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GLOBAL AGRICULTURE : Harvest of Technology

August 30, 1994

Plant a seed and it will grow--with help. Through the centuries, farmers hae invented ways to reduce the back-breaking labor of coaxing food from the earth. Even hillsides have been drafted for duty. Although the developing world is lagging behind, farmers in developed nations are more productive than ever as fewer farmers harvest more food per acre.

* Egyptian plow (circa 3,000 BC)

Egyptian and Mesopotamian farmers invented a plow that could be drawn by livestock so that people no longer had to till the land by hand.

* Roman plow (circa 500 BC)

The Romans, settling small farms on the Italian peninsula introduced into Europe the advanced farming techniques of the middle east, such as the oxen-drawn plow.

* Spring-tooth harrow (19th Century)

The spring action of its curved steel teeth helps this implement bring clods to the surface of plowed land, particularly on rought or stony ground.

* Utility tractor (20th Century)

The development of the tractor dramatically reduced farmer's labor requirements. The versatile vehicle can pull farm machinery, haul loads and perform many other tasks.


One problem that many nations face in their efforts to establish an agricultural base is poor terrain--steep, mountainous land. Though the soil may be fertile, the sloping terrain makes irrigation and planting impossible. However, these cultures hae responded to their environmental obstacles with ingenuity--and hard labor.

Terrace cultivation has been practiced for centuries in China, Japan, Southeast Asia and in the Andes of South America. Some regions, such as the Mediterranean, have abandoned it because it is too costly to maintain. Before

Without terracing, rainwater runs down the hillside, washing away fertile soil and collecting at the base. The hillside is useless for agriculture.


With terracing, water runs down from a channel and collects on each "step" carved from the hillside, providing moisture for crops and preventing erosion. Steps are slightly tilted so that gravity can slowly draw the water downward.

Fewer U.S. farmers

(Percent of U.S. population)

1900: 40%

1990: 2%

Number of people fed by one farmer

1940: 18.5

1990: 128

SOURCES: Encyclopedia Britannica; Columbia Encyclopedia; "Power to Produce," U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Census Bureau; "The Way Things Work"; World Book; McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.

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