Breaking Points in the Self Organising Food Supply

The entire system of food production, distribution, and marketing is thus a self-organising, dynamically stable, and resilient system. This self-organising food supply has been a fundamental feature of every city and civilisation since the dawn of agriculture. It would normally continue to meet increasing demand, with increasing production, in order to feed an increasing population. Eventually, as production approached its maximum, a breaking point would be reached and the entire system was then liable to collapse spectacularly.

The most obvious cause of the breaking point would be overpopulation. This must have happened repeatedly throughout history. The resulting famine might lead to a collapse of the entire civilisation. More often, the civilisation would survive but there would be horrifyingly high mortalities. Periods of famine were common in Europe before the introduction of potatoes, maize, and beans from the New World. These new crops, combined with improving medical knowledge, permitted very large increases in the total European population.

Other breaking points included over-control, sustained drought, and war. Bad agriculture could also produce a breaking point from an accumulation of long-term destructive processes, such as soil erosion, or soil salination from inappropriate irrigation. Occasionally, natural disasters can destroy an agricultural system. The volcanic explosion of Thera, in 1470 BC, covered much of the island of Crete with up to one metre of volcanic ash, destroying the agriculture, and the civilisation, of the ancient Minoans.

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