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What Are Some of the Risks of Planting a Monoculture?

By Cassandra Mathers
Planting only one type of crop is common in the developing world.

The term “monoculture” describes systems that have low diversity. In agriculture, a monoculture refers to the practice of relying on a small number of genetic variants within a single crop--repeatedly planting only one crop, all of the same age, in the same area. Its greatest use is with crops such as corn, in which planting a single species in a designated pattern allows the farmer to harvest his crops with maximum efficiency and maximum yield. However, there are risks involved with planting monocultures.

Disease

Monocultures are particularly susceptible to disease. A single strain of pestilence can attack and wipe out a monoculture field that lacks resistance to a certain disease because of its lack of genetic diversity. In a diverse, polyculture field, such as a naturally occurring meadow with many different species of grasses, flowers, and trees, a disease that attacks one species will most likely spare the others.

Increased Pesticides

Insects and other pests who feed primarily on the kind of plant comprising the monoculture can ravage an entire crop. This requires farmers to regularly apply pesticides and other chemicals to their fields, increasing the risk of food-borne and waterborne exposure to dangerous compounds by members of the public and consumers, both human and animal. Increased use of chemicals and pesticides can drive up food costs over time, as the farmer must recover the additional cost of these materials by raising prices.

Lack of Food Options

Because monoculture planting maximizes crop yields while minimizing the amount of effort required to harvest, farmers around the world find that it is more profitable to plant monocultures of certain crops including wheat, corn and potatoes. This switch away from diverse crop types limits vegetable choices for many consumers—especially in the developing world—which can potentially lead to malnutrition and poor health outcomes.

 

About the Author

 

Cassandra Mathers has been writing for eHow since 2009. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, earning a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and anthropology. She also holds an M.A. in political science from the University of London and is finishing her Ph.D. in Islamic anthropology. She specializes in religion, politics, culture and Islam.