In contrast to hunting and gathering, food production makes possible a much larger population size and population density. Since only a small minority of animal and plant species is edible, the conversion of land to the cultivation of plants and the domestication of animals means a significant increase in consumable calories per acre. Moreover, the domestication of animals and their conversion into livestock: increases the availability of meat and milk and milk products; provides fertilizer, thus increasing crop production; and provides plow animals for agriculture. In addition, food production permits permanent settlement, thus making possible a shortened birth interval as well as the storage of food surpluses.
Food production is an indispensable prerequisite for conquest. In addition to the military advantages stemming from a large population size, the storage of food surpluses makes possible the support of a wide variety of full-time specialists, including monarchs, bureaucrats, professional soldiers, priests, and metalworkers, all of whom have important functions in wars of conquest. And the domestication of animals facilitated that humans would obtain diseases from animals and would eventually evolve a degree of resistance to epidemic diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and influenza. This was a major factor in the conquest by Europeans of the indigenous people of America and the Pacific Islands.
Diamond maintains that neither more advanced cultural characteristics nor a higher level of intelligence was the reason that some societies developed more advanced systems of food production. He maintains that the decisive factors were environmental: climate change, decline in the availability of wild foods, increase in the availability of domesticable wild plants, and/or the availability of domesticable animal species. These environmental factors made it necessary for human societies to turn from hunting and gathering to food production, if they were to survive.
Food production emerged independently, without awareness of it having been developed elsewhere, in at least five areas of the world: Southwest Asia (also known as the Near East and the Fertile Crescent); China; Mesoamerica (central and southern Mexico and adjacent areas of Central America); the Andes Mountains of South America; and an area that today pertains to the eastern United States. There are four other areas (Sahel, West Africa, Ethiopia, and New Guinea) where food production may have emerged independently, but there is some possibility that they had contact with food producing societies. These nine areas all developed food production in the period of 8500 B.C. to 2500 B.C. They were thus societies with a capacity for conquest and for the development of empires and advanced civilizations.
In addition to the development of food production independently, many societies have developed food production as a result of cultural diffusion. This occurred in two early advanced civilizations: the Indus Valley region of the Indian subcontinent (7000 B.C.) and Egypt (6000 B.C.), both of which began to domesticate plants and animals that originally had been domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.
Food production makes possible conquest, and conquest is the foundation of empires and of great civilizations. Conquest has been central to the human story for 10,000 years. It would attain its fullest and most advanced expression in the modern era, with Spanish conquest of America and with English and French domination of vast regions of Africa and Asia. Ultimately, human conquest would reach its limit, when in the middle of the twentieth century, the great conquering powers found that there were no more lands and peoples to conquer, placing the world-system in a profound and systemic crisis, and making necessary a shift to the creation of civilization on a foundation different from conquest, on a foundation of knowledge, mutual understanding, and solidarity among all peoples. Such a shift would represent a change in human social and economic development as profound as the shift from hunting and gathering to food production. And like the agricultural revolution, the turn to cooperation is necessary for human survival, and because of this, there is a reasonable possibility that it will occur.
Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, Wallerstein, world-system, world-economy, conquest, food production, development, underdevelopment, guns germs steel, Jared Diamond