food production IS the growing of plant crops and animals for human consumption. It is one of the most vital activities engaged in, with food and water central to the continuation of human life. Climate change threatens to change age-old patterns of agriculture at a moment in history when there are more people alive on the planet than ever before, and may lead to a long period of global food insecurity.
Food takes many different forms, but a general description is: anything that can be metabolized by a living organism to create energy or build tissue. For humans, this means matter comprised of some combination of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids (fats), or water. Food is often grouped into the broad categories: grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, legumes, and includes a separate category for the byproducts of meat and poultry production, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.
Humans have been practicing agriculture since the dawn of civilization. It was the move from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to permanent farming communities in the fertile flood plains of Mesopotamia 10,000 to 12,000 years ago that marked the beginning of historical records.
As these early agrarian societies began cultivating grain crops and domesticating animals, the outlines of society began to form. With a steady supply of food, population increased. People began to specialize in crafts to support the population around them. Social hierarchies, government, trade, written language, and slavery were just some of the structures built on the foundation of agriculture.
Today, humans cultivate about 2,000 plant species for food, with a definite preference for grains and cereals. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global production of cereal crops in 2004 was around 2.3 billion metric tons, compared with 886 million metric tons of vegetables, 259 million metric tons of meat, and
130 million metric tons of fish. Food production is the world's most common profession, with 36 percent of all workers engaged in agriculture in 2006. This is actually a drop from 42 percent in 1996, and reflects the shift of more and more workers to urban centers. Agricultural workers range from subsistence farmers, to owners and employees of huge industrial operations, while millions more support themselves through fishing, ranching, hunting, and foraging.
Agriculture is one of three anthropogenic causes of global warming identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), after fossil fuel use and land use. The clearing of new agricultural lands creates pollution through the burning of biomass, releasing greenhouse gasses and particulate matter into the atmosphere; the loss of trees reduces the planet's natural carbon sink, the natural process whereby trees remove carbon from the air. Most modern fertilizers are petroleum-based, releasing tons of nitrous oxide and other gasses every year. Livestock are responsible for 40 percent of annual methane emissions.
Since the development of agricultural chemistry in the 19th century, there has been a steady stream of innovation, including specialized machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and soil amendments, advances in animal husbandry, plant breeding, hybridization, and gene manipulation. Yet, for all these technological advances, food production still relies principally on sunlight, precipitation, temperature, and soil quality. It requires predictability and stability. Farmers need to know when the growing season will begin and end, and approximately how much rain will fall between those two dates. Anomalies in the weather can have a catastrophic effect on crop yields.
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