The Arab Green Revolution

The introduction and acclimatization of new crops, a powerful component of the economic growth of al-Andalus, followed the same pattern of diffusion as the irrigation systems and techniques used to grow them. Of the plants brought by the Arabs to the peninsula (those whose Arabic names passed into the Spanish languages are noted in Table I), the seeds of many must have been brought by anonymous cultivators. Yet more formal methods of introduction are recorded. 'Abd al-Rahmán I, whose nostalgia for the Syrian landscape has been mentioned before, was personally responsible for the introduction of several species, including the date palm. A variety of pomegranate was introduced from Damascus by the chief judge of Córdoba, Mu'áwiya b. Sálih, who personally presented the plant to the Emir. From the palace at Córdoba a Jordanian soldier named Safar took a cutting and planted it on his estate in the Málaga region. This species, called safrí after the soldier, subsequently became widely diffused. Early in the ninth century the poet al-Ghazál of Jaén returned from a mission to the east with the doñegal fig, which became one of the four or five staple fig varieties in the country. The full description of the poet's modus operandi is symptomatic of the way cultural elements were diffused in that cosmopolitan world:

"The doñegal (dunaqál) fig was introduced by al-Ghazál when he went from Córdoba to Constantinople as an envoy. He saw that fig there and admired it. It was forbidden to take anything from Constantinople. [77] He took the green figs and put them with his books that he had wrapped up, after he had unfolded the strings and wrapped them again. When he made his departure, he was searched and no sign was found of it. When he arrived in Córdoba he removed the plant from the middle of the twine, planted it, and cared for it. When it bore fruit, he went with the fig to the lord of Córdoba and it amazed him. He told him about his ruse in procuring it. The lord thanked him for his deed and asked him about its name. Al-Ghazál replied: 'I do not know what its name is except that when the one who picks it gives some of it to someone he says "Dunahu qawli" which means "Oh my lord, look!" and so the Commander of the Faithful named it Dunaqal."'

Such details are all too infrequent in the literature, but represent what must have been a common pattern.(58)

Newly introduced plants were frequently acclimatized in royal gardens, first in that of the Umayyads in Córdoba and, in the eleventh century, in the royal gardens of Toledo (where the agronomists ibn Bassal and ibn Wafid were both employed) and Almería. Many of the new plants were either tropical or semi-tropical varieties that required irrigation, or were temperate species that could only be stabilized in a semi-arid environment by irrigation. Therefore the Andalusi agronomists paid particular [78] attention to the water requirements of each species. Ibn al-'Awwam was precise in stipulating the water needs of mountainous plants transplanted in the lowlands.(59)

Chief among the newly introduced irrigated crops were sugar cane, which in al-Andalus was watered every four to eight days, and rice, which had to be continually submerged. Cotton was cultivated at least from the end of the eleventh centurv and was irrigated, according to ibn Bassal, every two weeks from the time it sprouted until August 1. The Andalusis were self-sufficient in cotton and exported it, according to al-Himyari, to Ifriqiya and as far south as Sijlmasa.(60) Oranges and other citrus plants were also irrigated, as were many fruit trees and dry-farming crops which do not need to be watered but which produce greater yields if they are.

The introduction of new crops, combined with extension and intensification of irrigation, gave rise to a complex and varied agricultural system, whereby a greater variety of soil types were put to efficient use; where fields that had been yielding one crop yearly at most prior to the Islamic invasion were now capable of yielding three or more crops, in rotation; and where agricultural production responded to the demands of an increasingly sophisticated and cosmopolitan urban population by providing the towns with a variety of products unknown in northern Europe.

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