We were once food sufficient

The current coverage of Africa, especially on agriculture, is usually skewed on the negative side of the story.

They are not completely wrong, annual import bill of food is around 35 billion US dollars. Tanzania’s food import bill, last, was just shy of 1.0 million US dollars. In the “Why Nations Fail”, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson accounts the beginning of farming, herding and the domestication of plants and animals as to have originated in the Middle East, most especially in the Hilly Flanks which stretches from the south of modern-day Israel, up through Palestine and the west bank of the River Jordan, via Syria and into south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and western Iran.

It is further disclosed that around 9500 BC, the first domestic plants, emmer (an ancient two rowed hulled wheat) and two-row barley, were found in Jericho on the west bank of the River Jordan in Palestine, and emmer, peas, and lentils, at Tell Aswad, farther north in Syria.

This came after hunting and gathering lifestyle became costly and ‘unfuturistic’. Mankind had to learn to run a sedentary life and then cultivate and store some food for future use.

Population density was another factor that necessitated such a quick change. Much as sedentary life didn’t translate into farming directly as Natufian communities could still hunt and gather while settled at one place. Africa was once not only an independent continent on food, it is recorded that it once saved the world from hunger.

The Bible gives a proper account of how Egypt, under the divine direction of Joseph, a Jew who was sold by his siblings from Middle East to Africa, interpreted King Pharaoh’s dream of great famine that was to come to ravage an entire planet for seven years and advised him to develop a grain storage that will store grains for the productive seven years. And that’s what came into being.

Walter Rodney, the world-renowned historian, was more sanguine in his work, “How Europe underdeveloped Africa”; in the centuries before contact with Europeans, the overwhelmingly dominant activity in Africa was agriculture.

In all the settled agricultural communities, people observed the peculiarities of their own environment of their own environment and tried to find techniques for dealing with it in a rational manner.

Advanced methods were used in some areas, such as terracing, crop rotation, green manuring, mixed farming, and regulated swamp farming.

The single most important technological change underlying African agricultural development was the introduction of iron tools, notably the axe and the hoe, replacing wooden and stone tools. It was on the basis of the iron tools that new skills were elaborated in agriculture as well as in other spheres of economic activity.

The coming of iron, the rise of cereal growing, and the making of pottery were all closely related phenomena. In most parts of Africa, it was in the period after the birth of Christ that those things came about.

The rate of change over a few centuries was quite impressive. Millet and rice had been domesticated from wild grasses just as yams were made to evolve from selected wild roots. Most African societies raised the cultivation of their particular staple to a fine art. Even the widespread resort to shifting cultivation with burning and light hoeing was not as childish as the first European colonialists supposed.

Rodney further describes; In Asia, where much of the land was communally owned there were tremendous advances in some types of farming, especially irrigated farming.

This was also true of North Africa, which in most respects followed a pattern of evolution similar to that Asia. The above account proves the prowess and ingenuity Africans had in the past epochs in food production and animal husbandry.

It is because of that there are no reports of food imports from other parts of the world; this suggests that much as they didn’t have much to export, arguably due to little linkage with the rest of the world and lack of professional interest in acquiring more specific knowledge to boost productivity, but at least they were more than selfsufficient.

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