Humans have utilised the provisions of nature since time immemorial to make their lives better and evolved into a sophisticated social animal. Humans unlike plants are not producers, hence are completely dependent on whatever the earth provides them to fulfil their fundamental as well as advanced needs.
But not all humans have been living with all the natural resources in their backyard. While some lived on lands rich with natural resources, some had to travel a thousand miles to find new materials while some had to fight others of their kind to gain access to some natural resources.
Natural resources have remained unevenly distributed around the globe. As the worlds evolved and societies got divided by national boundaries, these natural resources became a commodity. Today, nations and companies hold monopoly over the reservoirs of natural resources in their area, making it difficult for a normal man to have access to them.
A country’s economy cannot be judged using the raw materials or natural resources it possesses. African nations are said to be rich in natural resources, but are economically weak nations, but at the same time, there also exists the Gulf countries which are rich in many of the resources are richer beyond imagination for country’s like those in Africa, in terms of economy.
A country’s economic standard is hence determined by the natural resources it possesses as well as the market for the products processed from these natural resources. We shall be focussing on the distribution of theses natural resources around the world and where they are found, followed by their utility and untapped potential.
Natural Resources: A brief introduction
Natural resources can be rightly defined as- ‘material and constituent formed within environment or any matter or energy that are resulting from environment, used by living things that humans use for food, fuel, clothing, and shelter.’
These comprise of both the biotic and abiotic factors that exist in all the four spheres of earth namely- the atmosphere, the lithosphere, the hydrosphere and the biosphere. Natural resources are used in their raw forms as well as in processed forms.
In the present times, the food, clothing and shelter factors although still developing, are well-established dominions with inexhaustible sources. But it is the fuel department for which the humans are going to the extent of fighting wars. Irrespective of these facts, natural resources are an inseparable part of human life and form the basis of our fruitful existence.
Classification of Natural Resources
There are multiple features upon which natural resources can be characterised by. On the basis of these, they are classified under various headings. On the basis of renewability, natural resources can be classified into- Renewable and Non-Renewable resources.
Renewable resources are those which can be replenished by either natural or synthetic recycling of the available stock. These involve the plants, animals, air, water, light, soil, etc. These resources are capable of self-sustenance and can even overcome human exploitation up to a certain level.
Whereas Non-renewable resources are the stark opposite of the renewable ones. These resources have limited natural stockpile which cannot be replenished or get replenished over millions of years. The most common examples of these types of resources are coal and petroleum- the fossil fuel resources that power our machines and factories.
Another way of classifying natural resources is on the basis of their origin- biotic or abiotic. ‘Biotic’ is a term which is derived from the word bios which means ‘life’. Hence, biotic resources are those which are derived from living organisms.
Plants, animals and microorganisms form the gist of these resources which find their use in providing us food, fuel and clothing. On the other hand, abiotic resources contain all the non-living resources that comprise of the surroundings of the biotic resources namely- air, land, water, heat and light.
Finally, and the most economically important way of characterisation of natural resources is on the utility characteristics of the resources. Under this heading, resources are further classified into Energy and raw materials.
Energy resources comprise of all the resources that provide us with energy to run various equipment and machineries. Once again these are divided into renewable and non-renewable energy. While the raw materials involve minerals, vegetation and food.
Distribution patterns of natural resources across earth
Earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago and ever since, has remained in a dynamic state of changing surface and atmospheric conditions. When it finally attained the form that it is today, it had become an abundant storehouse of resources, but all of them were not spread out evenly across its surface and volume.
Furthermore, plate shifts and continental drifts had caused even more shifting of resources, which is why today, we find similar resources in different continents. Temperature and exposure to the sun also played a vital role in the accumulation of resources.
Life forms thrived the most in aquatic and terrestrial forms closer to the equator and the tropics, hence maximum of the resources are concentrated in these regions. As we go further up or down these regions into the temperate and the polar space, the abundance variety of natural resources declines extensively.
Human beings have always chosen to settle closer to the regions abundant of natural resources. Be it forming tribal grounds or early settlements by the riverside to help them with agriculture or setting up villages and factories near minefields to increase employment and ease of transport of raw materials.
Mapping and discovery of rich reserves of natural resources is hence of absolute importance for us to be able to locate and make necessary arrangements for efficient utilisation of these resources.
Distribution of natural resources in the Americas
North America comprises of Canada and the United States of America and Mexico as the major countries of the continent. The landscape consists of deserts, temperate forests and Snow covered regions. Coniferous trees including spruces, pines, hemlocks, and firs are predominantly found in Canada and giant sequoias, redwoods, great firs, and sugar pines are some of the important ones in the US.
Additionally, tropical economic trees like mahogany, logwood, and lignumvitae are grown in the central landmass of the continent too. The South American countries lie in diverse climatic regions.
It is home to tropical rainforests and the world’s largest river- Amazon. Most of the Northern countries fall under this tropical climate. Moving south, there exist temperate and cold climates with arid deserts in the west, mostly found along the Peruvian coastline.
With such geographical diversification, the American supercontinent was bound to have abundance of natural resources. It has flourishing agricultural, fishery, mining, oil and gas and forestry industries.
In terms of agriculture, North American agrarian food crops involve tobacco, maize, potato, vanilla, melons, cacao, gourds, indigo plant, and bean, while major South American products involve cash crops like coffee and cacao, maize, soybean, citrus fruits and alcoholic beverages and tobacco.
World Maize production is in fact dominated by American nations with the USA being the largest Maize producer with 377.5 million metric tonnes in 2017. Four of the five largest producers of maize belong to the Americas with Brazil, Argentina and Mexico occupying the 3rd, 4th and the 5th positions. Brazil holds its dominance in production of sugarcane, orange and coffee.
In Meat products too, American nations appear are major exporter countries. Brazil has the highest production of chicken and beef while the USA holds highest production rate of turkey. Along with Argentina and Mexico, they also form a major portion of the pork, sheep, goat and duck meat markets.
South American nations of Peru and Chile along with the USA account for 16,243,369 million metric tonnes of fishes. While they might be dominant in most of the food resources fields, the American countries are not big players when it comes to nuts and spices and largely depend upon other nations through imports.
Other non-food agrarian products involve fibres and forest products. Ecuador, Costa Rica and Equatorial Guinea feature in the top producers list for abaca and agave fibres.
Brazil is a forerunner in production of wool, ramie and sisal while United State of America is a very dominant producer of wood and forest products including wood fuel, saw-wood, paper and paperboard and wood pulp.
Besides agriculture and forestry, the Americas are also famous for their reserves of fossil fuels and minerals. Mexico has vast fields of bismuth and fluorite and is also the largest producer of silver and mercury. Brazil is the largest producer of niobium and second largest reserves of iron ore.
United States is the largest producer as well as consumer of petroleum and natural gas. Being a nuclear power, the nation is also the second largest producer of thorium. Canada too has rich natural reservoirs of nuclear fuel most prominently uranium accounting for 22% of the world’s reserves.
Distribution of natural resources in the Europe and Africa
Africa is considered to be the continent of origin of most of the forms of life. It is also famous for its unfathomable abundance of natural resources. It was one major reason why the Europeans had made Africa an important dominion under its colonial expansion. Europe itself has many natural resources ranging from oil and natural gas to gold and uranium.
Agriculture is one of the main land uses of European countries with a land cover of 39%. The top four largest producers of barley- Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine produce 34.3% of the total barley production of the entire world with 48,464,735 million metric tonnes of harvest. Even buckwheat, oats, rye, millet and triticale production is dominated by European countries.
They also contribute to vegetable cultivation- potato, safflower, cabbage and turnips in Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine. Spain, Italy and France are major producers of wine while Russia and Germany are the 4th and 5th largest contributors to beer industry.
Meat is also an important food product in the continent and Germany, France and Italy, who are also known to possess gourmet cuisine, are forerunners of meat production in Europe.
Most of the other food and non-food agrarian products like eggs, honey, tobacco, cocoa and cotton, jute, rubber, silk, etc. are imported from other countries. But the continent surely makes up in the mineral deposits. Northern Europe has large reserves of metals such as bauxite, copper and iron ore.
Some northern European countries such as Denmark have some reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Germany has its own coal fields and also reserves of nickel and lignite. Southern nations like Italy have substantial reserves of coal, mercury and zinc.
In Western Europe, France and Spain share abundant reserves of coal and zinc. In terms of nuclear resources, France holds an edge with a prominent uranium field in its jurisdiction. Portugal boasts of some gold, as well as zinc, copper and uranium. Ireland has substantial reserves of natural gas and peat for fuel.
Majority of the natural resources of the continent are found in the eastern region. Ukraine and Russia both depend heavily on their large natural gas and oil reserves.
Poland is blessed with substantial coal reserves, as well as natural gas, iron ore and copper reserves. Russia is also believed to be home to huge gold fields, but poor connectivity and rugged terrain prevents their utilisation.
Africa’s share of natural resources include diamonds, sugar, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.
Unfortunately, many non-African nations have established monopoly over resources possessed by the African countries. The states of Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Angola hold dominance in the field of oil production with 85% reservoirs in their jurisdiction.
There is an abundance of ores too- The copper belt in Katanga, the diamond mines in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Botswana are one of the biggest in the world. Bauxite, gold, iron and nickel are other metals which are widely distributed across Africa.
In terms of agriculture, African nations are leaving their mark in production of many crops, vegetable and fruit. Nigeria and Mali are major millet producing African countries. Nigeria is also paired with Ethiopia as one of the largest producers of sorghum in the world.
Countries like Mozambique, Egypt, Ghana and Sudan in addition to the aforementioned are prime producers of vegetables like sweet potato, beans, onions, sesame and chickpea; and fruits like apricot, fig, dates, olives, etc.
Distribution of natural resources in Asia and Oceania
Just like Africa, Asia and Oceania are very much abundant in natural resources. The gulf countries in the west are oil and natural gas giants accounting for more than 40% of the global production. Russia with its maximum geographical spread in Asia is itself one of the biggest nations when it comes to oil production.
India ranks at 24th position with production of 734,180 barrels per day. To manage the trade and export of oil, the gulf countries are all a part of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Same cannot be said for Australia and fellow Oceanic nations, but the total production rate is still around 400,000 barrels a day.
Agriculture has played a major role in the development of the various economies in these continents. India for instance, has a workforce of around 70% employed in the agricultural sector.
Asian and Oceanic countries have dominated the markets being major producers of many important food crops, vegetables, fruits, nuts and animal products and non-food products. China and India are major producers of Millet, Rice and Wheat.
Indonesia and Bangladesh too have a massive share in rice production. China and India are horticultural giants too topping the charts of production of major vegetables and fruits like beans, onions, pulses, cauliflowers, eggplants, potato, spinach, ginger, pumpkin, pears, mango, grapes, lemon, etc.
The white revolution in India has put it as a forerunner in the milk and dairy industry. Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and Nepal are important milk producing nations too.
But Asian countries are much famously known for their spices and dry fruits. India alone cultivates 3.1 million hectares of land to grow spice plants. Vietnam, Indonesia, India, China and Thailand are major spice trading countries which have maintained this trade since ancient times. The major spices found in these nations are pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, saffron and vanilla.
Non-food products are speciality of Asian and Oceanic countries too. Philippines and Indonesia are major producers of Abaca. Cotton and silk, the two widely used natural clothing fibres are produced in the highest abundance in China and India.
Bangladesh and Nepal have established themselves as leading producers of jute. Oceanic countries including Australia and New Zealand are huge producers of wool. Australia is also a major producer of ores and minerals in the world. The most important mineral resources in Australia are bauxite, gold and iron ore. It is also home to rich coal fields and uranium supplies.
While the many nations and continents across the planet house a diverse range of natural resources, it is important to note that their quantity and quality hugely affect their production and economy.
Furthermore, most of the regions like African nations have been exploited for natural resources for their abundance and ease of access, while many nations like Russia are unable to tap into their full resource potential due to unfavourable geographical conditions.
Natural Resources have played an important role in the growth of national economy and have promoted international trade between many countries. It is hence important for us to utilise the resources judiciously with the aim of sustainable development so that future generations can benefit from them in a holistic way.