Farming  Techniques


  Muslim farmers raised productivity mainly thanks to the introduction of higher yielding new crops and better varieties of old crops, which made possible more specialised land use, and more intensive rotation; besides extending and improving irrigation, and spreading cultivation into new or abandoned areas, and developing more labour intensive techniques of farming.[1] Again, old Eastern tradition, Yemeni  above all, is responsible for improved soil management, `garden agriculture’, which Glick notes, imposes the necessity of cultivating in such a way as to preserve the maximum amount of moisture in the soil.[2]Which hence adds the ecological dimension. Soil rehabilitation, Bolens notes, was particularly cared for, and preserving the deep beds of cropped land from erosion was `the golden rule of ecology,’ and was `subject to scrupulous laws.’[3] Fertilisers were also used according to a well advanced methodology;[4]soils classified and enriched by various methods (other than by fertiliser use), which included ploughing (normal and deep), hoeing and digging.[5]The rotation of crops, which in subsequent centuries was deemed a crucial factor in the English agricultural revolution had a wide practice, and together with new crops and better irrigation, multiplied yields by three.[6] This comes about through the joint knowledge of plants and soils, the mastery of botanical and edaphic science.[7]Hence, in Andalusia , well before the era of the English physiocrats of the 1800s, Bolens says, this agricultural revolution was closely based on high levels of knowledge of the life sciences and on a love of nature which was the common gift of both the Islamic and the Hebraic tradition.[8]


This Islamic science  transferred straight to its Christian successors. In Sicily , farming know how, in its wide variety, shows a direct Islamic influence visible in the use of Arabic terminology. Notary acts of the 14th-15th centuries related to sugar farming and horticulture highlight the powerful Arabic presence (in italic), terms such as catusu: Qadus (pipe of cooked clay); Chaya: taya (hedge, or garden wall); Fidenum: fideni (sugar cane field); Fiskia: fiskiya (Reservoir); Margum: marja (inundated field); Noharia: nuara (irrigated cottage garden); Sulfa: sulfa (advance of credit granted to farmers); etc.[9]To this day Malta and Gozo preserve such Islamic influence, the more technical the jargon, the more purely Arabic the terms become.[10]

The Muslims alos brought new instruments that made it possible to grow the new crops, which would otherwise have been impossible with the typically classical agricultural methods.[11]And this legacy is obvious in the technical jargon as well. To take a glance at the philological correspondences alone, Serjeant points out, -aretrum the plough is obviously related to the Arabic root haratha, sulcus a furrow to the word saliq, and iugum a yoke with ingerum an acre (though less than an English acre) is evidently the same word as South Arabian haig a yoke of oxen or, by extension, an acre, the amount they can plough in a day.[12]

[1] A. Watson : Agricultural Innovation, op cit, pp 2-3.

[2] T.F. Glick: Islamic and Christian Spain; op cit; p. 75.

[3] L. Bolens: Agriculture , in Encyclopaedia (Selin ed), op cit,  pp. 20-2; at p. 22.

[4] T. Glick: Islamic, op cit, p. 75.

[5] Derived from A.M. Watson : Agricultural, op cit, chapter 23.

[6]T.F. Glick: Islamic and Christian Spain.  p. 78.

[7] L. Bolens:  Agriculture : in  Encyclopaedia (Selin ed); op cit;  p. 22:

[8] Ibid.

[9] H. Bresc: Les Jardins de Palerme; in Politique et Societe; op cit; p. 81.

[10] R. B. Serjeant: Agriculture  and Horticulture; op cit; p. 536.

[11] R.J. Forbes: Studies, op cit, p. 49.

[12] R. B. Serjeant: Agriculture  and Horticulture; op cit; p. 535.