Geographical attributes and natural environment present in a place allow particular agricultural patterns while inhibiting others. While geography entails the study of the natural features found on both interior and exterior of the earth’s surface, as well as to how humankind has responded to those features, agriculture refers to the practice of tilling crops and keeping animals. Agriculture, therefore, is related to geography because it relies on geographical information for its growth and development. In fact, geography as a study comprised of natural and human elements has several functions in agriculture. Geographic Information System is essential in revealing geographical information which influences agriculture to ensure effective agricultural techniques (Beeri & Peled, 2009). Geography is useful in agriculture because it analyzes geographical factors such as, physical/natural factors; social factors; economic and political factors to determine which is best agricultural practice is suitable for a certain region. Hence, geography has a significant use in agriculture because it shapes our understanding of how these geographical factors influence agriculture in spite of scientific and technological advancement. Besides, geography avail data on all these factors to allow farmers have sufficient information on which type of agriculture fit their area. The objective of the research paper, therefore, is to examine the use of geography in agriculture.
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Geography investigates the extent to which agriculture is influenced by geographical physical factors such as; climate, relief/topography, and soil. Climatic factors chiefly temperature, light, and precipitation control all types of agriculture (Chang, 2017). These chief climatic factors have the potential to promote or hinder agricultural activities. Temperature is referred to as the extent of hotness or coldness of the atmosphere measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius. Temperature is an essential climatic factor in agriculture because it influences vegetation growth processes like transpiration, photosynthesis, respiration, seed germination, breaking of seed dormancy, translocation, and protein synthesis. The rate of translocation of photosynthate is higher in areas that experience high temperatures as a result plants mature faster. Conversely, areas that experience lower temperatures are poor in agriculture. Generation of high temperatures for agricultural purposes is one element man has failed to produce in large scale at an economic cost. Flourishing agricultural activities, therefore, need relatively higher temperatures experienced in long summer. It is actually impossible to exercise agriculture in regions with a temperature below 0°C and over 450°C. For instance, in areas of high latitudes day is always longer thus compensating for summer shortness. Due to a long day, the quantity of heat obtained is adequate for crop maturation and ripening. Areas of low latitudes experience winters which are not extremely cold to inhibit plants growth. In fact, in low latitude areas, agricultural activities are on in the entire year depending on the rainfall supply. Excessively high and low temperatures, therefore, is a major obstacle for agriculture (Chang, 2017).
Light is also a fundamental climatic factor which is essential in agriculture especially in crop cultivation. Light is a prerequisite in the generation of chlorophyll and in the process of photosynthesis. Other processes that are supported by light in crops are phototropism, stomata movement, mineral absorption, translocation, abscission, and photomorphogenesis. Vegetation growth and development is primarily influenced by day-length, light quantity, and light intensity. Agriculture particularly crop cultivation cannot thrive in areas which encounter enduring light deficiency. Precipitation is also an essential climatic factor which determines the type of agriculture. Rainfall as the major form of precipitation has a significant impact on agriculture. Both plants and animals require some amount of water for them to survive. Rainfall being the chief effectual watering means especially in Sub-Saharan Africa is crucial to agriculture. Even as standard rain pattern is essential to healthy animals and plants, excess or limited rainfall is detrimental and at times destructive to crops and animals. Drought eradicates crops and animals and leads to increased erosion (Chang, 2017). Similarly, permanent wet weather leads to the growth of harmful fungus. Different vegetation and crop species require a varied quantity of rainfall. However, moisture needed by crops depends on the temperature of the area. For example, in areas of high latitude, especially where summer is usually not especially hot and winds not dry, the rate of transpiration is often lower compared to areas of low latitude where temperatures are usually higher and wind are extremely dry. Crop cultivation thus needs little moisture within the temperate regions as compared to tropical regions. As a consequence, the amount of rainfall that is adequate to support agriculture in the temperate regions may limit agricultural activities in the tropical areas. Furthermore, the warm and humid climatic conditions experienced in the tropical regions also promote spread of pests and diseases. The rapid spread of pests and diseases lead to heavy losses which inhibit agriculture.
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Relief/topography as a physical or natural factor refers to the steepness of the land surface, that is, land can plain, flat, or sloping. Topography, therefore, influences agriculture due to its connection with soil erosion. Agricultural land in steep slope is prone to constant soil erosion and surface runoff which eventually result in soil degradation. Soils in the very steep areas are always shallow and deficient in nutrients due to erosion and surface runoff. Soils in the valleys, on the other hand, are always darker and deeper due to material deposits. Agricultural activities, therefore, tend to be successful in valleys due to deep soils which are rich in nutrients. The topography of the land can present a tilling challenge as well as inadequate transportation facilities (Goodchild & Kottman, 2012). Land topography also determines the extent to which the land can be mechanized. Hilly and rough land hinders the utilization of agricultural machinery to maximize production. In regions which experience great soil pressure mountain slopes are terraced to allow farming. For example, in China hillsides are terraced to the height of more than three hundred meters. Technological development has made agriculture to prosper by terracing land to slopes of 45 degrees. It is important to note that livestock rearing is most successful in the mountainous regions.
The soil is also an essential physical or natural factor which determines agriculture. Soil as a natural geographical factor is a consequence of bedrock decomposition. Soils are composed of numerous layers which are known as horizons. Soil fertility is determined by depth, texture, and acidity or alkalinity. Deep soils are characterized by thick developed layers. These types of soils are fertile and found in plains and valleys. Thin soils, on the other hand, are constituted of outer layers. These types of soil are relatively fertile and mainly found in high plateaus and slopes of the mountain. Soil texture determines the ability of water holding capacity in the soil. While acidity or alkalinity categorize the soils in terms of how much acid or base is present in the soil. Acidity and alkalinity are measured by use of PH scale. If soil’s PH is below 7, then that soil is acidic. If soil’s PH is above7, then that soil is basic. Much acidic or basic soil is infertile and not favorable for agriculture. Soil as a geographical physical factor is thus useful in agriculture because rich nutritious soils are necessary for prosperous agriculture. The deep fertile soil is indispensable in supporting crops, and as the chief medium through which all crop nutrients and water apart from carbon (IV) are availed to the roots for consumption. Soils marked by a deficiency of either texture or required chemicals leads to poor productivity in both variety and quantity (Goodchild & Kottman, 2012).
Similarly, geography also studies the point to which social factors such as culture and traditions, religious beliefs, land ownership, as well as gender roles impact agriculture. The type of agriculture, either crop cultivation or animal farming heavily depend on the identified social factors. Social structures determine nature of farming to be practiced in a given region, be it subsistence farming, shifting cultivation, mixed farming or extensive farming. Besides, social factors determine which crops to be cultivated or which animals to rear. For example, in some regions, culture and traditions determine which crops are cultivated and animals kept. The kinds of crops cultivated in major parts of India and Kenya relies on the staple food of different communities. Some ethnic communities focus on cultivating rice, finger millets, bananas or maize because it is their traditional food.
Animal farming also depends on religious beliefs. For example, the Muslim communities do not practice pig farming because pigs are prohibited in their holy book. Similarly, Hindu communities do not engage in commercial cattle farming because the cow is referenced as a sacred animal in their religious traditions. Land ownership and gender roles also have a considerable influence in agriculture. Land possession and inheritance determine the type of agriculture is practiced. Large-scale agriculture is impossible in several regions of the world where traditions demand the father to subdivide the land among his sons. The tradition of sub-diving agricultural land into smaller plots/units makes it uneconomic for agriculture. The tradition of sub-dividing agricultural land is common in African countries and India. Gender roles also determine the type of farming practiced because some traditions hold that farming is a sole obligation of children and women (Ogunlela & Mukhtar, 2009).
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Geography also scrutinizes how economic factors such as capital, labor, technology, market, and transportation affect modern agriculture. The modern commercialized agriculture has evolved to be capital-intensive. Capital refers to the cash a farmer has to spend for the inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, machinery, the building of modern stores, and renovating buildings. If a farmer can afford a substantial amount to invest, then they are likely to maximize their production thus making more profits (Bowman & Zilberman, 2013). Similarly, availability of labor determines which type of agriculture to adopt. Large-scale agriculture is necessarily labor-intensive and epitomizes human force on land. Besides, agriculture demands skilled personnel that can understand the relation between geological features and crops to cultivate. Trained personnel must also have the adequate appreciation of soil types and all social factors which determine the kind of agriculture to be practiced in a given region. Geography provides data on labor availability through analyzing the demography of the area. The population which is mainly composed of youth is ideal for agricultural labor supply. Large-scale farming is, therefore, less expensive in developing countries as compared to developed countries. In developed nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan among others, labor is extremely expensive hence to the prevalent use of machines (Bowler, 2014).
Geography is also essential in the provision of information concerning the available technology to enhance agriculture. Geographical knowledge is a requisite in the creation of computer-controlled greenhouses. The computer regulates the amount of moisture level, temperature, and determines the number of nutrients each crop need for healthy growth. All such information can only be developed and tested in a geography laboratory. Geography also verifies which machine can work in a given topography as well as which irrigation is suitable in a particular region to ensure yields maximization. Genetic engineering also considers various and complex geographies of crops before breeding different crops that are drought and disease resistant. Crops developed by use of genetic engineering have played a significant role in growth and development of agriculture (Smith & Scholes, 2008).
Agriculture is successful in places where the market is high. Market demand is determined by size and wealth of the population. Sufficient use of the available geological features to generate income thus dictates the cash flow. Geography is useful in agriculture as it enables farmers to understand the population and it needs. Farmers cultivate and rear animals that satisfy the current demand. Equally, farmers change crops tilled and animals reared as the market demand changes. For example, Malaysian farmers have adopted cultivation of oil palm due to low demand for rubber. The nature of agriculture is also reliant on the factors which influence the market. A factor in the cost of transport determines market since it must be considered while setting the price. As a result, cost of transport has an impact on the competitive ability of agricultural products. Farms which are located far from the market will concentrate on products that can sustain transportation cost. Conversely, farms which are located close to established market focus on production of the perishable product which can be moved to market easily and with minimal damages (Milner & Tingley, 2010). Geography is critical in understanding transportation network in different regions thus reducing the cost of transportation to maximize profits.
Transport is a significant factor while setting up an agricultural farm. The availability of transportation services is essential in commercial agriculture. In fact, transportation services are the root of large-scale farming. In developing countries especially in regions featured by poor transportation facilities, commercial agriculture is impossible. However, developed countries are characterized by well-connected transportation facilities. Besides, the presence of refrigerated Lorrie’s technology has aided in solving transportation in such countries. Throughout the global history, transportation services induce a change in agriculture. Advancement in the transportation and communication sector has triggered some regions to specialize in agriculture and thus making ultimate utilization of unique features such as climates and soils. Well established transportation network push farmers to set-up farms in the rural regions for maximized production. Ready transportation facilities also inspire farmers in adding value to their yields. It also aids in the reduction of waste and spoilage as well as empowering farmers in contributing to the national economy. Transportation facilities help farmers in creating more employment thus reducing poverty levels because it will be possible for farmers to move their products to the available market. Good transportation facilities support relations among economic and geographic regions thus opening new opportunities for economic growth.
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Policies passed by political leaders play a major role in agriculture. A nation may be featured by favorable climate for agriculture, fertile land, latest irrigation technologies, and free from pest and diseases. However, all the mentioned factors are inadequate if farmers are exposed to political instability. Political stability and favorable political policies are essential in determining which type of agriculture is suitable for the country. A political organization such as socialism or communism or capitalism also dictates agriculture patterns (Milner & Tingly, 2010). For instance, in communist China, agriculture is entirely regulated by the government. On the contrary, in countries like Canada, U.K, and USA agriculture is fully in the hand of the private sector. Some of the policies regarding land taxes, subsidies, protective tariffs, and land tenure system have an immense impact on agriculture. Countries with high land revenues have poorly developed agricultural systems. Agricultural growth and development require reasonable land tax to encourage farmers. Concessions should also be applied when farmers encounter natural calamities. Similarly, well-developed agriculture demand stable and just land tenure system. Land tenure policy, therefore, should be designed to grantee secure, stable, and reasonable returns to the farmer.
Government decisions concerning trade, land, irrigation, and marketing have an immediate effect on agriculture. Equally, loan policy, subsidies, international trade, revenue policy and government subsidies impact agricultural growth and development directly. Government subsidies are vital in stabilizing agricultural sector. For instance, the U.S agricultural sector is stable because the government uses about $25 billion annually in subsidies. The government in the United States has also developed a policy to utilize all undeveloped land near urban areas for agricultural purposes. The move is meant to bring agricultural production near to the market. In some countries such as U.K where restrictive land laws are employed, agricultural land hinders further urban expansion. However, the liberal land laws in the United States permit urban area to spread out into agricultural land (Milner & Tingley, 2010).
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In conclusion, it is explicit that agriculture involves making the decision concerning what crops to grow or animals to rear. All decisions made in agriculture must be informed by a geological factor, social factors, economic factors or political factors. Geography is thus useful in agriculture by providing information on about physical features and how they are connected with climatic conditions. For agriculture to prosper timing is essential especially when obtaining inputs such as seed and fertilizers. Forecasting weather to know how much precipitation and temperature, in order to decide the best crop for cultivation, is vital in agriculture. Such foreknowledge would not be possible without geographical analysis. Geography also aids farmers in deciding the most suitable and effective agriculture technique to maximize production. Geography is useful in agriculture because it has developed Geographic Information System to help farmers with valuable information concerning climate and soil. Geographers have also developed a strategy to educate farmers on how to use water effectively in the farms without interfering with environmental quality and agricultural production. Geography is also useful in formulating reasonable, favorable and stable policies about agriculture. For farmers to maximize the use of geography in agriculture they need to be aware of how to use Agricultural Geographic Information System to their advantage.
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