Agri Kultuur September / September 2016 - Page 25

ing a small number of plant and animal species that we cultivate and breed for our own benefit and in supply of the food and fibre demands of the world’s growing human population. The species we selected are vastly different from those first ones picked or captured in ancient times. Our highly productive maize cultivars produce white or yellow pips on the cob while the maize plants that were utilised by the Incas and Mayas in the meso- Americas where small plants with small cobs and colourful pips. The cattle we have hardly resemble the ancient European cattle or Indian cattle that people domesticated to serve their purposes. I am quite sure that no one even knows what the first animal looked like that was domesticated to later become the dog; was it a wolf or was it a wolf-like creature? All these “man-made” cultivars and animal races are much more productive than their ancestors BUT they are not in balance with their surroundings. Selection for specific traits in plants or animals has developed into a science and with due reason: we cannot hope to feed the world with maize plants that produce 100 kg maize per hectare. We cannot produce milk and meat with cows that have a 30% progeny per year. So, we make a plan: we select the better ones and line breed or cross breed them for better fecundity, production, resistance to certain elements and so forth. What we forget is the timeless statement: there is no gain without losing. What we lose with the enhancement of the species is their adaptability in the ecology. Adaptability at the genetic level is described as having a high genetic diversity in the species or within the population of a species. By selection, line breeding and inbreeding we sacrifice the genetic diversity (adaptability) and thus produce cultivars or breeds of species that can no longer sustain themselves in the presence of the farmer’s competitors. What contributes immensely towards the challenge of competing organisms is the fact that our food producing plants are planted in high density mono-cultural crops while the food producing animals are harboured in large numbers in enclosed areas. Organisms respond to this by concentrating on the crops and animals in large numbers as well and breed like mad to cash in on the abundant food and host supply. Our normal reaction is to treat pests, diseases and weeds with synthetic or natural chemicals and the only response to that is that organisms adapt by developing resistance to our tools! Around 200 varieties of Peruvian potatoes were cultivated by the Incas and their predecessors The Spotted Eagle-owl is only one of many species that helps control pests and other vermin biologically We are caught between a rock and a hard place with the situation. Going back to “wild” species that are well suited to cope with the challenges of competing organisms is hardly an option as these wild species cannot produce at the same yields as the cultivars and races we currently use for food and fibre pro public domain By Dick Daniels ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,