Herding versus Agriculture

‘Herding is a really good and interesting alternative to foraging and agriculture. You domesticate some animals and then you take them on the road with you. The advantages of herding are obvious. First, you get to be a cowboy. Also, animals provide meat and milk, but they also help out with shelter because they can provide wool and leather.

The downside is that you have to move around a lot because your herd always needs new grass, which makes it hard to build cities, unless you are the Mongols.

But anyway, one of the main reasons herding only caught on in certain parts of the world is that there aren’t that many animals that lend themselves to domestication. Like, you have sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses, camels, donkeys, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, all of which have something in common. They aren’t native to the Americas. The only halfway useful herding animal native to the Americas is the llama. […]

Most animals just don’t work for domestication. Like hippos are large, which means they provide lots of meat, but unfortunately, they like to eat people. Zebras are too ornery. Grizzlies have wild hearts that can’t be broken. Elephants are awesome, but they take way too long to breed.’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Why did Agriculture Happen?

‘So why did agriculture happen? […]

Historians don’t know for sure, of course, because there are no written records. But, they love to make guesses. Maybe population pressure necessitated agriculture even though it was more work, or abundance gave people leisure to experiment with domestication, or planting originated as a fertility rite – or as some historians have argued – people needed to domesticate grains in order to produce more alcohol.

Charles Darwin, like most 19th century scientists, believed agriculture was an accident, saying, “a wild and unusually good variety of native plant might attract the attention of some wise old savage.”‘

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1

Advantages and Disadvantages of Agriculture

‘All right, […] let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture.

Advantage: Controllable food supply. You might have droughts or floods, but if you’re growing the crops and breeding them to be hardier, you have a better chance of not starving.

Disadvantage: In order to keep feeding people as the population grows you have to radically change the environment of the planet.

Advantage: Especially if you grow grain, you can create a food surplus, which makes cities possible and also the specialization of labour. Like, in the days before agriculture, everybody’s job was foraging, and it took about a thousand calories of work to create a thousand calories of food, and it was impossible to create large population centres.

But, if you have a surplus, agriculture can support people not directly involved in the production of food. Like, for instance, tradespeople, who can devote their lives to better farming equipment, which in turn makes it easier to produce more food more efficiently, which in time makes it possible for a corporation to turn a profit on this ninety-nine cent double cheeseburger. […]

Some would say that large and complex agricultural communities that can support cities and eventually inexpensive meat sandwiches are not necessarily beneficial to the planet or even to its human inhabitants. […]

Advantage: Agriculture can be practised all over the world, although in some cases it takes extensive manipulation of the environment, […] irrigation, controlled flooding, terracing, that kind of thing.

Disadvantage: Farming is hard. So hard, in fact, that one is tempted to claim ownership over other humans and then have them till the land on your behalf, which is the kind of non-ideal social order that tends to be associated with agricultural communities.’

– Green. J. (2012, January 26) The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1