Impact of Potato in Europe

Topics: Agriculture, World population, Population growth Pages: 6 (2118 words) Published: September 10, 2013
The potato’s introduction into Europe proves to be one of the most significant examples of a foreign food crop being able to extensively affect the lives of a an Old World Population. Before the assimilation of the potato crop into the majority of Europe’s agricultural landscape, peasant populations constantly faced famines while current food sources provided little nutritional value and were not efficient sources of energy. As Europe adopted the brown tuber, people were provided with a far more beneficial food source capable of instigating and sustaining massive population expansion. This in turn allowed for further technological and political advancements that would have been nearly impossible if European populations had continued to depend on the unreliable wheat and grains that previously capitalized European agriculture.1 The potato’s essential supply of sustenance as well as the superior nutritional content and energy provided by the starchy tuber, allowed for the development of a large and growing workforce during the18th century. This exponential growth in population enabled Europe to rapidly industrialize and helped establish Europe as a dominant world superpower.  Europe’s primary reliance on grains such as wheat, barley, and oats prior to the potatoes introduction was insufficient towards maintaining healthy populations and unreliable in providing a constant food source. Populations who cultivated grains as staple crops in the 15th and 16th centuries were often plagued by famine due to the large fallow period that followed each harvest as well as the large amount of work and land required by the dominant food crops. The incompetent amount of labor needed to cultivate, plant, and harvest plots of grain combined with the crops insufficient calories and lack of nutrition resulted in high mortality rates of roughly 30% across Europe.3 Furthermore, without the caloric intake or nourishment needed to bear children, fertility and birth rates remained desperately low. Due to a lack of adequate food sources, the majority of European inhabitants had to devote their entire existences to their ability to feed themselves and stay alive.4 It was not until the 18th century that the widespread cultivation of the potato proved capable of not only providing for larger populations, but for encouraging the development of new investments outside the agricultural spectrum. The Potato was first introduced in the late 16th century from the Incan civilization by King Phillip’s imperial ships. The New World crop was first brought into Italy as well as the Low Countries, France and Ireland. While initial European reaction was characterized with suspicion and weary allegations, the crop continued to gain foundations in small garden plots. The potato’s first major role in European agriculture in the 17th century were as safeguards against crop failure in smaller plots of land outside the routine-based open fields. Due to the ideal climate and detrimental starvation that faced the peasantry, Ireland became the first country to accept the potato as a staple crop. An almost immediate end to famines in Ireland encouraged the potato to be accepted in the neighboring states and soon across all of Europe. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century however, that potatoes broke through gardening fences to become field crops, able to significantly enlarge food supply. Because potatoes could be planted on fallow plots in between periods of grain cultivation, total food production from given crops of land were maximized for the first time, leading Europe to outstrip the rate of population growth in any other anciently civilized lands by the 18th century. While other states in both East and Western Europe were secured with the near elimination of food shortages due to the larger yields of both potatoes and other crops, mortality rates decreased while populations skyrocketed and growth rates peaked. Ultimately, the large cultivation...
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