Agriculture in West Africa

Dear friends, what time did Agriculture reach Nigeria and the rest of west Africa?

Also, was there a time between 2000 BC and 2000 AD when African technology (technology in the African kingdoms) was as advanced as European technology?
Sep 2012
European agricultural technology during that period wasn't particularly among the most developed(specially Western European), only after common era they started to catch up. Near East, India and China, on the other hand, were the most advanced agricultural societies of that the beginning of that period. I don't know much about Western Africa before 0 CE, though, but I guess they were still less developed than Europe, since they hadn't started using metals yet. And after that, Europe always had the upper hand, that is why they colonized Africa in the first place
Sep 2012
Spring, Texas
There were Empires and Kingdoms in the West Africa dating back before the Christian Era. This would imply excess food production.

You have to keep in mind that Africa is an old continent and many of the soils are also old. Much of Europe was covered with Forests and Plains that were converted to farmland. There are some areas in Africa that can be converted, but not as much as Europe or the Middle East. The Rift Valley with its volcanic soils and abundant rain is probably where the best soils are. Valuable farmland is one reason the Tutsi and Hutus start killing each other every few years.

Keep in mind you would have a different set of crops and farm tools to use. Plowing is out (no metals and draft animals) so you need to use a foot hoe to turn the soil. These would mean smaller plots. What could you grow? Well you have a wild rice, sorghum, millet, maize, peanuts, to name a few. There are also a number of fruit and nut trees.

You did have access to some metals, but not a lot of them.

The problem is many people do not know the history of an area. Europe did not start intensive farming until maybe 2000 years ago when the great forests were cut down. Farming is hard work and does not guarantee the farmer will survive to the next season. The Farmers learn what works at the best profit and that is what they do.

Look at Louisiana and Texas. Maize grows well here. Indeed, some regions can harvest two crops per year. Yet Maize is not a big crop in either state. The problem is Maize grows for better profit in places like Iowa and Illinois. Sugar Cane and Rice is grown more in Texas and Louisiana, because there is more profit there. I know a farmer near Sulphur, LA that switched from Soybeans and Rice to Wheat. It makes a better profit! That and the climate and pests were getting to be a problem for him.

The Farmers in West Africa were doing fine using the tools and crops they had. They did not have to grow Wheat, Rye, Grapes and other European staples.



Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
Dear friends, what time did Agriculture reach Nigeria and the rest of west Africa?

Also, was there a time between 2000 BC and 2000 AD when African technology (technology in the African kingdoms) was as advanced as European technology?
Agriculture did not reach Africa from elsewhere.It was most likely invented there:

But people who do world history usually begin with the origins of agriculture. There are at least seven or eight ­ maybe eleven to thirteen ­ world regions which independently invented agriculture. None in Europe, by the way. One, of course, is in the Middle East, and many people still believe that this was the first, from which all the others developed. The idea of diffusion from the Middle East still lingers.
That idea really can't be sustained.

You have, for instance, one independent invention of agriculture in East Asia, maybe two. You have it more widely accepted now that there's an independent invention of agriculture in the interior of New Guinea. People argue about what to make of the Indian materials, but certainly India saw one of the three separate domestications of cattle; there are enough uniquely Indian crops that we might end up with India as another center of independent agricultural innovation. There are different ideas about the Americas, but I think we have two for sure: Mesoamerica and the Andes. There may also be a separate lowland tropical South American development. It also seems that there might be a few things domesticated in the southeastern United States even before there was Mesoamerican stimulus or diffusion. So that makes four.

Here's the point: agriculture was invented in Africa in at least three centers, and maybe even four. In Africa, you find the earliest domestication of cattle. The location, the pottery and other materials we've found makes it likely that happened among the Nilo-Saharan peoples, the sites are in southern Egypt. There is an exceptionally strong correlation between archaeology and language on this issue.

A separate or distinct agriculture arose in West Africa around yams.
A third takes place in southeastern or southern Ethiopia. I've got a student working this year in Ethiopia to see whether we can pin this down more precisely. The Ethiopians domesticated a plant called enset. It's very unique: Ethiopians use the lower stem and the bulb; not the tuber, the fruit, or the greens. Enset grows in a climatic zone distinct from that where cattle were first domesticated; that was further north.
The possible fourth area of agricultural invention would involve people who cultivated grain in Ethiopia. They seem to have begun cultivation of grain independently, but adopted cattle from the Nilo-Saharans of the middle Nile region. To pin this down, we need archaeology from a whole big area, but so far it's missing. World History Connected | Vol. 2 No. 1 | Christopher Ehret: "Christopher Ehret"
Oct 2016
Maize (corn) and Peanuts are native to the Americans and would not have reached Africa till well into the 16th century
Africa did have its own rice (upland, as opposed to paddy). Rice was introduced to the Americas via slaves.

Wiki quote
***Scholars have noted the substantial African influence found in soul food recipes, especially from the West and Central regions of Africa. This influence can be seen through the heat level of many soul food dishes, as well as many ingredients found within them. Peppers used to add spice to food included malagueta pepper, as well as peppers native to the western hemisphere such as red (cayenne) peppers. Several foods that are essential in southern cuisine and soul food were domesticated or consumed in the African savanna and the tropical regions of West and Central Africa. These include pigeon peas, black-eyed peas, many leafy greens, and sorghum. It has also been noted that a species of rice was domesticated in Africa, thus many Africans who were brought to the Americas kept their knowledge for rice cooking. Rice is a staple side dish in soul food and is the center of dishes such as red beans and rice. There are many documented parallels between the foodways of West Africans and soul food recipes. The consumption of sweet potatoes in the US is reminiscent of the consumption of yams in West Africa. The frequent consumption of cornbread by African-Americans is analogous to West Africans' use of fufu to soak up stews. West Africans also cooked meat over open pits, and thus it is possible that enslaved Africans came to the New World with knowledge of a cooking technique like Native American barbecuing.***
source: Soul food - Wikipedia

malagueta pepper; yams; rice; peas/beans; sorghum; greens.

this would have been contemporary or most likely previous to the colonial era, so sixteenth century at the latest, most likely centuries earlier.
no written records that I'm aware of so real hard to precisely date this sort of thing.
we can catch glimpses through European accounts from explorers missionaries etc.
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
Benin City, Nigeria
I'm speaking to contemporary African accounts. afaIk no one (native) in sub-Saharan Africa kept written records pre-colonial era.
Yeah, I know what you were referring to. And that was why I said that was wrong, because that is incorrect. But anyway, there isn't information about food in those records.

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