Yield stability: an agronomic perspective on the origin of Near Eastern agriculture.

Shahal Abbo, Simcha Lev-Yadun, Avi Gopher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract  Here we argue that, based on evolutionary, ecological and agronomic considerations, climate change could not have been a suitable background nor a probable cause of plant domestication in the Near East. This thesis is developed based on the year-to-year yield dynamics in traditional rainfed grain farming in semi-arid environments, on the genetic basis that underlies temporal yield dynamics in natural wild cereal populations as well as in traditional farming systems, and upon the recognition that prior to elaborate high capacity and long-range trade networks, yield stability was more important than yield maximization. We also briefly discuss the likely social and cultural responses to subtle and real climatic changes vs. responses to rapid directional environmental trends. Taking into account the agronomic, ecological and genetic aspects discussed, it is suggested that the Near Eastern founder crop assemblage was chosen to function within the normal east Mediterranean precipitation regime, in which good rainy years create the ‘normal surplus’ that sustains farming communities during drought years, and the different crop types provide the system with its compensating ability. A slow (but real) climatic change is unlikely to induce major (revolutionary) cultural changes. Nor would a prominent environmental change provide the proper background for the origins of agriculture because it would abolish the buffering capacity of the system. Therefore, farming cannot function as a sustainable ‘buffering mechanism’ to counterbalance climatic instability causing natural resource depletion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-150
Number of pages8
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2010


  • Crop yields
  • Agronomy
  • Climate change
  • Arid regions agriculture
  • Origin of agriculture
  • Crop genetics
  • Middle East


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