Asian Rice and Populationby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
How has rice production and other agriculture helped change the population of China, India and the rest of Asia over the last 300 years?
China and India: Together they are the homeland of nearly 2.5 billion people, over 30% of the world's population. 1 If each of these people ate just half a pound of food per day, it would require over 60 thousand tons of food in one year! Where does all this food come from? And how does it get to all the people? Sadly enough, many people do die from starvation, but most are kept alive by rice, the tiny white grain that has been the staple part of an Asian diet for centuries. Other grains, fruits, seafood and livestock also play a major role, but it is rice that feeds the majority of Asians. This paper shows how the production of rice, other grains, and livestock in Asia have changed since the Industrial Revolution, and why these changes have triggered a population boom in China, India, and the rest of Asia.
Signs of rice being produced in Asia date back nearly to when the world began. Although Israelites and other middle eastern countries did not have the grain in abundance countries, those who went towards Asia after the Tower of Babel probably found the grain to their liking and grew it for many reasons. Wheat requires plowing, planting, and harvesting, all long hard tasks; rice requires much less work. It has a shallower root system and thus needs less soil. Contrary to popular belief, rice does not require a flooded plain. Unlike other grains, the salt accumulation that occurs during and after the flooding of a crop does not affect rice. The standing water helps to keep out weeds. Thus although flooding of the crops is optional, it is generally the preferred method. 2 Last but not least, farmers have found that their rice crops tend to do better as years go on. Thus if the same paddy has been used for the last century, it will now be producing more rice. All of these facts make it easy to see why rice is Asia's chief grain.
So rice is preferred in Asia over other grains, but why has Asian population and rice production boomed over the last 300 years? Part of the reason is the Industrial Revolution. Although many Asians were already using "new" ideas like crop rotation; steamboats and other methods of transportation made exporting as well as importing easier. Medicines helped to cure diseases that once wiped out many people.3 Japan is a good example of how exponential population growth occures due to innovations.
From the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate about 1600 Japan insulated itself from outside technology until 1854 when American Commodore Matthew Perry reopened trade. In 1868 the Meiji restoration lessened the isolationist policy of the former imperial party, and Japan entered a period of great borrowing from the Occident. ...Japanese population growth since 1100 sorts perfectly into two pulses of growth. Tokugawa technology (and culture) and its medieval predecessors accommodated a gradual addition of 28 million over about five centuries to Japan's earlier population of about 5 million. Meiji and Western technology keyed the opening of the niche to another 100 million or so in one century.
Can Technology Spare the Earth?
American Scientist Magazine 84(2):166-178, March-April 1996.
More recently, with the spread of communications, major changes to the farming industry around the world have affected Asia just like they have affected the US, Europe, and other parts of the globe. Rice breeding has introduced higher-yielding varieties to the rice world. And chemical fertilizers have played a huge role in increased rice production. Major companies producing tons of rice have sent rice production in the 1990's off the charts. 6 Yet all this being said, many of the farmers use similar techniques today that they did 300 years ago. The difference is that new technologies, medicines, breeding techniques and pesticides have increased the productivity of their crops.
Of course, rice production is not the only thing that has enabled large populations. Potatoes first appeared on the Chinese market around 1700 AD. .7 The same fertilizers and other chemicals which have aided the rice industry have helped other grains, such as wheat and barley to be harvested. Citrus fruits have played a role in southeastern Asia .8 , and along the coast fishermen collect shrimp, fish and other seafood for a living. However, it is the livestock industry that has been the second biggest, reason behind this large growth.
Changes to the livestock field over the past three centuries include the creation of better materials for keeping wild animals out of the cow pasture and the chicken coop. Once again, chemical fertilizers work wonders by helping to produce better and cheaper feed. New methods, such as DNA probes, help scan meat for harmful diseases, increasing demand by making a costumer more willing to buy. .9 Other machinery has helped perfect the cutting of meat, allowing for more than your simple steak. Continual scientific and medical work seeks to control new diseases, such as Aujeszky's disease and Porcine proliferative enteropathy that affect the lives of pigs everywhere and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza that threatens the chickens of the world.10
Even in the rice world, not everything is sunny days and starry nights. The major rice production which has helped keep millions of Asians alive is threatening the Asian economy. For decades, rural farmers relied on their rice crops to produce rice for sustenance and sale. Now, with rice being massively produced by giant companies, there is actually a surplus of rice in the world. .11 This causes the price of the rice to drop, making life harder on the farmers. With less money, some farmers now cannot supply their family with what they need to live. On top of this, the chemical fertilizers that have been so key to growth are saturating the soil, causing future problems in the growth of plants. Thus, if something is not done about this massive overproduction of rice, as well as the reduction of all the chemicals that are being dumped into Asia's soil12 , the crop which most helped Asia's population to boom could also be the crop that helps cause it to stop booming.
In conclusion, there have been many factors which have changed rice growth in Asia. Included in these are chemicals, machinery and medicine. As 95% of all rice grown in China stays in China.13 , it is clear that this rice, as well as other grains, is primarily responsible for feeding Chinese people. But will China's and other countries rice production keep up at this alarming rate? Or will large rice companies and chemicals be the downfall of Asian farmers everywhere? Only time will tell.
1. Mary Bellis, The History of Communication, 25 March 2004, <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_history_of_communication.htm>
(26 March 2004)
2. EIA, Electricity in Milestones, February 2004, <http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/milestones/electricity.html> (26 March 2004)
3. Peter Nunns, The Industrial Revolution, 26 March 2004, <http://www.mvhs.net/~pnunns/ind_rev/> (26 March 2004)
4. Mary Bellis, The History of Steam Engines, 25 March 2004, <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blsteamengine.htm> (26 March 2004)
5. Phil Shapiro, “The Invention of the Steam Engine”, 1995, <http://www.his.com/~pshapiro/steam.engines.html> (26 March 2004)
6. Mary Bellis, The History of the Telephone, 25 March 2004, <http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bltelephone.htm> (26 March 2004)
The above essay was donated to hyperhistory.net.
of inaccuracies or plagiarism.
Post a link to this essay,
a great essay
on your blog or website :
|Comparative Essays||Biographies||Doc. Based Questions||Change Over Time|