civilization. By the 16th century, livestock animals that originated in the Fertile Crescent dominated European farms. None of these animals were native to the continent, but they proved to be invaluable to the Europeans. Besides meat, the animals were a source of milk, wool, leather and manure. Most importantly, they provided much needed muscle power.  These animals gave Europeans a key developmental advantage in inventing general purpose agricultural technology. These advances had an indirect and direct effect on the continent. It is essential to compare and contrast the circumstances in Europe and South America in order to generate an accurate critical analysis of both continents’ advantages in the field of agriculture.

Shift to Agriculture

For thousands of years, human beings were hunter-gathers. They would scavenge for food from the many plant species available on Earth and hunt animals for meat. Between 15,000 and 10,000 BC, the Earth began to warm up. There was a great increase in natural growth all around the Earth, which produced many new wild plant species and allowed the existing species to spread into newly warm parts of the Earth.

Certain regions developed a Mediterranean climate that proved to be beneficial for agricultural production, like the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent is an area in the Middle East that covers ancient Mesopotamia, reaches the Mediterranean Sea, and includes the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Humans began to shift from hunting and gathering to systems of agriculture between 10,000 BC and 8000 BC, and the Fertile Crescent became highly diverse in agricultural production, both in terms of regional crop yields and annual variation. Scholars often call the Fertile Crescent the birthplace of agriculture. The Fertile Crescent had regular rainfall, making it an ideal area for growing grains such as emmer and einkorn, which was beneficial for raising herds of animals. In South America, the region near the north western Andes was the primary site of agricultural innovation. Andes society was very productive in agriculture during early civilization.

Besides the changes in climate, there were many other reasons that human beings made the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. As farming started to evolve, societies found that agriculture was a more effective way to sustain larger, more concentrated populations. Large civilizations in places like Turkey could no longer survive only by hunting and gathering because this unpredictable practice could not sustain the growing population. In addition, hunting and gathering was very strenuous and often only benefited those who were doing the work.

This 5 part essay was submitted by Jagmeet Khabra, a fourth year political science student and current Vice President Internal of UBC’s Okanagan campus.

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