Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian, “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 163-188.
Nathan Nunn is Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics at Harvard University and a historian of the economic effects of the slave trade on Africa. Nancy Qian is James J. O'Connor Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Among her diverse areas of research is the historical effect of the Columbian Exchange on population growth and urbanization.
The Columbian Exchange refers to the exchange of diseases, ideas, food crops, and populations between the New World and the Old World following the voyage to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
… There are two channels through which the Columbian Exchange expanded the global supply of agricultural goods. First, it introduced previously unknown species to the Old World. Many of these species, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and cassava resulted in caloric and nutritional improvements over previously existing staples. Other crops such as tomatoes, cacao, and chili peppers were not by themselves especially rich in calories, but complemented existing foods by increasing vitamin intake and improving taste. In many instances, the New World foods had an important effect on the evolution of local cuisines. Chili peppers gave rise to spicy curries in India, to paprika in Hungary, and to spicy kimchee in Korea. Tomatoes significantly altered the cuisine of Italy and other Mediterranean countries. Second, the discovery of the Americas provided the Old World with vast quantities of relatively unpopulated land well-suited for the cultivation of certain crops that were in high demand in Old World markets. Crops such as sugar, coffee, soybeans, oranges, and bananas were all introduced to the New World, and the Americas quickly became the main suppliers of these crops globally…Tobacco, another New World crop, was so universally adopted that it came to be used as a substitute for currency in many parts of the world. The exchange not only brought gains, but also losses. European contact enabled the transmission of diseases to previously isolated communities, which caused devastation far exceeding that of even the Black Death . . . . Europeans brought deadly viruses and bacteria, such as smallpox, measles, typhus, and cholera, for which Native Americans had no immunity. On their return home, European sailors brought syphilis to Europe.
. . . Moreover, the cultivation of financially lucrative crops in the Americas, along with the devastation of native populations from disease, resulted in a demand for labor that was met with the abduction and forced movement of over 12 million Africans during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. . . .
. . . Sugar cane was first carried to the New World . . . . on Columbus' second voyage in 1493 and was first cultivated in Spanish Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). By 1509, enslaved Africans were being imported to the island, and by 1516, sugar was being exported to Europe.