This year has been officially dubbed the International Year of Soils by the United Nations and along with this broad designation, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) have designated a different theme for each month. For instance, January was “Soils Sustain Life,” and February was “Soils Support Urban Life.” The designation for the month of March is perhaps one of the most important to much of our NACD membership in that it marks the celebration of “Soils Support Agriculture.”
This one’s a no-brainer: without soil there would be no agriculture. But not only would there be no agriculture, there would be no civilization as we know it.
The introduction of agriculture brought on a new way of life for our nomadic ancestors once reliant on foraging and hunting for sustenance. This lifestyle was a constant search to find food and left little possibility for people to settle down in one place or have large social organizations. Agriculture changed all that.
With the advent of agriculture came the birth of many nations. Historians place the birth of agriculture between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. This period is commonly referred to as the Neolithic Revolution or the Agricultural Revolution. It is still hotly contested as to exactly how and why nomadic lifestyles gave way to settlements and growing one’s own food supply since agriculture emerged nearly simultaneously in different parts of the world experiencing very different circumstances/environments. The predominant theory still takes its basis from climatic changes and the end of the last Ice Age. Although its origin remains unclear, it is unmistakable how integral the shift to agriculture has been in our development as the human race.
The development of agriculture allowed small groups of wandering hunters and gatherers to settle down in one location and eventually grow these communities into civilizations with large-scale social, labor, and governmental organization. The first form of large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-dropping, organized irrigation and a specialized labor force is largely believed to have occurred around 5,500 B.C.E and was practiced by the Summerians. Sumer was nestled in Mesopotamia and was part of the Fertile Crescent—the so-called “Cradle of Civilization” and widely attributed birthplace of agriculture.
The key to the success of the earliest civilizations in and around the Fertile Crescent was their easy access to water supplies and moist marshland, rich, fertile soils, and the diversity of area flora and fauna. As a “bridge” between Africa and Eurasia, the Fertile Crescent was able to retain a richer biodiversity than either areas which suffered more severe conditions under the last Ice Age. The Fertile Crescent was home to the eight foundational crops, the Neolithic Founder Crops (wild progenitors to emmer wheat, einkorn, barley, flax, chick pea, pea lentil, and bitter vetch), as well as four out of the five most important species of domesticated animals (cows, goats, sheep, and pigs).
These foundational and life-promoting qualities are what made the Fertile Crescent so formative in the transition to agriculture and the crucial ingredient to this was the quality of the soil.
Soil is foundational for crops and plants, but as we have seen, it is the key to so much more.
Check out NACD’s Soil Health page for more great information on the benefits of healthy soil.