The plant that domesticated humans

There are over 390,000 known species of plant on our planet, which around 50,000 are suitable for human consumption. However, as it currently stands, 90% of the human calorie intake comes from just 20 plants. Out of those 20, over half of the human calorie intake comes from the top three; rice, wheat and maize. Talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket! There are over 7.6 billion of us currently living on earth; if anything happened to our rice, wheat or maize production, famine would be a guarantee.

So why are these plants so successful? How have they become the super crops that domesticated the world today?

Wheat has the most interesting history that seems to mirror our own species. Wheat, similar to that grown around the planet today evolved around 10,000 years ago, precisely the moment in the history of humanity; when we began to leave behind our nomadic roaming lifestyle behind and began to settle in communities and farm the land. This led to the most dramatic rise in food production and enabled human population to expand exponentially.

But what we celebrate as out greatest agronomical triumph could arguable be the beginning of our downfall. Centuries of human sweat and toil clearing land, ploughing fields and caring for the wheat has taken it from a weedy plant native to The Fertile Crescent (around Turkey), to a species capable of growing in an unrivalled range of latitudes and altitudes.

Now, as a population, we are so dependent on this crop to feed everyone that we still devote our time and resources to grow even more every year. Trapped in a continuous cycle dominated by a weed. Its certainly an interesting way to look back on the history of humanity. Maybe we should rewrite our history books, rename the time period as ‘The Domestication of Humans’.

– Lauren Baker

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