We are living in the middle of an historic revolution that is taking us from an industrial to a social, intangible capital-based economy. This revolution is visible everywhere but one place that I love to watch is in how the intangible capital economy is changing one of the oldest human activities: agriculture. Here’s some context:
One of the turning points in human history came when men and women figured out how to control production of food. These practices of the Agricultural Revolution improved over the next 10,000 years but it was still largely a physical process using human and animal labor. Throughout this time, a large portion of the human population worked just to produce food.
What changed? The Industrial Revolution. This is when machines were put to use to replace human and animal labor. This mechanization made it possible for less and less labor to be required to do basic activities. And agriculture changed with it. This table from Wikipedia says it all:
- 3,000 years ago primitive agriculture fed 60 million people
- 300 years ago intensive agriculture fed 600 million people
- Today industrial agriculture attempts to feed 6 billion people
This also meant that labor requirements for agriculture continue to drop. This table shows the male workforce in the U.S. and shows food production jobs declining from 42% to 4% of the workforce during the last century.
But the industrialization of agriculture brought many negative outcomes that present challenges for the future such as high energy use, chemical and waste pollution and overabundance of low-nutrient foods. In these opportunities and the latest revolution lie the seeds of the future.
Today we live at the birth of a new Revolution. Fueled by information and social technologies, we are automating our minds just as the industrial era automated our bodies. And, just as the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed agriculture so, too, will this new Revolution.
Automating our minds creates intangible capital. And IC is fueling radically different approaches to agriculture that use less energy, use fewer chemicals, lower waste and improve diets. Here are a few fun examples:
- Rooftop gardens run on an iPad that harvest only what’s needed by their customers each day
- Sysco’s program to connect small, local producers to the University of Michigan
- Local production creating local jobs
- Smaller scale production creating healthier communities
These new approaches are still tiny changes in a world-wide system. But they show us how intangible capital--people using information technology to build collaborative, innovative solutions to old problems--can radically change the thinking even in the oldest and most traditional of industries. How will your industry be revolutionized by intangible capital?