Define the term Agrarian Revolution.

Agrarian Revolution

refers to radical changes and improvements in agriculture and animal domestication.

Describe the characteristics of agriculture in Western Europe before the 18th century.

Agrarian revolution started with invention and use of machines from mid 18th century, when food production increased as the number of workers on the farm reduced. By the Neolithic period, agriculture had reached Europe, particularly Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Turkey, where rice and barley were mainly grown.

The following were the characteristics of agriculture in Western Europe before the 18th century:

  • Land belonged to the feudal lords, the church and the royal family.
  • Land was rented out to peasants, who paid by their labour.
  • Paths and cart tracks criss-crossed the land.
  • Farmers used the Broadcasting methods of planting.
  • Small scale farming and intercropping (growing of more than one crop on a piece of land at the same time) was practised.
  • Farmers practised the Open Field system.

                                    THE OPEN FIELD SYSTEM

Describe the Open Field system as practised by farmers in Western Europe before the 18th century. 

(Explain farming in Britain as practised under the Open Field system.)

  • A piece of land was divided into three portions: one for growing corn and wheat, the second for beans, peas, barley, oats and bush wheat, while the third was left fallow to regain fertility. Sometimes, this third piece was left for grazing and homes.
  • Each portion of land was divided into several strips, depending on the number of peasants in a village.
  • Each peasant had his own strip, on which he was meant to cultivate just enough for the needs of his family since agriculture had not yet been commercialized.

What were the disadvantages of the Open Field system of farming?

(Explain the disadvantages of the traditional system of farming in Britain before the 18th century.) It did not allow efficient farming as land was not fully utilized.

  • Division of land into small strips discouraged use of farm machinery.
  • The existence of fallow pieces of land, cart tracks and paths that went through the unfenced fields wasted land.
  • It was difficult to control diseases or to practise selective breeding since livestock grazed together.
  • The broadcasting method of planting led to wastage of seeds as some were eaten by birds and rodents.
  • Families had to travel long distances to reach their fields as pieces of land were scattered all over.
  • Agricultural yield was low and could not meet the growing urban population‟s food demand.


From mid 18th century onwards, scientific ideas and new techniques of farming were applied as a result of the scientific and industrial revolutions.

The changes that marked the Agrarian Revolution in Britain. 

(What were the characteristics of the agrarian revolution in Britain?)

  • The land enclosure system (fencing and hedging of plots), which replaced the Open Field system in 1750.
  • Mechanization, i.e. use of new farming methods, which required large farms as opposed to the previous small strips.
  • Abolition of fallows. Farmers could no longer leave the land fallow to regain its fertility as was the tradition. Increase in population meant demand for more food, which required most of the land to be put to use.
  • Introduction of crop rotation. Lord Viscount Townsend developed a four-course rotation system called the Norfolk, which consisted of barley, clover, turnips and wheat on the same plot of land over a four-year period, by which land retained or gained but would not lose its fertility.
  • The introduction of intercropping. It was discovered that growing crops like maize and beans on a given piece of land at the same time enabled land to regain fertility, since such crops did not require the same nutrients from the soil and they grew well if planted together.
  • Use of fertilizer. This was pioneered by Lord Viscount Townsend, who recommended manuring of land to increase yields per hectare.
  • Use of machines. This changed agriculture from a small scale subsistence activity to a large scale business for both subsistence and commercial purposes.
  • Selective breeding of livestock. This was invented between 1725-1795 by Robert Bakewell.
  • Introduction and all-time availability of cattle feed, which helped ensure supply of fresh meat all the year round.

The animal breeds that resulted from Robert Bakewell’s Selective Breeding technique.

  • New improved cattle breeds like Devon, the Short-Horn, Hereford, Ayshire and Aberdeen Angus
  • Sheep breeds such as the Leicester, Shropshire, Suffolk and Oxford.
  • Pig breeds like Yorkshire, Berkshire and Tamworth.


The inventions/innovations that were made during Agrarian revolution in Britain.

  • Jethro Tull’s invention of the Seed Drill and the horse-drawn hoe in 1791,, with which seeds could be sown in rows, which eased interrow cropping and kept the land between the rows clean.
  • Introduction of the Iron plough in place of the wooden plough in 1825.
  • Formation of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1838, which publicised new ideas and techniques of farming all over Britain. This encouraged adoption of modern methods of farming.
  • Opening of a super phosphates factory in London in 1843 by Sir john Bennet Lawes, following the earlier discovery by scientists that Nitrogen Phosphorus (in phosphates) and Potassium (in Potash) are nutrients for all plants.
  • Andrew Meikles’ invention of the Mechanical Thresher in 1876, which improved Patrick Bell’s earlier invention of the Mechanical Reaper, which replaced the sickle in harvesting corn. A Binder was added to the reaper so that corn was cut and bound at the same time. Other modern machines like tractors and the combined harvester could reap and thresh corn simultaneously.


How the Enclosure system serve as an agricultural landmark in Britain

  • It was necessitated by use of new farming methods that required large farms as opposed to the previous small strips.
  • Rich farmers bought up all the land and, through the Enclosure Movement, demanded that land be enclosed by fencing.
  • Through the Enclosure act of 1750, the British government mandated farmers to fence their land. This enabled the rich to acquire a lot more land and created large farms that were easily managed as farmers could specialize in crop or animal production, which was highly profitable.
  • The farmers that bought up the land got title deeds, which they could use to borrow money from firms to improve their farms.
  • Peasants, who could not buy their own estates were evicted from and lost their land, which was sold off to rich landlords.
  • There was displacement and a lot more hardship for those who lost their land as they had to sell their labour to the rich farmers and to the factories in the urban as others emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
  • There were many changes in lifestyle as agriculture was transformed from a simple human occupation to a complex highly profitable business.
  • Fallow land was cultivated and wasteland reclaimed. Food could now be grown round the year due to increased irrigation.
  • Cultivation methods and equipment improved, which meant adequate and surplus food production.
  • By 1800, all farmland in Britain was enclosed, which greatly reduced the risk of animal and crop diseases. Aggressive farmers could now increase production without the hindrance of their neighbours.

The results of Agrarian revolution In Britain

  • Improved farming methods, which led to increased food production.
  • Population increase as food was abundant. Life expectancy was higher too.
  • A large variety of crops e.g. clover, potatoes, beans, maize, vegetables and citrus fruits.
  • New animal breeds such as the Friesian cow as well as Leicester and Suffolk sheep, among others.
  • large scale farming in place of subsistence farming.

Mechanization of farming as cultivation of large farms was adopted.

  • Rural-urban migration as peasants were compelled by the Enclosure movement to sell their land to rich farmers.
  • Availability of raw materials required in the agro based industries, thus contributing to the industrial revolution.
  • Expansion of both local and international trade Ø Expansion of the transport network.
  • Enhancement of research and scientific innovations.
  • Migration of some of the landless to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other places overseas.
  • Minimization of pests, diseases and epidemics.
  • high standard of life, particularly for farmers due to increased agricultural income.
  • Availability of food and feeds round the year.
  • British culture was spread and administered overseas.
  • Emergence and growth of more and more urban centres due to rise of a non-food producing population.

The negative effects of the Agrarian revolution.

  • Land was concentrated in the hands of a few rich people, leaving the wider majority under poverty and insecurity due to forced sales of their land.
  • The fact that work, for which those who lost their land had to look, was not easy to find, for the landless outnumbered the landlords by a greater margin.
  • Most of those who migrated overseas died due to exposure to strange climates.
  • Some of the emergent non-food producing population indulged into permissive and unbecoming behaviour, a lot of which remains to date.
  • Some fertilizer and pesticides, such as DDT, became destructive to the environment.
  • Urban centres were overcrowded, with poor living conditions due to influx of poor landless peasants into towns.
  • The idea of colonization stems from Agrarian revolution since almost all places where British emigrants went to after the Agrarian Revolution, such as the USA, Canada, Australia,, New Zealand, South Africa, etc became British colonies.



Reasons why farming in continental Europe was not as advanced as it was in Britain.  Continental European countries learnt modern methods of farming from Britain. Initially, farming in continental Europe was not as advanced as it was in Britain because:

  • The French were affected by frequent wars.
  • Italy was restricted to Spain, which was prospecting for minerals in South America.
  • Holland, Denmark and Germany were involved in large scale world trade, which was more profitable at that time.

Continental European farmers went for practical scientific and agricultural research in England.

 How Continental Europe contribute to development of farming.

  • Continental European countries imported new crops from the Americas.
  • Agricultural science and research were advanced, leading to a fivefold increase in yields. for instance, soil was fertilized with phosphates-rich Guano from the pacific islands and nitrates from Chile.
  • More advances were made in medical sciences.
  • Continental European farmers improved livestock breeding through scientific practices. Today, continental Europe is known for their high quality animals, e.g. the Friesian cow from Holland.

 The continental European countries that sent their farmers to Britain for practical scientific and agricultural research.

  • France,
  • Germany,
  • Holland,
  • Spain,  

The crops that were imported by continental European countries from the Americas.

  • Wheat,
  • Barley,
  • Peas,
  • Oats,
  • Beans,
  • Maize,
  • Vines,
  • Potatoes,
  • Subtropical citrus fruits.

 Two advances in medical science that add up to continental Europe’s contribution to development of farming.

  • Louis Pasteur made great advances in the control of plant and animal diseases. He discovered that most diseases are caused by bacteria and therefore sterilization of food such as milk through boiling can help keep it fresh and bacteria free for long periods.
  • Justus Von Liebig from Germany, urged for greater reliance on agricultural chemistry.

 The impact of Agrarian Revolution in Continental Europe.

  • Adequate food supply to manufacturing towns and cities.
  • Introduction and use of farm machinery, which compelled people to seek employment in industries.
  • Rural-urban migration, which provided ample labour for factories and industries.

Adequate and surplus food production due to improved agricultural methods.

  • Improved living standards, with higher life expectancy due to efficiency and better health standards.

Doubling of the European population due to general peace, stability and medical care.

  • Emergence of a non-food producing population, which took up industrial and other jobs.
  • Eventual establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC), which always has surplus food and has virtually advanced in export trade due to highly mechanized and scientific farming.



The Americas is the origin of many crops in the world today. Indigenous Americans (American Indians) were subsistence farmers. They grew a wide range of crops. From the 17th century, many people, particularly from Western Europe, migrated into America, bringing with them skills, enterprise and enthusiasm. They took and established animal breeds and crop varieties, which led to increased export trade.

 The countries that make up North America.

  • Canada,
  • Mexico,
  • The United States of America.

 The crops that originated from the Americas.

  • Maize,
  • Yams,
  • Potatoes,
  • Beans,
  • Pineapples,
  • Cocoa,
  • Tomatoes,
  • Cotton,
  • Tobacco,

 The methods that made up Agriculture in North America.

(Explain the American contribution to Agrarian revolution (In what ways did the Americas contribute to Agrarian revolution?)

The agriculture that developed in North America was a blend of new and old methods such as:

  • Recognition of individual land ownership rights.
  • Introduction and use of slave labour in clearing forests apart from other forms of farm work.
  • Greater freedom of settlers.
  • Modern plantation and estate farming.
  • Crop zoning and rotation.
  • The use of farm machinery and high breed seeds.
  • Extensive education on agricultural economics.
  • Increased use of fertilizers.

 The problems encountered by new settlers in the USA.

Unfortunately, the pioneer years in America were difficult, for the new settlers faced many problems such as:

  • Many deaths due to diseases and exposure to strange climate.
  • Hostility from the American Indians.
  • Heavy losses due to lack of knowledge on the suitable crops for the area.
  • Great difficulty in exporting food crops and beef products to the American cities and elsewhere as the food often went bad before reaching the market.

Into what farming zones is north America divided? (Describe the farming zones into which north America is divided).

     North America is divided into farming zones like:

  • The cotton and corn belts,
  • The wheat areas,
  • The dairy areas,
  • The ranch areas,
  • The livestock areas,
  • The rice areas,
  • The potato areas,
  • The citrus fruits areas, etc.

 Agrarian revolution in North America.

(Explain the process of Agrarian revolution in north America).

  • Early European settlers went into farming, mainly to meet the demand for raw material in England and the entire Europe. For example, in Maryland and Virginia, tobacco was produced. Rice and Indigo were grown as major crops in Georgia and South Carolina. There was large scale cotton growing in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Other crops grown include sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, wheat and corn. The drier north-eastern parts of the USA specialized in ranching and dairying. The south emerged as a cotton zone, the central region as a maize zone and the north-western region as a wheat growing area.
  • Before mechanization, Agriculture in the USA, particularly cotton and sugarcane plantations, depended on slave labour from West Africa.
  • Agriculture in the USA underwent great changes that promoted her development in industry, transport and urbanization.

The inventions made in Agriculture in the USA during the Agrarian Revolution.

  • In 1791, the Spinning Mule was invented in Britain to separate cotton seed from the fibre, to spin the thread and to weave the cloth, all at the same time. This transformed farming in the USA tremendously.
  • In 1834, John Perkins invented the Refrigerator, which was perfected by John Gorrie and a Frenchman called Ferdinand Carre. The refrigerator preserves food by keeping it under low temperatures. With it, farmers could now transport and export large quantities of food crops and beef products.
  • In 1837, John Deere from Illinois invented the Steel plough, which was stronger than the wooden and iron ploughs and could be used on hard ground. In 1847, Deere opened a factory for mass production of much needed steel ploughs.
  • In 1839, American businessmen invented the skill of heating and storing food in airtight tins for it to last for many years without going bad. This, together with the refrigerator, solved the problem of produce failing to reach the market in good time and condition. The produce could now draw good prices and big profits.
  • In 1847, Cyrus McCormick established a factory in Chicago for manufacturing reapers, which he had invented in 1831 In Virginia. Daniel Massey in Canada also invented the reaper. Cormick’s invention of the reaper was negatively received by slave owners, who preferred cheap human labour.
  • In 1862, the Homestead Act was passed, which legalized individual land ownership and authorised the federal government to grant financial assistance and loans for farmers to buy and develop land. with this, farmers took up large scale farming.
  • In the 1890s, transport and communication systems and the entire infrastructure were stepped up, enabling American farmers to easily transport their products and acquire fertilizers, machinery and other necessities much faster than ever before.

How the invention of the spinning Mule in 1791 transform farming in the  USA

  • Cotton farmers got quick big profits.
  • More land was opened up for cotton cultivation.
  • Cotton yields got higher as improved methods were applied.
  • Cotton became so valuable that it sustained employment for many people in England.

 How inventions in and stepping up of transport and communication systems in the 1890s boosted agricultural activities in the USA.

  • Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telegraph and telephone by 1877 further enhanced communication.
  • Michael Faraday’s invention of electricity and Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric lump in 1879 as well as discovery of oil further provided the fuel required by farmers and industrialists for agricultural purposes.
  • Agriculture and industry were further boosted by the full development and regular or mass production and sale of motor vehicles to the public by 1891 and the invention of the aeroplane by the Wright brothers in 1903, all of which turned the world into a global village.

 How features of American agriculture. 

(Identify the characteristics of Agrarian revolution in the Americas).

  • Large scale farming for adequate food supply and provision of raw materials for industries.
  • Zoning and diversification, due to differences in climate and soil fertility, with various areas specializing in certain farming activities e.g. ranching and dairying in the drier north-eastern parts, cotton cultivation in the south, maize growing in the central region and wheat cultivation in the north-west.
  • Heavy investment in the field of science and research. This resulted in better high breed seeds and different strains of livestock. As the use of fertilizer increased, pest control measures were invented.

Monumental changes and milestones in the development of agriculture in the world, fuelled by peasant emigration into the USA from Europe, bringing skills, enterprise and enthusiasm as well as animal breeds and crop varieties.

  • Export trade. American agriculture largely comprised cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, tobacco and indigo, grown to provide raw materials for European (especially British) industries.
  • Grants and loans to farmers, for buying and developing land.
  • Explain the impact of the Agrarian revolution in the USA.
  • Diversification of agriculture through the introduction of new crops and animals from Britain.
  • Inventions, e.g. the steel plough by John Deere and the reaper by Cyrus McCormick. Ø Use of fertilizers and high breed seeds.
  • Improved food production.
  • Expansion of agriculture-related industries.
  • Mechanization of farming to replace slave labour.
  • Improvement and expansion of transport network.
  • Increased population due to adequate food supply and emigration into the USA from Western Europe.
  • Enhancement of research and scientific inventions, particularly in the field of agriculture.
  • Increased trade between the USA and Western Europe.



Most third world countries underwent colonialism. This greatly weakened their economies, which explains why most of them had very poor food situations by the time they got their independence.

The main causes of food shortage in Africa.

  • Population growth rate that is higher than that of food production.
  • Poor land use and inefficient agricultural practices.
  • Adverse climatic or weather conditions e.g. floods and long spells of
  • Desertification or formation of wasteland due to destructive human activities e.g. deforestation, overgrazing and pollution.
  • Concentration on cash crop growing, with least or no attention to cultivation of food crops.
  • rural-urban migration, whereby the innovative young people leave farms in the countryside to search for better means of livelihood in towns.
  • Lack of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Political instability arising from coups as well as civil and international wars, which causes diversion of attention from production to dependence.
  • Declining popularity of indigenous crops like cassava, yams, millet and sorghum, which are resistant to drought and diseases. farmers have resorted to cultivation of exotic crops like maize, rice and wheat, which may be unsuitable for particular areas, causing artificial food shortage.
  • Poor or lack of storage facilities, which leads to great postharvest losses.
  • Foreign debt burden as well as over-reliance on foreign aid, which have created a Dependency syndrome and apathy towards problem solving.
  • Poor economic planning as governments have no sound food policies. Government funds are often put to development of unviable industrial projects.
  • Poor land tenure systems, whereby, in most countries, most arable land is in the hands of a few influential people while more industrious farmers own very small pieces, which they have exhausted due to overuse.
  • The HIV-AIDS scourge, which has caused death of many among the work force, who are in their prime years and are economically productive, particularly in the agricultural sector.
  • Lack of funds for carrying out irrigation and other forms of land reclamation, purchase of machinery, or hiring labour.
  • Colonial education, which was geared towards white collar jobs in urban centres and neglected manual jobs such as farming.
  • Poor infrastructure, particularly transport and communication, which hinders or undermines transportation of food from one place to another.
  • High dependency ratio, whereby the population in the third world largely comprises people that are not involved in food production.

 What are the effects of food shortage in Africa and the Third world?

  • Starvation, which has been widely experienced.
  • The Refugee crisis. As people flee or migrate from their home countries mainly due to starvation, countries to which they flee (host-countries) strain their resources in trying to accommodate such refugees.
  • Social problems such as cattle raids among pastoralist communities, which have caused heavy loss of life and property. Ø Dependence on food aid.
  • Disruption of children’s education due to constant search for food.
  • Poor economic development as hungry people can hardly concentrate on work.
  • Stagnation of the agro based industries such as sugar milling factories.
  • A lot of unemployment since most industries in the third world are agro based e.g. baking and confectionery, milk processing, etc..

 The possible solutions to the problem of food shortage in Africa and the rest of the Third world.

  • Land reclamation to produce and bring more land to substantial use, e.g. Yala swamp reclamation scheme in Kenya and desert reclamation in Libya.
  • Irrigation as well as use of fertilizer and machinery for better yields, as is the case in Egypt, India and Pakistan.
  • formulation and adoption of sound national food policies to open the agricultural sector to new ideas on better food production.
  • Introduction of new methods of farming rather than relying on traditional ones, most of which are outdated.
  • Giving farmers incentives in form of loans, grants and other subsidies for the development of farms as well as buying of fertilizer, machinery and other farm inputs.

Reduction of taxes on farm inputs to encourage more farmers to take up food production.

  • Educating farmers on good farming methods e.g. soil conservation, intercropping, terracing and afforestation to provide soil cover and reverse the trend in soil erosion.
  • Intensive agricultural research to produce cheaper affordable fertilizer and to develop better crop varieties, adaptable to various climatic conditions and which can mature quickly.
  • Assistance to farmers in marketing their produce as well as subsidizing expensive farm inputs.
  • Stressing self sufficiency by devoting sizable portions of family land to cultivation of food crops through strong government food policies.
  • Building good storage facilities and educating farmers on better storage practices to minimize loss before, during and after harvest.
  • Control and elimination of pests and diseases, which are a great hindrance to farming.
  • Improvement of infrastructure and transport systems as well as better pricing of farm produce to the advantage of farmers.
  • Cultivation of indigenous crops for provision of food where exotic ones fail.
  • Peaceful conflict resolution for enhancement of democracy and an end to civil and other forms of strife for alleviation of poverty and devotion of resources to food production instead of funding useless wars.

The steps taken to remedy food shortage in Kenya.

  • Extensive research by research bodies such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), which have resulted in production of crop varieties that are resistant to drought and diseases. A good example here is Katumani maize.
  • Introduction of genetically engineered crops and animals, which are resistant to pests and diseases.
  • Establishment of agricultural training institutions e.g. Edgerton University, the University of Nairobi and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology for training and production of experts such as Agricultural officers, Veterinary doctors and horticultural experts.
  • Inclusion of the teaching of agriculture in the school curriculum to educate learners about new and better techniques of farming that should boost food production in Kenya.
  • Educating people on the need for family planning so that families only have the number of children they can feed and provide for.
  • Formulation of a Food Security policy for enhancement of food production and to ensure that a certain amount of food is kept for emergencies and that unscrupulous businessmen do not export certain foodstuffs when the country needs them.
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