Historical and Modern Views

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Most Soil Bioengineering practices are ancient techniques developed by farmers managing plants and soil over generations, using preindustrial technology. Though science has helped to further understand and refine these practices, nonetheless modern Soil Bioengineering techniques are just variations on ancient ideas.

Finney (1993) put together an review of the history of Soil Bioengineering, for a Master's Thesis at the University of Oregon. Though not generally available, much of his research is summarized in Soil Bioengineering, An alternative for roadside management: A practical guide. This is a publication available online as a .pdf document, and highly recommended to anyone interested in Soil Bioengineering. Similarly many other useful publications available online are listed in the resources section of this website.

Prior to the industrial revolution, the usage of such techniques was widespread, and varied primarily with the constraints of climate and species availability. While Soil Bioengineering is still common in the developing world, it is now less so in the industrialized west, particularly in North America. Though such techniques are a part of our agricultural heritage, they were widely forgotten as their use faded with the increasing availability of modular, non-living, prefabricated systems. Today the regional distribution of Soil Bioengineering is more complex, driven more by economics and tradition, than biology.

Kenyan farmers building a checkdam to arrest a gully in a corn field


Developing World

Soil Bioengineering is common in the developing world, where population is high and land use is often intensive.This is because in such a context, labour is cheap, and non local materials are expensive. So by using local materials and labour, the primary cost becomes an individual's time. Many agroforestry techniques are simply soil bioengineering by another name, and vice versa.


Continued: Europe and North America

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Grassed terrace in Kenyan field