chapter  1
6 Pages

Plants for Food, Energy and the Environment

Plants are a major feature of the landscape over much of the land surface of the earth except for extreme deserts, very high mountains and the Poles where it is too cold. Photosynthetic plants are an essential component of the biosphere, using light energy from the Sun to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, forming the basic organic compounds on which other life forms depend and generating the oxygen in the atmosphere. Modern everyday human life still depends on plants for food as much as our ancestors did. However, many of us, especially those of us living in large cities, are unaware of these links in our daily lives. More than 10,000 years ago humans began the domestication of plants and animals and, in developing agriculture, were able to support large populations that could settle in one place. This process probably happened first in the Fertile Crescent (an area east of the Mediterranean Sea) and then separately in several locations around the world. The development of agriculture was a key factor in humans being able to establish large communities co-located in permanent structures that became our towns and cities. Progressively, the development of human societies has resulted in most people being separated from the daily reality of food production as this task has fallen to an increasingly small and specialized fraction

of the population. In industrialized countries, rural populations account for only about 20 per cent of the population (FAO, 2005). We have a general and worrying lack of public appreciation of our continued dependence on domesticated plants (and animals) for food, as most people living in large cities have little opportunity to directly experience the food production systems on which they depend.