Two Worlds Collide: The Unintended Ramification Of Agricultural Progress

864 words - 4 pages

The Columbian exchange, coupled with modern agricultural techniques combined “killing as many as two million people, half of them in Ireland, in what came to be known as the Great Hunger.” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 3, Chapter 22) Many of the factors that coincided to create the Great Hunger are still at play today. Cloned rubber trees in the far east (Mann, 2011), inability to understand the impact of introducing invasive species and creation of farmlands that ultimately cause more harm than good are lessons we should have learned from “the new scientific agriculture: one kind of potato, on a terrain shaped for technology, rather than biology.” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 5, Chapter 7) and the invasive species of the P. infestans blight that took advantage of it.
Genetic diversity and lack thereof
It is important to understand that in the Andes, where European potatoes originated, “Andean natives mainly grew their tubers from seed.” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 2, Paragraph 7). Scientists have found that “families in a mountain valley in central Peru grew an average of 10.6 traditional varieties” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 2, Paragraph 15) of potato. They were very genetically diverse. In contrast, potatoes or S. tuberosum, having been introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers, where planted from pieces of the tuber containing at least one eye mistakenly called “seed potatoes” (Mann, 2011). During the rise of potato farming in Europe, nutritionist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, “the Johnny Appleseed of S. tuberosum.” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 5, Paragraph 21) encouraged people to plant this very limited sampling of potatoes “unknowingly promoting the notion of planting huge areas of clones” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 5, Paragraph 24). The genetic diversity that helped prevent widespread impacts from a single source simply where not present in the cloned European plantings of S. tuberosum.

Technology replaces “Lazy Beds”
Fields in Ireland where initially planted in a “lazy bed” style denoted by ridges that where approximately 4 feet wide and made from overturned ground keeping roots intact and thereby avoiding erosion. (Mann, 2011) This type of planting creates a very unfavorable environment for the blight, P. Infestans, which “were less likely to germinate in the comparatively warm, dry conditions atop the ridges.” (Mann, 2011, Chapter 6, Section 5, Chapter 7). However, agricultural reformers of the time, such as Andrew Wight and Jethro Tull, advocated for plowing of the fields in order to release nutrients such that the “lazy bed” ridges would be left fairly destroyed. (Mann, 2011) This made the land flat and easier to plant with the newer factory produced equipment...

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