How is our food made?

Agriculture is the part of the economy related to growing and cultivating food. Almost 40 percent of the world’s workforce works in agriculture (though the nature of that work varies considerably from California to the Congo.)

In lot of developing countries, over half the population works in agriculture, which is still mostly done on small scale scale farms. Many families live directly off the things they grow, a practice called subsistence farming. In a lot of areas, particularly regions like sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, farming is fairly similar to how it was hundreds, or even thousands of years ago. This kind of small scale farming takes a lot of work; it’s what economists call labor intensive.

In wealthier countries the story is very different. Agriculture in places like North America, Europe and Australia is much more industrialized, relying on very large farms, sophisticated machinery, and advanced technology. While there are still a lot of small farms in these regions, big farms grow an overwhelming amount of the crops—in the US the biggest 10 percent of farms own over 70 percent of the farmland and in the European Union small farms account for only 6 percent of the farmland.

With gigantic tractors and combine harvesters, powerful fertilizers and pesticides, and crops that are genetically modified to be more productive (GMOs), each farmer in the rich world can produce exponentially more food than a farmer in the developing world. As a result, farming employs far fewer people in these regions; about 2 percent in the US and 5 percent in the EU. Instead, in these countries many more people work in non-farming activities related to agriculture like processing, storing, transporting and selling food. In the US, these jobs, often called agribusiness, account for about 10 percent of the workforce.