Humanity has managed to colonize practically the entire globe. We are a little more than seven and a half million people (in 2020) and, obviously, we all need to have our needs covered, one of which is food, and we want to do it at low cost. Therefore, one of the solutions that have been carried out for some centuries, is to take advantage of the land to sow and / or plant some monoculture.
As its name suggests, it is about growing a single species of plant, and caring for it in the same way regardless of whether it is more oriented to the south or north. It has numerous advantages, but also serious drawbacks that we will now see.
A brief introduction
Humans are animals that have managed to adapt the environment to ourselves, to our needs and desires. To this day, there are very few places that remain virgin in this sense, which should make us reflect because resources are limited. If we don’t make good use of them, sooner or later we will run out of them. And that, that would be a disaster.
You may think that I am exaggerating (I would rather it were just that, an exaggeration), but when the most basic resources are scarce, when we are deprived of water and food, the survival instinct will lead us to fight for them.
What does this have to do with monocultures? It is possible that you think that I am going through the »hills of Úbeda» as we say in Spain, an expression that means to digress or move away from the main topic, but nothing could be further from reality.
As the human population grows, the demand for food is increasing. That is why it is increasingly necessary to grow more and more plants, in increasingly large fields.. In addition to that, to cut costs it is necessary to find a way to ensure that these plants have the least possible risk of contracting pests and diseases. In this way, taking this into account, monocultures emerged.
What is monoculture?
Monoculture is to plant seeds or plants of a single species in a very wide area of land, and take care of all the specimens in the same way. This means that each of them will receive:
- the same water and the same amount,
- the same number of hours of light,
- the same phytosanitary treatments,
- the same fertilizer and the same quantity,
- the same pruning.
Likewise, they will all be collected at the same time.
Plants can be cared for in a more or less traditional way as is done in some parts of Asia with rice fields for example, or with machines.
What is extensive mechanized monoculture?
When we talk about extensive mechanized monoculture we mean that, To care for these crops and to harvest them when necessary, agricultural machines are used.
Thanks to them, what was unthinkable centuries ago has been achieved: keeping a considerable number of plants relatively healthy, and harvesting a large quantity of food in a short time.
What are the advantages of monoculture?
Without a doubt, there are several advantages that this system has. For example:
Mass production of plant foods
In a matter of a few weeks, the monoculture provides plant foods in massive quantities. This is especially useful when crops are of rice, soybeans, corn and / or other basic products.
A reduced workforce
Although monocultures occupy large areas, few workers are in charge of caring for and treating these plants. In fact, they are a clear example of how labor is being replaced by the use of machinery.
The product obtained is sold at low cost
Because it is produced in large quantity, can be rationalized and sold at low prices. This is what is known as economy of scale, which is the power that a company has when it achieves an adequate production rate to lower the cost of its products.
What are the downsides?
We know the advantages, but it is important to know what are the disadvantages of monoculture:
The soil loses its fertility
When harvesting the plants, what is usually done is uprooting them, which is a problem because the soil will not be able to recover the nutrients that it has lost when these plants germinated and grew. With which, the application of manures and fertilizers it becomes a necessary action.
Increased risk of pests and diseases
Since only one species of plant is grown, this becomes more susceptible to being attacked by insects and / or microorganisms. Now, when that happens, the eradication of these problems is simple and fast, but it entails negative effects, such as the appearance of new pests and diseases, or the loss of land wealth.
Loss of natural green areas
It has been done before and it is being done now: deforest to convert these lands into monocultures. A clear example would be the deforestation of tropical forests, such as those of Indonesia, to cultivate oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), from which palm oil is extracted, highly demanded by the food industry.
What are the differences between monoculture and polyculture?
To finish, you might want to know how monoculture and polyculture differ:
Its main features are:
- Only one species of plant is grown.
- Use, often excessive, of phytosanitary products.
- Loss of soil wealth.
- The terrain becomes vulnerable to erosion.
- Mass production at low cost.
- It is necessary that the terrain has a regular relief.
It is characterized by the following:
- Two or more types of plant species are grown.
- Erosion and loss of soil richness are prevented.
- It can be grown on irregular, small or large fields.
- Less need to use phytosanitary products.
- Mixed foods can be found on the same land.
- It takes more work, so the final price is higher.
So which one is the best?
If you ask me, I will tell you that if each of us could have even a balcony, a terrace or a small patio and let’s grow our tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc., I am convinced that we would not exploit natural resources so much. But of course, there are many people who live in flats, apartments and even in houses that do not have any space that is outdoors, so what is better for the planet … and for us?
Well this is subjective. Polycultures are undoubtedly more respectful with the environment, but due to monocultures we can have cheap food. But what is clear is that something will have to be done, because we cannot continue to exploit resources as we do, because doing so will put (more) animals and plants in danger of extinction.
I hope it has been useful to you .