The Soil, man and the soil


Twenty-three titles have been published in this series, designed as handbooks for intermediate level agricultural education and training. They may be purchased as a set or as individual documents.

1. The way to work. The living plant

2. The plant – the root

3. The plant – the stem

4. The plant – the leaf

5. The plant – the flower

6. The soil – man and the soil

7. The soil – how the soil is made up

8. The soil – the living soil – working the soil

9. The soil – working the soil (continued)

10. The soil – conserving the soil – improving the soil

11. Animal husbandry – introduction

12. Animal husbandry – feeding animals

13. Animal husbandry – looking after animals – how cattle reproduce

14. Animal husbandry – what cattle produce

15. Keeping chickens

16. Food crops

17. Market gardening

18. The oil palm

19. Groundnuts

20. Upland rice

21. Wet paddy or swamp rice

22. Cocoa

23. Coffee

Better Farming Series    6

The Soil

— Man and the Soil

Published by arrangement with the Institut africain pour le développement économique et social


Rome 1970

© French edition, lnstitut africain pour

le développement économique et social (INADES) 1967

© English edition, FAO 1970


  1. Preface
  2. Outline Of Course
  3. Traditional farming
    1. Was traditional farming bad? No
    2. But the village lived oniy for itself
  4. Why change? We cannot live in the old way any more
    1. There are more people
    2. They have new needs
  5. The farmer must produce more and sell more
    1. How to produce more
  6. The farmer should make progress
    1. He organizes his work
    2. He changes certain habits
  7. Summary
  8. The soil. What is the soil?
  9. Soil can change, and be changed
    1. Even good soil can become bad
    2. Soil can be cared for and improved
  10. Suggested question paper


This manual is a translation and adaptation of “Le soll’homme et le sol,” published by the Agri-Service-Afrique of the Institut africain pour le développement économique et social (INADES), and forms part of a series of 23 booklets. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the publishers for making available this text, which it is hoped will find widespread use at the intermediate level of agricultural education and training in English-speaking countries.

It should be noted that the original texts were prepared for an African environment and this is naturally reflected in the English version. However, it is expected that many of the manuals of the series — a list of which will be found on the inside front cover — will also be of value for training in many other parts of the world. Adaptations can be made to the text where necessary owing to different climatic and ecological conditions.

Applications for permission to issue this manual in other languages are welcomed. Such applications should be addressed to: Director, Publications Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

The cover illustrations were prepared by Asun Balzola.


• Traditional farming

Was traditional farming bad? No

But the village lived oniy for itself

• Why change? We cannot live in the old way any more

There are more people

They have new needs

• The farmer must produce more and sell more

How to produce more

• The farmer should make progress

He organizes his work

He changes certain habits

• Summary

• The soil. What is the soil?

• Soil can change, and be changed

Even good soil can become bad

Soil can be cared for and improved

• Suggested question paper




Read pages 4 to 8.

• Look around you to see what has changed:

the number or inhabitants of the village;

the young people who are going away;

everything that is new.

• Nowadays we do not live as we used to.

• Look for examples of this.

• Above all, talk about all this to your friends and to the old people.



Reread pages 4 to 8.

Read pages 9 to 17.

• This course is very important.

• You must give it plenty of thought.

• Think about family and village habits and about local customs.

• See what is good and what should be changed.



Reread pages 4 to 17.

Read pages 18 to 23.

• Go and look carefully at the soils in your district.

• Question the old people about the old way of farming.

• Do they use continuous cultivation where you live?

• The work you do this week will be very useful to you for the rest of the course.



• To understand this course properly, you must: observe a lot, think a lot, talk a lot to the old people and to your friends.

• This is not work for the memory, but work for your powers of thought.

• All the main questions about development in Africa come up in this course.

• This work will seem easy to you, but its consequences are very important. The future of your country depends upon it.

• Answer the question paper.

• The farmer should think.

• He does not want to work like a machine.

• Before we study the soil, let us think about the farmer’s work.


1. At one time farming was not the kind of work that made money.

It was a way of life.

All the people in a village lived by the land.

2. For clothes people used animal skins and plant fibres.

They wove the local cotton.

3. Houses were built of wood, with straw for the roof and earth for the walls.

4. To eat, people went fishing or hunting: they had fish and meat. Sauces were made with fruits and seeds.

Millet, groundnuts, yams, cassava and maize were grown.

5. People farmed according to custom: they cleared the ground by fire and with the machete, and then they sowed, planted, removed weeds from around the plants, and harvested.

Singing and dancing were part of village life.


6. All the inhabitants of the village were fed, housed, clothed and looked after.

Nobody was forgotten.

Everyone had his place — children, the old people and the sick.

The family provided security.

7. The village was organized. The headmen were chosen according to custom and presided over the discussions. Everyone in the village knew what he had to do.

8. The old people knew their plants very well. They knew the plants to grow for food, the plants or fruits to gather when the harvest was bad, the plants to treat and cure sickness.

9. The old people also knew their land very well. They knew how to choose land for farming, how to work it, and when to let it rest.

There was a livelihood for everyone.

Life in the village was well organized.

Everyone had the little he needed.


10. In the village the inhabitants worked only for the village.

There was no money, so not much was sold and not much was bought.

Millet was given for milk, salt for beans, fish for maize, palm clusters for loin cloths.

There was only barter.

11. The people always lived in the village.

Only a few ever left the village.

Nobody went to work in the town.

Nobody received money from people in the town.

12. Very little went out of the village.

The village lived for itself.


Because the number of people grows.

Because they have new needs and new means.


13. Fewer children die.

At one time lots of babies died.

Now the mothers and young children are looked after at maternity hospitals and dispensaries.

14. Men and women live longer.

We know how to deal with serious illnesses.

There are medicines for smallpox, sleeping sickness, malaria, yaws, leprosy.

These illnesses can be cured.

15. The number of people has increased.

Therefore more food must be grown to feed more people.


16. In the village nowadays people have got used to having:

bicycles and motor scooters

new fabrics for clothing

concrete and sheet iron for houses

roads and paths for taxis and lorries

dispensaries and hospitals

schools for children

radios, cameras, new drinks and cinemas for amusement.

People need all these things. But the village doesn’t produce them. Money is needed to buy them.

17. Nowadays there are men and women who have new occupations.

There are nurses and doctors

factory workers and labourers

clerks and officials

teachers and professors

social workers

taxi drivers and tractor drivers.

The number of people in the cities grows. For example:

In 1950 Abidjan, Ivory Coast, had 70 000 inhabitants.

In 1965 it had 350 000 inhabitants.

In 1970 it had 600 000 inhabitants.

18. And a lot of things are bought in foreign countries, such as watches, radios, tractors, machines, motorcars, medicines, flour.

Money is needed to pay for what the village and the country do not produce.


19. The farmer must sell his products to feed more Inhabitants in the villages and in the towns — millet, rice, maize, yams, vegetables and fruits, cattle, pigs, chickens.

He must sell products for industry — cotton for oil and for clothing, palm nuts and kernels, sugarcane, cocoa and coffee, latex to make rubber, timber.

20. The village that produces a lot and sells a lot can buy a lot for houses, for food and clothes.

The country that produces a lot and sells a lot can buy a lot for consumption by its people, such as medicines, dispensaries, schools, roads, and for the equipment of the country such as office machines, factory tools, ports, ships, airplanes.


21. At one time, with traditional farming, soil and plants were always used in the same way.

Nowadays, with modern farming, we try to make better use of soil, plants and animals.

22. We improve the soil so that it will produce more. We clear the ground, remove tree stumps, plough, stop the rain from carrying away soil, sometimes water crops that are drying up, check fires.

23. We improve plants so that they produce more. There are varieties of plants which give better harvests. These new varieties should be used, so that rice, maize, millet, and groundnuts will yield more. And selected trees will yield better fruits.

24. We improve livestock.

We raise selected animals, we teach them to work, and we give them good food all through the year.

25. We improve work methods.

At one time farmers worked as their parents had always worked. They always used the same tools.

Now we have learned a lot and better tools are made. There has been a lot of progress.

The farmer should keep up with this progress. He should use new tools such as the plough, seeder, hoe, cart and even sometimes the tractor.

He should harness the donkey, horse and ox to help him work.

26. As an example, take cotton growing.

The farmer chooses soil that is good for cotton. He clears it, removes tree stumps and ploughs it. He buys good varieties of seed treated against insects.

He sows in rows, he pulls up the weeds and surplus cotton plants.

He treats the cotton plants to protect them from insects and once more pulls up weeds. When the cotton is ripe, he harvests and sells his crop.

27. The farmer works more, but he harvests much more and he earns much more.

The farmer has improved his way of farming. He has improved his farming practices.


The way of farming has changed; it has made progress. The farmer, too, should change. He too should make progress. To make progress he should:

•   Know more things,

•   Organize his work better,

•   Change certain habits.

28. Farming is a skilled occupation. A skilled occupation must be learned.

The teacher, the mechanic, the social worker learn in order to became skilled.

The farmer too must learn in order to become skilled.

29. The farmer must know the land, the climate (rain, wind and heat), plants, insects, fertilizers, pesticides, farming practices.

If he wants to succeed, he must not forget anything.

It is no use sowing good varieties of cotton if he does not apply any pesticides.

It is no use applying fertilizers if he does not pull up the weeds.

It is no use buying selected cattle if he does not feed them well.

30. The farmer must also learn to sell his products well.

A good farmer must also be a good businessman.


31. The farmer must make good use of his time.

Often certain jobs could be finished in a week by working six hours a day.

But for one reason or another, the farmer works only two hours on one day, not at all the next day and for three hours on the following day.

All this while necessary work is left undone. Even what had been done has to be done over again.

Instead of being ready at the end of a week, the field is sometimes not ready at the end of a fortnight.

If the farmer misses the right moment for sowing or planting, the plants will not grow well and the harvest will be bad.

Time is wasted. A farmer cultivates a field, but could have made three fields ready in the same time by organizing his work better.

32. Sometimes a lot of time is lost in going from home to the fields, because the fields are far from the villages.

There may be good reasons for that; for instance, to prevent animals from eating crops. It is better that animals should be penned or tethered and fields made near the village.

33. Farmers are always busy, but often they do not make a good choice of work.

You must learn to choose the work which earns the most money, the work which is the most profitable.

34. You must ask yourself which work is the most profitable.

For example, you can go fishing or to the oil palm plantation.

•   If you go fishing, all you get is your food.

•   If you go to the oil palm plantation, you will sell some clusters. And with the money for the clusters you will buy fish and a lot of other things.

By going to the plantation you earn more than by going fishing. Your work is more profitable.

35. The farmer must do the right work at the right time.

Sowing, applications of pesticides, ploughing, weeding must all be done at the right time.

For instance, in one country, 20 days’ delay in sowing maize reduces the harvest by half. In another, if groundnuts are not sown early enough, they cannot be lifted before 15 July — and this means it is too late to sow a rice crop.

36. Each month of the year must be used for work.

For instance, in savanna country, during the dry season, the farmer makes use of water from streams, rivers or even dams to grow his rice or vegetables. In forest country he can grow different crops on different fields. Like this he does not have to do all the work at the same time, and he makes use of all the months of the year.


37. Food habits

To work well, the farmer must be strong. To be strong, he must eat well.

He should eat before going out to work.

Every day you work at the same time.

Every day you should eat at the same time.

Food will give you strength only if it is varied.

Cassava fills the stomach, but it is not nourishing.

Eggs, milk, fish give more strength than cassava does.

They are more nourishing.

What do you eat in your village? Do you eat enough eggs, milk and meat? Is there anything you could plant or raise (chickens, for instance) so as to be better fed?

Good food means good work.

38. Sleep, rest, health

To work well, the worker must also have enough rest.

A man who does not sleep enough cannot work well. You have to go to bed early to be rested the following day.

You must look after your health.

Wine, beer, all kinds of alcohol are the enemies of the family and of work.

To rest well, a modern farmer needs to live in a modern house.

Money must be put aside (saved) to build it.

39. Customs

We must give some thought to customs.

We have seen how the family and the village were once organized.

Customs were made to fit this kind of organization of the family and the village.

The family and the village are no longer organized as they once were.

Certain customs should remain.

Certain customs should change.

They will change even if you do not want them to. So it is better to understand and to change them without argument.

For instance:

Overlong festivals at the beginning of the rainy season hold up ploughing and seed sowing.

Overlong funerals prevent people from going to the fields.

These comments do not mean that you should not respect tradition.

40. Women’s work

We can make women’s work less tiring.

For instance, by using a cart to carry wood, water, the harvest; by grinding grain in a mill.

A lot of children die at birth because women have too much hard work to do.

Women should have time:

to take better care of the house;

to do the cooking;

to look after the children better;

to do some work in the fields, such as weeding.


41. In the past, with traditional farming, not much was produced, and not much was wanted.

There were few tools.

There was not much trade.

There were few needs — food was not varied, and few people went outside the village.

42. Now there are new needs.

The number of inhabitants is growing; these inhabitants are better clothed, eat better, and look after themselves better.

More roads are needed, more hospitals, schools, food and clothes.

43. Today farming has to be more productive.

Farming practices must change, and farmers must be willing to make changes.

Then the village people will be able to:

buy more things;

be better housed and fed;

send their children to school;

take care of themselves and live like the people

who live in towns.



Look around. You can see:

the soil of the house

the soil of the fields

the soil of the bush

the soil of the paths.

44. There are several kinds of soils:

cultivated soil — the soil of the fields;

soil that can be cultivated — only if it is cleared;

soil that cannot be cultivated — because nothing grows on it; you cannot grow a crop on stone or laterite.

45. In this course we shall call soil all the soil that is cultivated or can be cultivated; that is to say, soil that will grow plants and give the roots the necessary water and mineral salts. Some roots can find what they need close to the surface. Others must go deeper.


46. Soil which is not cultivated carries trees, plants and grasses, different kinds of vegetation.

Grasses, and the leaves and branches of trees protect the soil against rain and sun.

When this vegetation dies, it rots on the soil and the soil becomes richer.

Vegetation enriches the soil.

47. When soil is cleared and planted, harvests are good immediately after clearing the land.

But little by little the reserves of water and mineral salts become less. Then the harvests are less good.

The soil must no longer be cultivated, but left to rest.

Soil at rest is called fallow.

48. Soil is rich immediately after fallow.

It becomes less rich after some years of cultivation.

If it is again left to rest as fallow, it once more becomes rich.


49. By leaving soil to remain fallow for a while, it becomes rich again.

But if it is not left fallow long enough, it does not have time to build up reserves of mineral salts.

It remains poor and the harvests are less good.

50. Also, too many animals are often raised on plots of Sand that are too small.

The animals remain too long in the same place.

The grass does not have time to grow again.

The soil becomes bare.

51. Too much cultivation and too many animals destroy the soil.

Soil without vegetation is no longer protected against the rain and sun.

A hard layer forms, water no longer penetrates the ground — this is called a hardpan.

The soil is ruined.

52. Fire, too, is often bad for the soil because it destroys the vegetation.

53. Soil without vegetation is easily carried away by the rain; this is called erosion.

Then the soil has not just become bad; there is no more soil left to cultivate.


Here is an example:

54. Often the land round a village is cultivated every year.

This is called continuous cultivation.

The land remains good all the same. Why?

• The land gets human and animal droppings and household waste.

• It is protected against rain by the crops.

• The land is not carried away — there is no erosion.

• The land is enriched by the droppings and household waste.

So every year it gives a good harvest.

55. For the best fields the good farmer will try to do what is done for the land round the houses.

The soil is cared for and improved.

Good farming practices make possible continuous cultivation.

56. There are more people to feed, and these people have new needs.

More must be produced and more must be sold.

To produce more and sell more, the years of fallow must be reduced.

57. To reduce the number of fallow years without making the soil unproductive, certain farming practices must be used.

•   To protect the soil: growing in strips, on ridges, on contour lines, digging ditches.

•   To enrich the soil: manure, fertilizers, green manuring.

•   Raising livestock and growing crops at the same time, where possible.

Then the land does not need to remain fallow so long. It produces more.

58. To achieve this everyone must be in agreement:

The government in building dams, roads;

The scientists of the research stations in selecting plants and animals;

The agricultural assistants;

The farmers;

The elders and the young people.

During the course on the soil we shall learn:

•  How the soil is made

The differences between soils

Why certain soils are better than others

•  How the soil can change

By the action of plants

By the action of water

•  How the soil must be worked

Working tools

Different farming practices

•  How to protect the soil against erosion

By vegetation

By various measures

•  How to enrich the soil

By fertilizers

By good farming



At one time the village was organized

Yes or No

The number of people has greatly increased

Yes or No

Farming is a skilled occupation

Yes or No

The man who eats badly works well

Yes or No

A bare soil is well protected from the rain

Yes or No


The old people knew how to choose the __________ for growing

You must have __________ to buy things

The village which produces and sells a lot can __________ a lot

You __________ plants so that they are more productive

To give a man strength his __________ must be good and varied


How can we make women’s work less tiring?

Are all soils cultivable?

Have the farmers of your village plenty of work to do all the time?

To whom are the various crops sold at harvest?

Why must the farmer produce more food?

What do we mean by the term fallow?

What new needs does your village have?


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Korea  The Eul-Yoo Publishing Co. Ltd., 5 2-Ka, Chong-ro, Seoul.

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Norway  Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, Karl Johansgt. 43, Oslo.

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Pakistan, West  Mirza Book Agency, 65 The Mall, Lahore 3.

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Uruguay  Editorial Losada Uruguaya S.A., Maldonado 1092, Montevideo; Barreiro y Ramos, 25 de Mayo esq. J.C. Gomez, Montevideo; Librería Albe, Soc. Com., Cerrito 566, Montevideo.

Venezuela  Suma S.A., Calle Real de Sabana Grande, Caracas; Librería Politécnica, Apartado 50738 Sabana Grande, Caracas; Librería del Este, Pericás S.A., Av. Fco. de Miranda 52, Edificio Galipan, Caracas; Librería Tecnica Vega, Plaza Las Tres Gracias, Edificio Odeon, Los Chaguaramos, Caracas.

Yugoslavia  Jugoslovenska Knjiga, Terazije 27/11, Belgrade; Prosveta Export-Import Agency, Terazije 16, Belgrade; Cankarjeva Zalozba, P.O. Box 201 – IV, Ljubljana.

Other Countries  Requests from countries where sales agents have not yet been appointed may be sent to: Distribution and Sales Section, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Via delle Terme di Caracalla; 00100 Rome, Italy.

FAO publications are priced in U.S. dollars and pounds sterling. Payment to FAO sales agents may be made in local currencies.

The Soil, man and the soil

Better Farming Series, no.6. This handbook is designed for intermediate level agricultural education and training. This manual is a translation and adaptation of "Le sol: l'homme et le sol," published by the Agri-ServiceAfrique of the lnstitut africain pour le developpement economique et social (INADES), and forms part of a series of booklets. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the publishers for making this text available for English-language agricultural education and training. This illustrated manual discusses traditional farming systems and presents reasons for smallholders to change methods in order to improve crop production. Soil depletion and soil improvement are also presented.

  • Author: FAO
  • Published: 2017-01-16 12:20:30
  • Words: 5143
The Soil, man and the soil The Soil, man and the soil