On the Muslim role in agricultural development, Cherbonneau holds:

`it is admitted with difficulty that a nation in majority of nomads could have had known any form of agricultural techniques other than sowing wheat and barley. The misconceptions come from the rarity of works on the subject… If we took the bother to open up and consult the old manuscripts, so many views will be changed, so many prejudices will be destroyed.’[1]

So many prejudices, which can be easily found with many authors such as Ashtor who says:

`The numerous accounts of these activities do not point to technological innovations within the irrigation system, which the Muslim rulers had simply taken over from their predecessors. The records in the writings of the Arabic historians show that those who drained the swamps and dug the canals were the Nabateans, not Arabs .’ [2]

 `The information which the Arabic authors provide us in the methods of agricultural work, besides the irrigation canals and engines, is rather scanty. But collecting these records from various sources one is inclined to conclude that the Arabs  did not improve the methods of agricultural work. There is only slight evidence of technological innovations in near eastern agriculture throughout the Middle Ages, whereas the history of European agriculture is the story of great changes and technological achievements.’[3] 


  This picture of inept Muslim farmers, shared by the overwhelming majority of historians is contradicted by historical evidence. In fact, an Islamic agricultural revolution preceded its European counterpart by at least six centuries, Muslims pioneering in many areas that were later on to be identified with the European agricultural revolution.[4]It was also from Islam that many such pioneering elements were to transfer to Western Christendom  as will be amply shown in this section.


 Before looking at such impacts, it is worth making a brief outline of Islamic early accomplishments in farming. Artz tells us that the great Islamic cities of the Near East, North Africa, and Spain were all supported by an elaborate agricultural system that included extensive irrigation and an expert knowledge of agricultural methods, which were the most advanced in the world.[5] The Muslims knew how to fight insect pests, how to use fertilizers, and they were experts at grafting trees and crossing plants to produce new varieties, and by these means areas that have since become lands of low agricultural production were able, in early Islam to support huge populations.[6] Cereal yields in Egypt  according to Von Sivers were around 10 for 1, yields, which will only be obtained in Europe at the end of the 17th century.[7] In Muslim Spain, such was the quality of product some wheat could keep for a century in adequate storage conditions.[8] In Sicily , agriculture remained in Muslim hands  under Norman rule, and was, according to Scott `carried to the highest perfection.’[9] There, every plant or tree, whose culture was known to be profitable and which could adapt itself was to be found in the gardens and plantations; records were kept of the crops produced in each district; the methods of their disposition and the prices they brought were noted on the public registers; the breeds of horses, asses, and cattle were improved; and the greatest care was taken of them; and food, which after experiment was found to be the most nutritious, was adopted.[10] Bolens, thus, concludes that Islamic farming represented: `a culmination of a unique balance derived from a deep love for nature… a relaxed way of life, ecological balance, and the acquisition of knowledge of many `civilized traditions.'[11] 


  Gardens  and gardening, for pleasure, experimentation, or as subsidiary economic outlet, used to form an integral part of Islamic life. In Algiers, a visitor once counted 20,000 gardens, and all around the city grew all sorts of fruit trees; great varieties of flowers, and all sorts of plants; fountains abounded, and in these gardens, on the lush greenery, families used to come and find enjoyment and solace.[12] In Spain, writers speak endlessly of the gardens and lieux de plaisance of Seville , Cordova and Valencia , the last of which was called by one of them ``the scent bottle of al-Andalus.’[13] Market gardens, olive groves, and fruit orchards made some areas of Spain—notably around Cordova, Granada, and Valencia—"garden spots of the world." The Island of Majorca, won by the Muslims in the 8th century, became under their husbandry `a paradise of fruits and flowers, dominated by the date palm that later gave its name to the capital.’[14]


   The picture that emerges, according to Watson , is that of `a large unified region which for three or four centuries, and in places still longer, was unusually receptive to all that was new,’[15] and also was `unusually able to diffuse novelties;’ and more crucially: `both to effect the initial transfer which introduced an element into a region and to carry out the secondary diffusion which changed rarities into commonplaces.’[16]To accomplish this, attitudes, social structures, institutions, the economy, infrastructure, science all played their part; and not only in farming, but also in other spheres of the economy, and outside the economy; all `touched by this capacity to absorb and to transmit.’[17]


  How Islamic civilisation  diffused all such green science to the Christian West is what focus is on here

[1] A. Cherbonneau: Kitab al-Filaha of Abu Khayr al-Ichbili, in Bulletin d’Etudes Arabes, pp 130-44; at p. 130.

[2] E. Ashtor: A Social; op cit; p. 46.

[3] Ibid. p. 49.

[4]For accounts on the Muslim agricultural revolution, see for instance:

-A.M. Watson : Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World; Cambridge University Press; 1983.

-A.M. Watson : `The Arab Agricultural revolution and its diffusion,' The Journal of Economic History 34 (1974): pp. 8-35.

-T. Fahd: Botany  and Agriculture , in the Encyclopaedia (Rashed ed) pp 813-52.

[5] F.B. Artz: The Mind;  op cit; pp. 149-50.

[6] Ibid.

[7] In P.Guichard: Mise en valeur du sol et production: De la `revolution agricole’aux difficultes du bas Moyen Age; In  Etats et Societes (J.C. Garcin et al edition); Vol 2; Presses Universitaires de France; p.2000; pp. 175-99; at  p. 184.

[8] E. Levi Provencal: Histoire de l'Espagne Musulmane; Vol III; Paris, Maisonneuve, 1953. p. 272.

[9] S.P. Scott: History; op cit;  vol 3; p. 42.

[10] Ibid.

[11] L. Bolens: `Agriculture ’ in Encyclopaedia (H Selin ed); op cit;  pp 20-2, p. 22.

[12] In G.Marcais: Les Jardins de l’Islam; in Melanges d’Histoire et d’Archeologie de l’Occident Musulman; 2 Vols; Alger; 1957; pp 233-44; p. 241.

[13] H. Peres: La Poesie Andaluse en Arabe Classique au Xiem siecle; Paris; 1953; pp. 115ff.

[14] W. Durant: The Age of faith; op cit; p. 298.

[15] A. Watson : Agricultural innovation, op cit, p.2

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.




Introduction and Diffusion of New Crops
In the words of Wickens, Spain received (apart from a legendary high culture), and what she in turn transmitted to most of Europe, were all manner of agricultural and fruit-growing processes, together with a vast number of new plants, fruit and vegetables that we all now take for granted.

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Conservation and scrupulous management of water in the civilisation of Islam is evident in scholarly theory, all of the Kitab al-Filahat (book of agriculture), whichever their geographical origin, insisting meticulously on the deployment of equipment and on the control of water. Serjeant also notes that a considerable part of Islamic legal books is devoted to water law-which has hardly been studied in Europe to any appreciable extent.The same Islamic attention and care for the resource is obvious on the ground, and it led to many Islamic breakthroughs in the field of irrigation as the following amply shows.

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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.

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Experimental Lands and Farming

Islam, Watson points out, freed the countryside from many arrangements which were `economically retrograde.’ Equally, Lowe observes that Muslim rule in Sicily was an improvement over that of Byzantium as the latifondi were divided among freed serfs, and small holders, and agriculture received the greatest impetus it had ever known. Thanks to a Muslim custom, uncultivated land became the property of whoever first broke it, thus encouraging cultivation at the expense of grazing.

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Farming/Husbandry Manuals
Back to the Yemeni contribution to observe how the famed Calendar of Cordova, which regulates farming activity throughout the year is once more based on Eastern origins, The Yemen having a calendar in use for agricultural and activities as reported by al-Hamdani, about 900.

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