Wheat was the bedrock of Léopold Louis-Dreyfus’ early business, and today it remains an important product in our flow from farm to fork. We have become one of this grain’s largest merchandizers worldwide with a strong presence in key origination as well as destination markets.
In this series of articles, we’ll tell you the story of the second most produced cereal grain (after maize), and about the places and people who revolutionized its production and yield around the world.
Man cannot live on bread alone, but scientists argue that without it, we would not be here – or we would, but in far fewer numbers. Wheat helped us make the transition from hunter-gatherers to settled agriculture as part of the Neolithic Revolution, which meant we had more food available all year round. As a result, we were able to evolve and survive periods of cold and unsuccessful hunting trips.
This story begins around 11,000 years ago, in the ‘cradle of civilization’ – Mesopotamia – where people began to cultivate einkorn and emmer, two ancestors of the wheat we know and grow today. Over time, these two plants evolved into a superior crop that had larger seeds and was less brittle, so easier to harvest.
As wheat farmers went on their journey towards modern times, they brought their habits: not just sowing, reaping and threshing, but baking, fermenting and rearing cattle on wheat that provided them with milk, meat and, importantly, manure to fertilize the fields. This made it possible to plant more crops across larger plots for bigger, better harvests, which ultimately led to accelerated population growth in many regions.
In just a few generations, wheat farmers were displacing and outnumbering hunter-gatherers. By 3,000 BC they had gone as far as India, Ethiopia, Spain and Ireland, and by 2,000 BC wheat had arrived in China.
The population growth that followed, as well as our enhanced strength and intelligence, is, in part, thanks to the qualities of this nutritious seed.
The demand for wheat triggered the creation of extensive technological developments in agriculture, which we’ll tell you more about in Part 2 of our Wheat series.