Prof Alice Roberts spoke at Future Human 2022 about how farming likely began as a response to climate challenges, and raised questions on the future of agriculture.

“The domestication of plants and animals would pave the way for the modern world in many ways, it allowed the human population to boom and civilisations to grow up,” Prof Alice Roberts told the audience at Future Human.

A biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster, Roberts gave the audience an insight into the earliest farming communities around the world.

She explained how the beginning of farming was likely born from accidental discoveries, when civilisations first used wild plant seeds such as wheat and barley and noticed their growth in areas where the seeds were dropped.

Roberts said some of the earliest evidence of “very early farming communities” is in the Middle East roughly 11,000 years ago. However, there is evidence of farming in roughly the same time period in both Asia and South America.

“There must be something linking them and I believe there is,” Roberts said. “It’s most likely climate change.”

She added that this suggests humanity’s agricultural achievement is one that stemmed from challenges and accidents, which is “perhaps not quite the heroic story of the beginnings of farming that we’ve heard before”.

As well as discussing the origins of farming, Roberts also looked at the questions humanity has to ask about future agricultural practices, such as our levels of meat consumption or the use of genetic modification in crops.

There is not only a need to protect the planet for our own survival, but also a “deeper moral imperative” to reduce our impact on all species, she said, “not just those that we find useful”.


Words by Leigh Mc Gowran