Commercial Agriculture – A Changing Landscape
Subsistence agriculture is basically farming for food, while commercial agriculture is agriculture meant to give a farmer cash and food. Subsistence agriculture is a form of farming practiced in the absence of modern-day amenities such as buildings, roads, electricity, or other means of modern life support.
This type of agriculture production occurs in the fields, on farms, in the forests, and other places with sufficient resources to allow for the production of food. The major components of subsistence agriculture are:
- Planting a minimal amount of crops that are low-profit and may be quickly sold for a handsome profit
- Growing sufficient to sustain normal family needs
- Making sure that the production does not deplete the natural resources of the land it is grown in
There are many advantages of subsistence agriculture, especially in its management and the control of pests. One advantage is in having access to natural fibrous feeds which are used to promote healthy plant growth. Subsistence crops also help avoid over-farming, since the plants are only planted in areas where they naturally grow, resulting in smaller crop yields for less labor and energy.
The disadvantages of Subsistence agriculture include limited market access for food products
Since these markets do not exist, the farmer must rely on trade or barter exchanges to get supplies from outside the region. Barter exchanges usually involve local products exchanged between members of the community.
Trade is difficult, and in some cases impossible, due to lack of infrastructure. Another disadvantage of commercial agriculture is the ability to produce standardized products for sale which cannot always be guaranteed by the local resources.
On the other hand, the commercial production of food has created great benefits as well
One of the most significant benefits is the large scale use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, both of which greatly deplete soil fertility. This leads to over-farming with poor nutritional management and an increase in the use of unskilled labour.
Some farmers also employ the use of slave, convict or even free labour. Because many Subsistence farmers are unable to enjoy the benefits of modern, mass-production methods, they must rely on other sources of cheap labour such as their indigenous neighbors and seasonal workers in poor countries.
With changes in technology and tastes, the relationship between Subsistence agriculture and commercial agriculture has become somewhat strained.
In particular, the increased use of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers has led to a reduction in the quality of life for Subsistence farmers who depend largely on the natural fertilization provided by soil.
In response to this threat, farmers often adapt by diversifying their crops and planting in different habitats and seasons. Some have completely replaced Subsistence agriculture with monoculture which is to cultivate only a single kind of crop, usually to feed livestock, to increase farm incomes, or to protect their borders against other animals and insects.
Organic farmers usually only have a very small area of land dedicated to cultivation of only one kind of crop, whereas most Subsistence farmers have a wide variety of crops, including vegetables, fruit, cereals, tobacco and even sheep and goats.
Organic production is generally more efficient than commercial agriculture because it uses the entire land, water, and nutrients available in the soil. Subsistence producers also protect their crops from pests and damage with fences, screens, and traps.
On the whole, organic production and commercial agriculture often do not match. A combination of both Subsistence and Organic can improve the nutritional quality of the crop, yield, and overall quality of the soil of the particular area where it is grown.
Commercial agriculture has been the answer of many of the inhabitants of Ngulindal women’s community in Kibwezi, Makueni County when asked about their knowledge about the difference between commercial and subsistence agriculture.
They were quite clear in their answers that commercial agriculture was better than the former. And what’s more, they claimed that they would never change their mind even if offered some sweeteners in the form of government grants and other financial incentives.
The very first agricultural revolution was sparked by the crossing of two rivers
These rivers crossed only after two weeks of arduous paddling, carrying much water with them. This action set the stage for the next great migration; the migration of Maasai herds from the Serengeti in Kenya to the Okavango and the Masai Mara in Tanzania.
This occurred at the start of the 20th century. It is estimated that about one million people in all, including men, women, children, and elders, came across this migration route to Maasai Mara in search of pasture and other grazing lands.
Most of those who came were not interested in resettling in another country. Instead, they wanted to experience a new kind of life. This led to the commercial agriculture of grass, millet, cattle, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which can be classified as the staple food of those times.
The staple crops have been followed ever since by succeeding generations to maintain the productivity and profitability of the original settlers, despite the advent and entry of biotechnology and other factors that are now threatening the integrity of traditional farming.
Biotechnology too can be credited to have had a significant impact on the growth of international trade
The commercial agriculture of food crops has greatly benefited from the various technological advancements like genetic engineering, microorganisms, etc. These technical developments transformed the conventional farming of staple food crops into biotechnology systems, which yield better yields, are more productive and do not have the harmful environmental impact.
This has led to the development of various crops in different parts of the world, with an overall share of about 75%. Some of the examples are maize and cotton in Africa, rice and wheat in Asia, potatoes and carrots in South America, and soya beans in Africa and Europe.
One of the largest changes in the field of commercial agriculture has come through the spreading of seeds
These seeds were first released for a few selected crops, to provide the benefits to the small-scale or homemakers farmer, in exchange of an increased price for the larger-scale commercial farmers. The homemakers and the small scale farmers were provided with bumper harvests, at a very low cost, by the introduction of modern genetics and gene manipulation techniques.
The widespread distribution of seeds led to the widespread adoption of technologies, like the efficient intensification methods, which are highly productive for the large-scale production of staple crops.
Another major transformation that has affected commercial agriculture has come through the practice of irrigation, which has become far more advanced than the earlier methods of water management. Irrigation systems are now able to deliver water to remote areas in a timely manner, which was impossible until recently.
Water availability is also an important consideration for many developing countries where agriculture is very important. Water shortages in developing countries can lead to the reduction of food stocks, and the lowering of export earnings. Rapid urbanization and industrialization have increased the pressure on rural communities to find alternate sources of nourishment, including water.
Modern genetically modified techniques have also played a crucial role in changing the face of commercial agriculture
One example is the use of Bt crops, which are engineered to resist pests and to improve yield. With more than a billion acres of biotech agriculture land in use today, many of the world’s most critical food sources, including some of our safest and most abundant sources of protein, could be in danger of contamination from genetically modified crops (GM crops).
These crops have increased both crop diversity and crop production over traditional varieties, but research into the health and environmental risks of genetically modified crops (GM crops) has been slow to develop.
Until recently, little data had been collected on the impact of genetically modified foods on natural pest control practices, on food safety practices in the home, and on consumer attitudes and buying behavior toward these crops.
Currently, there is little evidence of harm from eating or cooking with genetically altered products. However, there is still much more research needed to determine the long-term effects of these crops. Currently, the only major product involved in the cultivation of GMO crops is Bt maize.
Biotech companies have attempted to develop and market many other crops, including
- Sugar cane
But each of these has faced significant obstacles in the field of cultivation. There is very limited data available on the impact of Bt maize on naturally occurring pest or disease threats. The only field study that has directly examined the impact of Bt crops on consumers was conducted in Florida, where an experimental Bt toxin was released in the summer of 2021.
An investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and the University of Florida led to the conclusion that Bt toxins had no effect on the Florida State Thrips, Carpenter Bugs, or Coccidians, but that the toxin did not kill any of the insects tested.
It is unclear whether the majority of these Bt-resistant bugs were actually infected with the Bt toxin, and it is unknown if any of them would have been saved had they consumed the Bt food. Nonetheless, the Florida Department of Agriculture and US Department of Agriculture concluded that the insecticidal residue from Bt crops poses “no reasonable risk to consumers”.
The widespread use of Bt crops has increased the pressure on farmers to use pesticides, and the resulting increase in the use of pesticides is having adverse effects on the environment. One concern for environmental advocates is over the effect of Bt crops on wild populations of certain birds and insects. Another area of concern is over the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides on genetically modified crops, which are now widely used by farmers in developing countries.
Biotechnology has had a major impact on the field of commercial agriculture, and it continues to play an important role
Biotechnology is the application of microbiology to develop new technologies useful to humans, is one of today’s fastest-growing fields of medical research. The four core areas of biotechnology currently in commercial application around the globe are
- Commercial agriculture
- Food and chemical engineering
- Biology and genomics
Within these broad areas, there are numerous subtopics. These include such areas as
- Food and nutritional sciences
- Agriculture management
- Basic and molecular biology
- Microbial sciences
- Industrial biotechnology
- Human and animal health
One of the most exciting areas of biotechnology is the field of genetic engineering used to transform species. This field of biotechnology is quite diverse; plants, animals, microorganisms, and even humans can be transformed through genetic engineering.
Many organisms may never have been seen without the aid of genetic engineering – making this a potentially very important area of biotechnology. Some of the organisms transformed through genetic engineering into products or foods we consume are:
- Insulinotropic hormones
- Growth hormone
- Bovine growth hormone
Biotechnology has created many opportunities for farmers who grow and sell genetically engineered (GE) crops. However, with some GE crops having unexpected insect or disease resistance characteristics, farmers and researchers have become more concerned about the unintended consequences of introducing GE crops into the food supply.
As a result, there is currently an extensive level of testing and research being done on the unintended effects of these GE crops. One of the most important questions that scientists and policymakers have been asking is whether the technologies used in GE crops will have a negative impact on organic, natural, or other crops.
It is also important to recognize that genetic engineering techniques like those used in biotechnology may eventually be utilized to improve or create crops with improved yield and pest control abilities without changing their basic structure.
If this occurs, it could result in increased food prices, reduced access to healthy foods for people around the world, and a loss of jobs in the agriculture industry, just to name a few.
However, farmers in developing countries are fighting back against some of these practices, such as Bt planting. This has resulted in the increased use of non-genetically modified seeds, and the practice of breeding various varieties of crops in order to increase yield.
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