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The Most Efficient Methods of Food Production

written by: Alex Meleg•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 7/1/2010

Different methods of food production are often overlooked in today’s society. Where does your food really come from? Let’s explore the most efficient method of food production below, starting with historical methods and working our way to modern industrial agriculture.

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    Hunting and Gathering

    Hunting and gathering is a primitive method of food production that relies on the direct procurement of edible plants and animals from the wild. Hunter-gatherer societies are typically nomadic due to the variable availability of resources in the surrounding environment. Most of the food from this method comes from gathering rather than hunting; up to 80% from gathering alone. Hunting and gathering is one of the least efficient methods of food production because there is no way to control the resources. Also, a large amount of energy must be expended in the process of hunting and gathering for very little returns; or none at all. Today it is primarily practiced by groups that live in areas unsuitable for agriculture.

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    Subsistence Agriculture

    an example of a recovering area of slash-and-burn agriculture in Zambia One step up from hunting and gathering is subsistence agriculture, in which farmers grow only enough food to feed their family, band, or tribe. This method emerged during the Neolithic Revolution (roughly 10,000 BC) when humans began to settle in the Nile, Euphrates, and Indus River valleys. This method is far more efficient than hunting and gathering, although still labor intensive. It allowed people to move from nomadic hunting and gathering to permanent agrarian settlements. While it’s efficient if done in a sustainable way, modern subsistence farming usually involves slash and burn techniques in nutrient poor rainforests. Subsistence farming naturally led to pastoralism to supplement our protein needs.

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    Pastoralism

    an early example of animal husbandry, note the boy milking the cow Not a method of food production in its own right but the natural outcome of subsistence agriculture. Pastoralism involves the domestication of animals to suit human purpose such as food, milk, and companions. Some of the earliest animals to be domesticated include the dog, sheep, goat, and pig. This method of food production, along with subsistence farming, can efficiently support small family units and small settlements but as populations expanded, food production methods had to keep pace.

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    Industrial Agriculture

    a commercial broiler (meat) chicken operation Everything before hand has more or less been leading up to modern agriculture. The industrial revolution, advances in genetics, and a growing need to feed billions of people have necessitated the need for centralized food production and distribution. Agricultural production across the world doubled four times between 1820 and 1975. In 1940, each farm worker supplied 11 consumers, whereas in 2002, each worker supplied 90 consumers. Nowadays, a consumer just has to drive five minutes to a supermarket or local grocer to purchase what they want. Admittedly, this is the most efficient method of food production but it also causes a multitude of environmental problems. Toxic runoff into water sources, unsustainable monocultures, herbicides, and unregulated GMOs escaping into the environment, to name a few. As societal demands grow, will industrial agricultural be able to meet human needs or will it collapse on itself?

    Image credit: Image/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain