Timeline: The Domestication of Animals
While dogs weren’t always our docile companions, research indicates that they were likely one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans. In fact, genetic evidence suggests that dogs split from their wild wolf ancestors around 33,000 years ago.
When did humans domesticate other animals, and why? This timeline highlights the domestication period of 15 different animals, based on archeological findings.
Because exact timing is tricky to pinpoint and research on the topic is ongoing, these estimates may vary by thousands of years.
The domestication of animals is a particular process that’s done through selective breeding. Generally speaking, domestic animals follow most of these criteria:
- Genetically distinct from their wild ancestors and more human-friendly as a genetic trait.
- Dependent on humans for food and reproduction.
- They’re extremely difficult or impossible to breed with wild counterparts.
- Show the physical traits of domestication syndrome, such as smaller skulls, floppy ears, or coat color variations.
Domestication is not the same as taming an animal, which is when humans condition wild animals to live in captivity.
While some research suggests that domestic animals can prosper in the wild, domestic animals are typically more susceptible to predators since they lack some of the advantages, instincts, or traits that help their wild counterparts survive in nature.
Key Reasons for the Domestication of Animals
Humans domesticate animals for a number of reasons: some have been domesticated for food, work, companionship, or a combination of all three.
After dogs, livestock animals such as sheep, cows, and pigs are thought to have been some of the first animals to become domesticated by humans. This was around the same time that humanity shifted from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to an agricultural society.
|Domesticated Animal||Primary Type||Estimated Domestication Period||Origin|
|Sheep||Livestock||9,000 BCE||Middle East|
|Goat||Livestock||8,500 BCE||Middle East|
|Pig||Livestock||8,300 BCE||Middle East|
|Cow||Livestock||8,300 BCE||Middle East|
|Cat||Pet||7,500 BCE||Middle East|
|Zebu (Humped Cow)||Livestock||6,000 BCE||South Asia|
|Llama||Livestock||4,000 BCE||South America|
|Horse||Work||3,500 BCE||Central Asia|
|Alpaca||Livestock||3,000 BCE||South America|
|Bactrian Camel (two-humped)||Work||2,500 BCE||Central Asia|
|Chicken||Livestock||2,000 BCE||East Asia/Middle East|
|Arabian Camel (one-humped)||Work||1,000 BCE||Middle East|
|Turkey||Livestock||0 CE||North America|
|Duck||Livestock||1,000 CE||East Asia/Middle East|
Horses are thought to be some of the first animals domesticated for work. Scientific research suggests that the modern horse originated in Central Asia, and were selectively bred for their exceptional back strength and overall resilience.
When it comes to domesticating animals, herbivores (like cows) are generally the easiest to convert because they’re easier to feed than animals that rely on meats or grains, which need to be sourced or domesticated themselves.
Domestication Has Shaped Modern Humanity
The domestication of species has helped create our modern society. Domesticating plants and animals created a world with stable food production, which enabled the human population to boom worldwide.
This is because agriculture meant fewer people could provide more food to humans on a mass scale, so people had more time to focus on other things like creative pursuits, scientific research, etc. This gave us time to create tools that helped boost efficiencies in farming and agriculture, leading to the world as we know it today.
Which Countries Produce the Most Wheat?
Global wheat production is concentrated in just a handful of countries. Here’s a look at the top wheat-producing countries worldwide.
Visualizing Global Wheat Production by Country (2000-2020)
Wheat is a dietary staple for millions of people around the world.
After rice and corn (maize), wheat is the third most-produced cereal worldwide, and the second-most-produced for human consumption. And considering wheat’s importance in the global food system, any impact on major producers such as droughts, wars, or other events, can impact the entire world.
Which countries are the largest producers of wheat? This graphic by Kashish Rastogi visualizes the breakdown of 20 years of global wheat production by country.
Top 10 Wheat Producing Countries
While more than 80 different countries produce wheat around the world, the majority of global wheat production comes from just a handful of countries, according to data from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Here’s a look at the top 10 wheat-producing countries worldwide, based on total yield in tonnes from 2000-2020:
|Rank||Country||Continent||Total yield (tonnes, 2000-2020)||% of total (2000-2020)|
|#1||🇨🇳 China||Asia & Oceania||2.4 B||17.0%|
|#2||🇮🇳 India||Asia & Oceania||1.8 B||12.5%|
|#3||🇷🇺 Russia||Asia & Oceania||1.2 B||8.4%|
|#4||🇺🇸 U.S.||Americas||1.2 B||8.4%|
|#5||🇫🇷 France||Europe||767 M||5.4%|
|#6||🇨🇦 Canada||Americas||571 M||4.0%|
|#7||🇩🇪 Germany||Europe||491 M||3.5%|
|#8||🇵🇰 Pakistan||Asia & Oceania||482 M||3.4%|
|#9||🇦🇺 Australia||Asia & Oceania||456 M||3.2%|
|#10||🇺🇦 Ukraine||Europe||433 M||3.1%|
China, the world’s largest wheat producer, has yielded more than 2.4 billion tonnes of wheat over the last two decades, making up roughly 17% of total production from 2000-2020.
A majority of China’s wheat is used domestically to help meet the country’s rising food demand. China is the world’s largest consumer of wheat—in 2020/2021, the country accounted for approximately 19% of global wheat consumption.
The second-largest wheat-producing country is India. Over the last two decades, India has produced 12.5% of the world’s wheat. Like China, India keeps most of its wheat domestic because of significant food demand across the country.
Russia, the world’s third-largest wheat producer, is also the largest global exporter of wheat. The country exported more than $7.3 billion worth of wheat in 2021, accounting for approximately 13.1% of total wheat exports that year.
Russia-Ukraine Impact on Global Wheat Market
Because Russia and Ukraine are both significant global wheat producers, the ongoing conflict between the two countries has caused massive disruptions to the global wheat market.
The conflict has had an impact on adjacent industries as well. For instance, Russia is one of the world’s major fertilizer suppliers, and the conflict has led to a global fertilizer shortage which could lead to food shortages worldwide.
What are the Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa?
From wheat to cassavas, also known as yuca, here are the top cash crops in Africa and their share of global production.
What are the Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa?
Agriculture makes up nearly 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy—a higher percentage than any other region worldwide.
From Nigeria to the fertile land across the East African Rift Valley, the continent is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.
Given the massive role of agriculture across the region, this infographic from Zainab Ayodimeji shows the most produced cash crops in Africa and their share of total global production.
The Top 20 Cash Crops in Africa
Cash crops, such as coffee or rice, are crops that are produced for a salable market.
With data from the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), here are the most produced cash crops in Africa:
Tonnes Produced 2019
% of World Production
Rice, paddy (rice milled equivalent)
|Oil palm fruit||21.9M||5%|
|Groundnuts, with shell||16.6M||34%|
Cassava, also referred to as yuca, is the most produced cash crop by a wide margin. With nearly 200 million tonnes of it produced annually, Africa’s production of cassava makes up a majority (63%) of the global total.
While cassavas are not well known in the Western world, they feed 800 million people globally. Cassavas are an essential root vegetable that has similar uses to potatoes.
Sugar cane, maize, and yams are also significant cash crops.
Notably, Africa’s yam production is 97% of the global total. West Africa is known as the “yam belt,” covering Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire. With over 60 million people across the yam belt directly or indirectly involved in its production, yam cultivation is an important component of the region’s economic vitality.
Agriculture Composition of GDP, by Region
While agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s GDP, what role does it play across other regions around the world?
Like Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is a major part of South Asia’s economy. India produces nearly 24% of rice around the world, while Bangladesh produces over 7% of total global production. Meanwhile, over 14% of the global wheat supply is also produced by India.
On the other hand, agriculture makes up just 1% of North America’s GDP. The number of farms in the U.S. peaked in the 1930s and has sharply declined from almost 7 million to 2 million in 2020.
The Future of Africa’s Cash Crops
Despite Africa’s expansive agriculture sector, there remain bottlenecks to productivity.
In light of these challenges, several technological advances have the potential to improve farmers’ bottom lines. For instance, precision technology measures rainfall, soil information, and soil productivity. At the same time, remote sensing technology can provide information on weather and climate.
This, coupled with the majority of the world’s uncultivated arable land, presents a significant opportunity for cash crops going forward. By one estimate, cereal and grain production has the potential to increase threefold.
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