Environment and Agriculture

How do we feed the 4.5 billion people of Asia, more than half of humanity? How can hunger exist in an affluent world? What is threatening the food supply? How did the domestication and cultivation of rice shape Asia throughout history? What is a food culture? How did food cultures develop in Asia? What happens to the global environment when meat consumption increases in Asia? Who are the lawful owners of the edible plants’ genetic material? Who holds the rights to pesticide and fertilizer formulas? What kind of power do Asian agricultural corporations wield in Asia and globally, and what are their relations with governments? How are food production and consumption, international politics, demography, morbidity, war, and peace interrelated?

These questions and other challenges that have arisen as a result of increasing population in the context of limited resources are at the heart of our discussions in the courses on agriculture and the environment in Asia. Already at the beginning of the first millennium, this continent was demographically preponderant in relation to other parts of the world, with the accompanying impact of human activity on the environment, up to the Industrial Revolution. Among the human activities that profoundly affect the environment, we note accelerated deforestation; air pollution due to increasing urbanization; land and water depletion; emissions; and displacement of entire populations due to climate change.

Industrialization arrived in East Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century, but became significant only in the second half of the century, especially towards its end. This historical delay, coupled with Asia’s massive demographics, means that the rise in economic activity and consumption in Asia has global significance. In order to comprehend the world’s environmental situation, it is crucial to examine how Asia influences Anthropocene environmental processes, such as carbon emissions, as well as how the continent is influenced by global processes, such as the rising sea level. Moreover, to understand the present, we must have an understanding of history and culture.

In these courses, we will discover the long-term impact of the plantations and mines economy, which is the heritage of colonialism in Asia, and explore, among other topics, the unique attitude of Japanese culture to agriculture; the fight of Buddhist monks in Southeast China against accelerated deforestation; the limited place left for environment activists in China; the effect of vegetarianism in India and Buddhist societies on the environmental footprint of food production; and the positive and negative consequences of non-fossil energy production (sun, wind, hydroelectric dams) in Southeast Asia on the local and Chinese markets.