Pedo-environmental evolution and agricultural landscape transformation
AbstractLandscapes represent the stage setting of the ecosystem, the great theatre where the evolution of the environment, the changing of things and plant and animal life are played out; the diversity of landscapes derives from the combination, over time, of different environmental factors having perceptibly different roles, as in the case of climate, vegetation and human activity. Less perceptible and scarcely known is the role of soil, which has the ability not only to diversify the ecosystem’s landscapes but also to differentiate its level of productivity and liveability. The role of soil as part of the landscape is not always so evident, especially when it is covered by vegetation that precludes observation. At times, however, soils show themselves conspicuously, at least on the surface, when the colours of the epipedons invade the landscape and – in the ploughing season – dominate it. While it may be reassuring to see neatly cultivated fields and crops growing luxuriantly and homogeneously, the increasingly marked and evident signs of soil degradation or erosion are a cause for concern. In the recent past, the relationship between man and soil resources was strongly influenced by natural factors inside and outside the soil itself, socio-economic conditions and above all the labour force, i.e. the people employed in the primary sector; consequently, it was based on such factors that crop-growing choices were adapted to the different ecosystems, resulting in a diversification of rural landscapes. Starting from the second half of the twentieth century, the introduction of chemicals, mechanisation and exploitation of various forms of energy drastically transformed land use in the space of just a few years, with a logic aimed at improving the production capacity of farmland and forest land in both qualitative and quantitative terms. As a consequence, farming choices that were formerly adapted to the natural and socio-economic conditions of different ecosystems are now “imposed” through investments and the use of considerable energy resources, where little account is taken of the actual sustainability of soil use or the progressive loss of natural fertility; moreover, the rural landscape, by virtue of an increasingly intense and localised single-crop specialisation, has become organised into areas displaying a uniform, regular and often monotonous appearance. However, the greatest source of worry lies in the progressive consumption of soil, which particularly affects flatlands and low hills. This phenomenon is tied not only to the relentless expansion of developed areas, but also to an irrational distribution of residential, industrial and commercial property, resulting in the segmentation and fragmentation of farmland. An irreversible trend that risks destroying the already fragile identity of the rural landscape completely.
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Copyright (c) 2009 Gilmo Vianello, Livia Vittori Antisari
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