The cultivation of the Hunza is that of irrigated, staircase terraces in mountain valleys, and it is probable that it is not only the greatest but it is also the oldest form of agriculture. That is not proven, but it is a growing conviction which Professor Haldane voices in The Inequality of Man (1932) that "agriculture started in the mountains, and only later spread to the river valleys."
The importance of the method of culture of food is primary, radical, and fundamental in the matter of health. It exceeds all other aspects of nutrition -- if, that is, one separates any aspect of what is a whole. I make no apology, therefore, for asking my readers to leave the Himalaya for a time and transfer themselves to the next mightiest range of mountains, the Andes of Peru. It was in their valleys that the irrigated, staircase farming reached its highest known development.
Twenty years ago the National Geographic Society of the United States sent an expedition to Peru to study the relics of agricultural methods of its ancient people. Mr. O. F. Cook, of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the U.S.A. Department of Agriculture, was attached as botanist, and he published a report entitled "Staircase Farms of the Ancients" in the Society's magazine of May, 1916.
"Agriculture is not a lost art," are his opening words, "but must be reckoned as one of those which reached a remarkable development in the remote past and afterward declined. The system of the ancient Peruvians enabled them to support large populations in places where modern farmers would be helpless."
The system reached its culmination centuries before Columbus discovered America, and before the Incas ruled in Peru. The people who created it have left no written records and bear no historic name. They are, therefore, called after the most striking feature of their work, the megalithic people, because they built the walls of their terraced fields and aqueducts of great stones. These they made to fit, the one with the other, with such accuracy that even to this day they are like those of the Egyptian pyramids, a knife blade cannot be inserted between them.
The megalithic people were great builders with stone. So, following the same traditions, were the Incas. But the work under the Incas was not such a careful fitting, and frequently the interspaces were filled in with clay.
The method of their making of a stairway of terraced fields need not be described. It is much the same as that followed in other mountainous parts, such as, for one, the present Gilgit Agency. The result is a small flat field. Photographed in cross-section, the fields show so many feet of coarse stones and clay below and so many of soil above. The soil was originally imported from beyond the great mountains, for the steep mountain slopes and valleys did not provide it in sufficient quantity. It was refreshed by the silt which the irrigating water brought from the mountains. The soil is still in its place to this day, and to this day each terrace shows the same inside structure whenever walls are removed.
The fields rise up the slopes of the mountains, tier upon tier, for sometimes over fifty tiers. Some of the walls of the megalithic people are so enormous and well fitted and so formidable in their show of power, that most western travellers have believed them to be fortresses and described them as such, which "only shows how far our own race is from appreciating the devotion of the ancient people to their agricultural pursuits."
Similar fields were built in the valleys themselves. Valley rivers were straightened in their courses and their destructive overflows controlled.
Such were the megalithic achievements in reclamation, besides which, says Cook, in italics, "our undertakings sink into insignificance on the face of what this vanished race accomplished. The narrow floors and steep walls of rocky valleys that would appear utterly worthless and hopeless to our engineers were transformed, literally made over, into fertile lands, and were the homes of teeming populations in the prehistoric days." Even to this day thousands of these acres are still fertile and the main support of the native population, who accept them as a matter of course and make no enquiry as to their origin.
The staircase fields were irrigated. The aqueducts were often of great length. Prescott states that "one that traversed the district of Condesuyu measured between four and five hundred miles." Cook publishes a photograph of an aqueduct as a thin dark line traversing a steep mountain wall many hundreds of feet above the valley. It gives one an overwhelming impression of these colossal works, a sudden sense of the stupendousness which is theirs. They were national works, solely for the good of the people. Beside them, as Cook says, the far-famed hanging gardens of Babylon -- a pyramid with broad steps of troughs holding soil -- was a toy; built, perhaps, to please Nebuchadnezzar's Median queen as a reminder of the terraced culture of her home.
Such works must, one thinks, have supported an agriculture no less wonderful than themselves. This was the case. These Peruvian staircase gardens were a centre, and probably the most important centre, where the agriculture of indigenous American civilizations was created. In them were domesticated and from them were dispersed over the rest of the Americas many vegetable foods.
"The following partial list of the Peruvian crop plants," writes Mr. Cook, "may give an idea of the extent and variety of domestications that were accomplished in Peru: Achupalla (pineapple), anu (Tropacolum), apichu (sweet potato), apincoya (Grandilla), arracacacha (Arracacia), chirimaya, chui (bean), coca (Erythroxylum), cumara (sweet potato), inchis (peanut), oca (oxalic), pallar (Lima bean), papa (potato), papaya poro (bottle gourd), purutu (frejol), quinoa (Chenopodium), rocoto (Capsicum), rumu (Manihot), sauwinto (guava), sara (maize), tintin (Tacsonia), ullucu (Ullucus), uncucha (Xanthosna), utar (cotton).
"A complete list of the plants that were cultivated by the ancient Peruvians has yet to be made, but it will probably include between seventy and eighty species. A large part are root crops, vegetables and fruits, but some are seed crops, pot herbs, condiments, medicinal plants, dyes, and ornamentals. Annual plants predominate in numbers and importance, but perennials, shrubs and trees are also well represented."
Returning to the Gilgit Agency, one would expect similarities between the conditions of the Andes and north-western Himalaya, both ranges of exceeding loftiness, well sunned and without excessive rainfall. One would expect these similarities to produce from intelligent peoples a similarity of agriculture.
The agriculture of the valleys of the Gilgit Agency are cultivated by means of terraced fields and irrigation, as were the valleys of ancient Peru.
Further, the area of the Gilgit Agency and its neighbour, the mountainous parts of Afghanistan, once formed an agricultural centre in the same way as Peru. The resemblance of the two greatest mountain areas is very close indeed.
Hunza, which is the best product of the Gilgit Agency, itself is but a microcosm of the Peruvian Empire. In both the people were eager for land, they were in the modern phrase starved for land. Upon their own great efforts depended their continuance as a people in the mountain valleys. So both became distinguished at their best by the arduous perfection of their toil.
It is a most happy fortune that one of the visitors of Hunza was a man who combined artistic sense, historical knowledge, love of mountains, and a sensitive observation in a degree which would be rare in each several faculty. The late Lord Conway explored and climbed both in the Andes and the Western Himalaya.
He was the first to place the redoubtable Hunza in their rightful historic place. "The terraced fields," he wrote, in The Bolivian Andes (1901) -- Bolivia was a part of Ancient Peru -- "reaching aloft, awake vivid reminiscences of the mountain scenery of the north-west frontier of India -- as, for instance, in Hunza, where the native population are living in a stage of civilization that must bear no little likeness to that of the Peruvians under Inca government."
In Climbing and Exploration in the Karakorum Himalaya (1894), seven years before his visit to the Andes, Conway gave a picture of Hunza which he came to recognize as a microcosm of Ancient Peru. He was on his way to Baltit, the capital of Hunza.
"The path that leads up to Baltit is bordered on either side by a wall of dry cyclopean masonry, the undressed component parts of which are very large and excellently fitted together. Where the slope steepens these walls are placed further apart, and short zigzags are built up between them -- a monumental piece of simple engineering. We walked slowly, for there was much to look at, the cultivation being everywhere admirable and each step disclosing some new detail of beauty or interest. The whole of this side of the debris-filled floor of the valley between the cliffs and edge of the river's gorge is covered with terraced fields. They are terraced because they must be flat in order that the irrigating water may lie on them. The downward edge of each terrace must be supported by a strong stone wall, and every one of these is of cyclopean work, like those just described. The cultivated area of the oasis is some five square miles in extent. When it is remembered that the individual fields average as many as twenty to the acre, it will be seen what a stupendous mass of work was involved in the building of these walls and the collection of earth to fill them. The walls have every appearance of great antiquity, and alone suffice to prove the long existence in this remote valley of an organized and industrious community ...
"To build these fields was the smaller part of the difficulties that husbandmen had to face in Hunza. The fields also had to be irrigated. For this purpose there was but one perennial supply of water -- the torrent from the Ultar glacier. The snout of that glacier, as has been stated, lies deep in a rockbound gorge, whose sides are for a space perpendicular cliffs. The torrent had to be tapped, and a canal of sufficient volume to irrigate so large an area had to be carried across the face of one of these precipices. The Alps contain no Wasserleitung which for volume and boldness of position can be compared to the Hunza canal. It is a wonderful work for such toolless people as the Hunzakats to have accomplished, and it must have been done many centuries ago and maintained ever since, for it is the life-blood of the valley."
The Peruvians were also comparatively toolless. "That they should have accomplished these difficult works with such tools as they possessed is truly wonderful," are Prescott's words.
Conway continues with a brief account of the social system of the Hunza, which was at his time a miniature of that of the Incas of Peru. He calls it semi-civilized. I do not think that is a permissible term. It is a fully developed form of association of men for their own benefit, supported by tradition and an accepted form of authority for its execution and adaptation to any unusual conditions that occur. It is, in a word, a definite form of agricultural civilization.
"Still more difficult for a semi-civilized people," are Conway's words, "must have been the elaboration and enforcement of the laws regulating the distribution of the water over the land. They were a necessity of the situation, and the existence of the fields proves that such laws were evolved and maintained ... A strong central power, wielded, of course, by a single hand, was the inevitable result."
We are now able to see with greater clarity and wider observation that the remarkable physique of this people is not causeless nor accidental, nor a happy chance of nature, nor due to fresh mountain air, but that it has a long, long history to support it. It has been famous in its part of the world for its efficiency in the arts of agriculture in the past, it is famous to this day. Its biggest aqueduct, the Berber, is, says Schomberg, "famous everywhere in Asia ... the mere existence of these kuls (aqueducts) places the men of Hunza as a class apart." They are exceptional agriculturists now, as they must have been in the past, and by that character they have preserved century after century a quality of agriculture which has rendered to them through food its return gift of perfect physique and health. But this they have only maintained through a constant and meticulous devotion to its service.
The agriculture of the north-west frontier of India has been shown to go back into the remotest recesses of human time. What is to be written now cannot be pinned locally to Hunza. Hunza forms a part of the area which it describes. But it is not unfair to think that Hunza, as much as any other part, and possibly more, is a direct descendant from this remote past. All the evidence we have so far produced makes this a reasonable inference.
The evidence is again strikingly like that which Cook produced from Ancient Peru. It is to be found in a report upon Agricultural Afghanistan, by Professor N. I. Vavilov and D. D. Bukunich, based on the data and materials of the expedition they undertook for the Institute of Applied Botany. The report was published in Leningrad in 1929. It is in Russian, but there is an English summary of seventy-five pages. An English review of Vavilov's work may also be found in Professor Haldane's essay, Prehistory in the Light of Genetics. I have followed the English summary published at Leningrad.
Two out of four of the objects of this expedition was (1) to study the different crops and varieties over the slopes of the Hindu-Kush; (2) to study the technique and especially the irrigation of agriculture.
The authors visit "the most typical sedentary farming for Afghanistan in the narrow high mountain valleys," and note to their surprise: "Nevertheless, this isolated, poor mountain country holds striking riches of varieties, displays an astonishing diversity of the most important crop plants of the Old World.''
They give an exhaustive account of the various plants which they found in this area, the many forms of wheat and other cereals, the striking diversity of forms of the beans, peas, and lentils; many forms of salad plants with transitional stages from the weeds to cultivated plants; "multifarious original forms of carrots, turnips and radishes astoundingly rich in varieties"; spinach and other green-leafed vegetables from wildness to cultivation, and finally, "analogical facts revealed by the study of fruit crops: the pomegranate, walnut, apricot, elaeagnus, zizyphus, show features of the primary form originating process."
They thus summarize their conclusions (with their own italics). "The study of the separate crops discussed in the preceding chapters leads us to general geographical conclusions which are in direct connection with the history of agriculture and with the problem of the origin of cultivated plants.
"As the investigation of the varietal diversity of cultivated plants has shown, Afghanistan with the adjacent countries, especially north-western India, is one of the most important primary world agricultural centres, where the diversity of a whole series of plants have originated. This is quite objectively proved by the varietal diversity of a series of crop plants and by the coincidence of the area of the varietal diversity of many of the most important European crops."
Thus, as regards the diversity of the important bread-crops, the club and soft wheats, "Afghanistan occupies the first place among all countries of our planet," though "a detailed study of the adjacent north-western India might shift the focus of the origin of forms" (for) "in regard to climate, relief, and crops, the north-western corner of India, immediately bordering on Afghanistan, forms one undivided whole with the latter. The remaining part of the country sharply differs from Afghanistan in climate and soil."
In his studies of the origin of cultivated plants Professor Vavilov found five principal world centres, one of them in south-western Asia. His and his colleagues' detailed investigation of Afghanistan, especially the corner abutting on the Gilgit Agency, has led to a more precise location of the separate crops. "The comparative study of the cultivated plants of Punjab, Kashmir, and the whole of India, have shown that the corner between the Hindu-Kush and the Himalaya must be singled out from the whole of south-western Asia.
"If we turn to the orography and climatological maps of India we shall see that its north-western corner is closely connected with eastern Afghanistan. From the southern territory of India it is separated by the desert Tar; in the north it borders on the Himalaya. Here, in the upper course of the Indus, in Punjab, is concentrated a great diversity of conditions, ranging from the limits of agriculture to sub-tropical conditions; here we find an abundance of water, promoting the development of irrigated cultivation."
The explanation of the exceptional concentration of the primary sources of so many crops of European-Asiatic cultivated vegetation in the largest geological fold of the world is very difficult, say the authors.
The modern Afghans, like the modern Peruvians, simply accept what is left of these ancient gifts, and make no attempt to improve or understand them. On the other hand, unlike Peru, Afghanistan offers no archaeological records that throw any light upon this apparently astonishing enigma.
Nevertheless, fortunately, from out of the remote past there loom up some suggestions of a great agricultural race like to the prehistoric Peruvians. "In the last years, in this region (Punjab) connected with Afghanistan, archaeological records have been found. These records, synchronical to Mesopotamic culture, remove the beginnings of culture to a much earlier epoch than depicted up to now by history and archaeology.
"Henceforward this region, with its diversity of conditions, its concentration of the genes of cultivated plants, its multifarious population, must draw the attention of the investigator. This region evidently holds the keys to many problems of human culture ... The concrete solution of this problem will require huge collective work," but, alas, in the contrariness of the modern nations, he sees little hope of this being made possible in the near present.
In this fold between the Hindu-Kush and the Himalaya lies Hunza. It is, strangely enough, the very bull's-eye of this area. "The Wakhjir pass," writes the Encyclopedia Britannica, under the heading "Hindu-Kush," "crossing the head of the Taghdumbash Pamir into the sources of the river Hunza, almost marks the trijunction of the three great chains of mountains," the Hindu-Kush, Pamir and Karakoram Himalaya.
Once again one feels the profundity that attaches to the physique of the Hunza people. It is not accident. It is not that of the jungle. It is that of an art, the agricultural art, comparable to the tireless climb by which the Greek architecture finally reached its supreme beauty.
It is in the study of such people that the clue to health is to be found. The final riddle of food and physique lies, not in the laboratories, but in the fields and in such combined research as Professor Vavilov urges.
The final question in the Hunza food thus becomes: Is the circle of health complete? Are the Hunza crops and vegetation as healthy and of as perfect a physique as the Hunza themselves?
The health of their domesticated animals is coupled with theirs. It must also be dependent on the health of the plant growths.
If one takes a modern text-book of plant diseases, such as the well-known Manual of Plant Diseases (1935) of Professor Heald of the State College of Washington, one is as appalled by their number as one is by the list of human illnesses in a text-book of medicine. The one is the counterpart of the other.
Heald's list begins with deficiency diseases, nitrogen deficiency, potash and calcium deficiency in tobacco, iron deficiency, magnesium hunger of soya beans, matting of leaves of cereals, gray-speck of oats, yellow berry of wheat, phosphorus deficiency of root crops, potash hunger of potatoes, and so on.
It then passes on to excess diseases. The first of these is nitrogen excess. "Under natural conditions it is rarely present in sufficient quantity to cause injury to our crops, but the amount may be increased to the danger-point by certain farm-cropping practices or by the addition of excessive quantities of nitrogen-containing fertilisers." Then there is the pallor or chlorosis of various plants due to excess of chalk. "Some of these are pear, apple, quince, peach, apricot, prune, plum, cherry, walnut, orange and lemon." There is acidosis and alkalosis -- too much acidity, too much alkali. The causes of acidity of the soil are the addition of certain manures, the continued use of acid mineral fertilisers, the interaction of natural residual components of the soil, the removal of lime by plant growth and by leaching through heavy rainfall. Alkali in too great a concentration occurs principally in semi-arid lands. The deeper salts may be brought to the surface by irrigation with the rise of capillary water.
There follow a number of diseases due to some defect in the supply of water, of oxygen to the roots of plants, as in saturated soils, excessive heat or cold, lack of light, the neighbourhood of industrial processes, and diseases due to spraying with chemicals, fumigation, and other forms of over-treatment.
The third great group are the virus diseases. They are infectious diseases due to ultra-microscopic viruses, in the same way as certain human diseases are due to invisible but filtrable viruses.
There follows the great group of parasitic diseases due to microbes, molds, mildews, chytrids, fungi, and finally nematode worms.
How did all these diseases come into being? Were they present or as prevalent in the old agricultural civilizations to which Hunza belongs as they are in our modern civilization? Or are they, too, due to faulty feeding of the plants?
I take it that what has happened to man has happened no less to his domesticated plants. Science has effected a marvellous progress in variety and fragmentation, but at the same time it has torn plants from their traditional conditions upon which their health depends. Plants have been transferred from one locality to another, from one country to another, but the factors of their stable health have not been transferred. Sometimes they have luxuriated in the new wealth of a virgin soil, and then, having wasted its substance, have deteriorated. Sometimes they have met with conditions closely resembling their accustomed ones and have done well. Sometimes all seemed well and then an expected defect showed itself in disease. Sometimes the new conditions brought into being illnesses which were excessively severe. Throughout all their new experiences they have been accompanied by a growing army of plant physicians to enable them to combat the diseases in their severality. There is no doubt, I think, that modern man has made plant life in his own image.
I have been unable to find any history of plant diseases, or study of fossils from this point of view, which could answer such a question, for instance, as: Was the vegetable life of Ancient Peru free from the diseases now current?
In human being one can find some comparison of diseases in the past and now by the examinations, for instance, of the 30,000 bodies of Ancient Egyptians and Nubians which the late Professor Elliot-Smith epitomises in Egyptian Mummies (1924). The diseases which would be detected by these belated post-mortems are not numerous, but such as could be detected were found to be very rare, with the one exception of rheumatoid arthritis. Amongst the 30,000 there were three cases of stone in the kidney, one of gallstone, no true case of rickets, syphilis or cancer. There were ten cases of tuberculosis of the bones. Except in the luxury class, there was no caries of the teeth. In the later luxury class caries was as common as it now is in Europe.
But I know of no such study or possible study of plant diseases in the past and now. Nor do I know of any study of plants as they are in a locality where they have long been cultured under like conditions and of the same plants subjected to conditions that are unfamiliar, in which, therefore, their instincts have been outstripped.
Plant life is by its nature less mobile than man's. Movement is only by winged or carried seed, and is limited. Therefore one would expect the making of plant-life in man's image would have a far more serious effect on plants than on man. Indeed, I sometimes marvel that plants have survived some of the great disturbances to which they have been subjected. It argues much for the scientific skill of man that he should have been able to bring about so many changes at all. But, nevertheless, nature hits back, and she hits back with disease.
From these changes, except for the introduction of the potato in about 1892, the plant-life of Hunza has been exempt.
The unchanged conditions include one of supreme importance, that of food for the plant. This has continued century after century with the utmost constancy.
The chief factors of plant-food have been two.
Firstly, there is the continuous slight renewal of the soil by a sprinkling of the black glacier-ground sand, which is brought to the fields by the aqueducts.
Secondly, there is the direct preparation by man of food for the plants, given in the form of manure.
The Hunza, in their manuring, use everything that they can return to the soil. They carefully collect the cattle manure and store it in the byres. They collect all vegetable parts and pieces that will not serve as food to either man or beast, including such fallen leaves as the cattle will not eat, and mix them with the dung and urine in the byres. They use the human sewage after keeping it for six months. They take silt from special recesses built in their irrigating channels. They collect the ashes of their fires. All these they mix together and make into a compost. They also spread alkaline earth from the hills on their vegetable fields on days when the fields are watered.
The act of manuring is so important in its bearing upon agriculture that the subject needs elaboration. As its classical representatives are the Chinese, it will be their method we will now study. It is to be noted that the Hunza claim to have received culture from Baltistan, the inhabitants of which are Tibetans.
The Chinese have pursued their method of manuring for a period of time which makes modern progress appear an infant, a period which permits the late Professor F. H. King to call his classic of description and understanding by the really stupendous title of Farmers of Forty Centuries.
The principle of the method is that of the forest and prairie. It is that everything that comes from the soil, whether it passes through animals or not, is returned to the soil. Nothing is lost, all is preserved. Nothing foreign is intruded, but day by day, year by year, century by century, there is the local transference of death to life again. At one time each piece of matter is dead, but its death is but the awaiting of the time when it will be restored to the living by way of plant food.
The Chinese manure or compost is made of everything that can be collected which once got its life from the soil, directly or indirectly. They are mixed together until they form a black friable substance which is readily spread upon the fields. King describes a number of different processes he saw in different parts of China. One he describes as being carried out in compost pits at the edge of a canal, a process entailing "tremendous labour of body and amount of forethought." Four months before his visit men had brought waste from the stables of Shanghai, a distance of fifteen miles by water. This they had deposited upon the canal bank between layers of thin mud dipped from the canal, corresponding to silt collected in and taken from the recesses in the Hunza aqueducts, and left to ferment. The eight men at King's visit had nearly filled the compost pit with this stable refuse and canal silt. The pit was in a field in which clover, with its peculiar power of taking nitrogen from the air, was in blossom. This was to be cut and piled to a height of five to eight feet upon the compost in the pit, and also saturated layer by layer with canal mud. It would then be allowed to ferment twenty to thirty days until the juices set free had been absorbed by the winter compost beneath and until the time that the adjacent land had been made ready for the coming crop. The compost would then be distributed by the men over the field.
At another time he saw a compost pit within a village in which had been placed all the manure and waste of the households and streets, all stubble and waste roughage of the fields, all ashes not to be applied directly, mixed up with some soil. Sufficient water was added to keep the contents of the pit saturated and to promote their fermentation. All fibres of organic material have to be broken down, which may require working and re-working, with frequent additions of water and stirring for aeration. Finally the mixture becomes a rich complete fertilizer. It is then allowed to dry and is finely pulverised before it is spread upon the land.
Every foot of land, says King, is made to provide food, fuel or fabric. "The wastes of the body, of fuel and fabric, are taken back to the field; before doing so they are housed against waste from weather, intelligently compounded and patiently worked at through one, three or even six months, in order to bring them into the most efficient form to serve as manure for the soil or as feed for the crop."
There is no human waste. "While the ultra-civilized Western elaborates destructors for burning garbage at a financial loss and turns sewage into the sea, the Chinese uses both for manure," reported Dr. Arthur Stanley, Health Officer of Shanghai in 1899, and quoted by King. "He wastes nothing while the sacred duty of agriculture is uppermost in his mind. And in reality recent bacterial work has shown that faecal matter and house refuse" (prepared as it usually is in China in hard-burned glazed terra-cotta urns and in Japan in sheltered cement-lined pits) "are best destroyed by returning them to clean soil, where natural purification takes place. The question of destroying garbage can, I think, under present conditions in Shanghai, be answered in a decided negative. While, to adopt the water-carriage system for sewage and turn it into the river would be an act of sanitary suicide."
The loss caused by the Western systems causes King to utter a powerful anathema against those who wilfully throw away that which is but a part of the cycle of life and death and death and life again. "Man," he cries, "is the most extravagant accelerator of waste the world has ever endured. His withering blight has fallen upon every living thing within his reach, himself not excepted; and his besom of destruction in the uncontrolled hands of a generation has swept into the sea soil-fertility which only centuries of life could accumulate -- fertility which is the substratum of all that is living."
That which is of the soil is best returned to the soil by spreading it as evenly as possible. This was done by the ancient Peruvians, is done by the Hunza, is done by the Chinese and Japanese. All these have great engineering works of irrigation and canalization. The Chinese spread "the enormous volumes of silt" of their rivers and canals over the land directly as well as a part of their compost. Their huge rivers, as great almost as the Mississippi, sometimes overwhelm them with flood and destruction, but this checks, it never stops, their tireless efforts. Silt and compost must be evenly spread, and so these people take infinite pains to make their land into a series of flat surfaces, "the careful and extensive fitting of fields so largely practiced, which both lessens soil erosion and permits a large amount of soluble and suspended matter in the run off to be applied to the fields ... If the total area of fields graded practically to a water level in Japan aggregates 11,000 square miles, the total area thus surface-fitted in China must be eight to tenfold this amount. Such enormous field erosion as is tolerated at the present time in our southern and south Atlantic States is permitted nowhere in the Far East, so far as we have observed; not even where the topography is much steeper" (King).
No, nor in Peru nor Hunza, where the topography is of the steepest.
In China, Japan, ancient Peru, Dutch Java, Hunza and other countries, agriculture is a gardening, a care of the soil, a repayment of the soil, carried on by many men and women with never-ending industry.
It is a gardening in which everything that has once had life, even ash and rag, offal and refuse, is brought back to life by the resurrecting power of the soil. The Chinese and Japanese, in following this great principle, prepare and use human excreta, thereby preventing a loss of phosphates alone which King calculates "could not be replaced by 1,295,000 tons of rock phosphate, 75 per cent pure." "The men of Hunza, the most careful and painstaking husbandmen of Asia" (Schomberg) follow the Chinese custom. They have flat fields. They spread out the compost evenly like butter upon bread. They follow, in a word, the garden culture of the immemorial East, and, according to that which Vavilov has found and may yet find, it may perhaps be that it was in their country of the lofty hills that in the distant past this form of compost-culture first came into being in Asia.
It is possible also that in this form of culture there is an excellence of vegetable health which can be obtained by no other means -- in Hunza, for example, there is that excellence, and plant disease is insignificant. It is possible that by full repayment to the soil we alone get a full return. It is known that our agriculture is rather a loan from the soil, for we never repay it in full. We have worked our agriculture on the capital of the soil, and in virgin land we have raided the soil. When the soil sickens we restore it or strive to restore it by scientific doctoring; we return to it in the way of tonics the nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, of which we have robbed it. Thus disease is patched and mended, but not abolished. The impoverishment of the soil remains our chief ill.
For progress, therefore, we now have to look backwards. We have raced forward at too great a speed. We now have to recoil. We have to look back to a period and type of agriculture in which vegetable and animal life were mutually healthy. We have to believe even in the golden age, in which gold did not mean coin in the pocket or blocks in a bank, but an age when the golden sunlight seemed to enter into man through plant and fruit, and bestow the warm gift of health, such an age as the elder Pliny thought upon when he said that for six centuries the men of Rome had needed no physicians.
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