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Article

Women and Development in Africa  

Michael Kevane

Development is a process that transforms societies. Despite considerable variation across world regions and over time, one commonality of development has been that the initial phase, from 1950 to 1975, likely led to growing inequality between men and women in both opportunities and well-being. The first decades of planning and promotion of development largely excluded women, partly as a result of unequal gender relations in many societies as development began: the slave trade, colonial indifference to women’s rights, and missionary activities may have worsened the status of women. More importantly, the men who controlled the late colonial and early post-independence state saw little reason to promote a pro-woman agenda in development. The initial phase of development thus reinforced male privilege. After 1975, national and international social movements arose to pressure governments and institutions to undo the legacies of gender inequality. Women-centered development flourished in the 2000s. There have been uncertainties, however, over the cost-effectiveness of some of the various policies and programs implemented as a result of the movements to include women in development.

Article

Colonial Agricultural Development Schemes  

Monica van Beusekom

The period from the 1920s to the end of colonial rule saw increasing government intervention in agricultural production and the adoption of ambitious agricultural development schemes. These development schemes often aimed to increase and control the production and marketing of cash crops such as cotton and peanuts, essential to European industries. Examples include the Gezira Scheme (Sudan), the Office du Niger (French Soudan), the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, the Compagnie Générale des Oléagineux Tropicaux (CGOT, Senegal), as well as a host of other schemes. Confident in their agricultural expertise, colonial planners often sought radical transformations in African agricultural systems, away from extensive hoe cultivation toward intensive plow agriculture following a strict crop rotation. Worries about environmental degradation and population growth, as well as the need to manage social dislocation and maintain political stability, framed colonial strategies. Encountering African farmers with priorities and practices that were often at odds with their own, colonial planners failed to transform agriculture in the ways they intended. Nonetheless, development still wrought significant change as farmers considered whether to circumvent, resist, adapt, or adopt new technologies and farming methods. If at first agricultural development schemes were localized and mostly ineffective efforts to make empire profitable, by the 1940s and 1950s, agricultural development interventions became more widespread and intrusive. This helped generate rural support for anticolonial movements. Nonetheless, by the last decades of colonial rule, the idea of planned development as desirable became commonplace, not just within colonial governments, but also in international institutions and among nationalist leaders. Thus, state-led agricultural development would remain a powerful force in independent Africa.

Article

Women in Zambia  

Iva Peša

The history of women in Zambia is dynamic, complex, and varied. In the precolonial period, women held a range of influential positions in society. Through agricultural production, pottery, ritual, and healing, they performed valued tasks complementary to those of men. Descent was most commonly traced matrilineally, affording a woman’s lineage much power over labor, offspring, land, and wealth. The colonial period changed the position of women profoundly. Christianity and colonial policies advocated for an ideal of a nuclear family with a male breadwinner. Concomitantly, commercialization and labor migration made women’s positions more precarious. In rural areas, women struggled to prepare fields because of the absence of men’s labor, whereas in urban areas women were officially only allowed residence as “wives” of male workers. Yet a story of increasing female marginalization and subordination would be far from complete. Moreover, such a narrative obscures everyday gendered contestations. Some women in the colonial and postcolonial periods made a profitable livelihood by selling crops; others moved to town and engaged in trade or brewed beer. Such activities became particularly significant in the wake of economic decline during the 1980s and 1990s. The HIV/AIDS pandemic all too often made women the heads of their households. The history of women in Zambia is, thus, far from singular. Studying its variety reveals Zambian women’s agency and power, even in conditions not of their own choosing.

Article

Cannabis and Tobacco in Precolonial and Colonial Africa  

Chris S. Duvall

Cannabis and tobacco have longstanding roles in African societies. Despite botanical and pharmacological dissimilarities, it is worthwhile to consider tobacco and cannabis together because they have been for centuries the most commonly and widely smoked drug plants. Cannabis, the source of marijuana and hashish, was introduced to eastern Africa from southern Asia, and dispersed widely within Africa mostly after 1500. In sub-Saharan Africa, cannabis was taken into ethnobotanies that included pipe smoking, a practice invented in Africa; in Asia, it had been consumed orally. Smoking significantly changes the drug pharmacologically, and the African innovation of smoking cannabis initiated the now-global practice. Africans developed diverse cultures of cannabis use, including Central African practices that circulated widely in the Atlantic world via slave trading. Tobacco was introduced to Africa from the Americas in the late 1500s. It gained rapid, widespread popularity, and Africans developed distinctive modes of tobacco production and use. Primary sources on these plants are predominantly from European observers, which limits historical knowledge because Europeans strongly favored tobacco and were mostly ignorant or disdainful of African cannabis uses. Both plants have for centuries been important subsistence crops. Tobacco was traded across the continent beginning in the 1600s; cannabis was less valuable but widely exchanged by the same century, and probably earlier. Both plants became cash crops under colonial regimes. Tobacco helped sustain mercantilist and slave-trade economies, became a focus of colonial and postcolonial economic development efforts, and remains economically important. Cannabis was outlawed across most of the continent by 1920. Africans resisted its prohibition, and cannabis production remains economically significant despite its continued illegality.

Article

The Archaeology of Nyanga, Eastern Zimbabwe  

Plan Shenjere-Nyabezi

The Nyanga district of eastern Zimbabwe shows a cultural history that is similar to the rest of Zimbabwe and the southern African region. Although largely undated, the Stone Age—from the Early Stone Age, the Middle Stone Age, through to the Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers—is represented at a number of open sites and rock shelters. Later Stone Age rock art, some of which exhibits rather unique artistic attributes and characteristics such as the stripped images, has been recorded in this area. The advent of settled iron-using farming communities is also evident, as elsewhere in southern Africa dating from the 2nd to the 3rd century ce. The well-known Early Farming Communities Ziwa ceramic tradition of southern Africa is in fact named after the type site in this district. The Nyanga district is however particularly famous for its stone constructions that come in a variety of forms, consisting of stone terraced hillsides, which extend for almost sixty-five miles from north to south and cover some twenty-three hundred square miles, as well as stone-lined pit structures, hilltop forts, stone-walled enclosures, and trackways. Dating from the 14th to the early 19th century, the culture is one of the Later Farming Community cultures of Zimbabwe. The stone architecture and several other cultural aspects differ from those of the more famous Zimbabwe Culture, such that, although the two entities partly overlapped chronologically, Nyanga represents a separate cultural development in Zimbabwe’s history. The purpose of the stone structures has been a subject of archaeological debate for some time. The majority of scholars generally agree that the terracing and pit structures were constructed for agricultural and animal herding practices. However, since the early 2010s, some scholars have somewhat unconvincingly argued that gold-mining and processing were the primary motivation for the Nyanga architectural remains. The traditional view of the communities associated with the Nyanga stone architecture has largely seen them as representing basic peasant agricultural people lacking complex sociopolitical organization. However, examination of the scale and extent of the architecture, including consideration of the size of the enclosures and their spatial distribution, strongly suggests that the Nyanga people were organized as fairly complex sociopolitical formations that are archaeologically consistent with the chiefdom level, at the very least.

Article

Technological Change in Late 19th-Century South Africa  

William Storey

Societies and technologies were deeply intertwined in the history of late 19th-century South Africa. The late 19th century saw the significant development of capitalist agriculture, together with the expansion of mining. The technological side of farming and mining had a significant influence on social and political development. Meanwhile, as in many other colonial outposts, local innovators and entrepreneurs played significant roles in business as well as government. Technological developments were not simply imported or imposed from Great Britain. Everyday technologies, ranging from firearms to clothing, were the subjects of extensive debate across southern Africa’s different cultures.

Article

History of the Seychelles  

Richard B. Allen

The history of the Seychelles since the islands’ colonization in 1770 has been shaped by their physical geography, location in the western Indian Ocean, and peripheral status in the French and British colonial empires. The archipelago’s social, economic, and political history reflects its role in facilitating the slave trade that funneled hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans and Malagasies toward the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius and Réunion between 1770 and the early 1830s, the development of cotton and then coconut plantation agriculture, and its status as a Mauritian dependency until it became a separate British Crown Colony in 1903. Economic and political life after independence in 1976 included a coup d’état in 1977 that led to the establishment of a one-party socialist state in 1979, a return to multiparty democracy in 1993, and the country’s increasing economic dependence on tourism during the late 20th and early 21rst centuries.

Article

Farming and Herding in Eastern Africa: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives  

Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori

The inception of agriculture in eastern Africa is a major topic of discussion among Africanist archaeologists, although very sparse evidence exists. Questions range from whether domestication was a local invention or whether it was introduced from the Near East, Asia, or elsewhere outside of Africa. These questions have remained unanswered because wild progenitors and models of the spread of African domesticates are yet to be established using undisputable data. The paucity of direct data has therefore necessitated the use of objects of material culture such as pottery, beads, burial cairns, architectural structures, and so on as indicators of pastoralism and cereal farming. In addition to the origins of African domesticates, research in eastern Africa has concerned itself with questions of farming technologies from later archaeological and historical times to the present. The remains of elaborate farming systems with extensive irrigation networks have drawn considerable attention. Though not unchanged, some of these farming systems remain in contemporary use in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

Article

Women in Lesotho  

Scott Rosenberg

During the pre-colonial period, women were valued for their productive and reproductive abilities. When women married, their parents received bohali (bridewealth) from the man’s family. During the colonial period women became increasingly responsible for running the household while men were away. Although this gave women more power on a daily basis it also led to increasing domestic violence. In order to support themselves and their families, women have sought out domestic economic opportunities as well as participating in migrant labor. Historically, beer brewing and sex trafficking were two of the economic opportunities available to women in Lesotho and South Africa. Today, women make up the overwhelming majority of labor in the textile factories. Although Lesotho is a patriarchal society, women have made gains in terms of being elected to parliament and serving as regents, yet they are still not allowed to serve as a chief in their own right. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has hit women in Lesotho especially hard.

Article

Agricultural Slavery in Africa  

Marco Gardini

In Africa, slaves have been employed in many different ways: in mines and manufacturing; as concubines and domestics; as soldiers; as members of the administration or royal servants; as porters, stock boys, and paddlers of canoes; and as commercial agents. However, most enslaved men and women in many African contexts worked in agriculture in both decentralized and centralized political entities and in a variety of ways. These ranged from plantation systems, where members of the ruling class might employ hundreds, if not thousands, of slaves in their estates, to smallholder systems, where the slaves performed virtually the same activities and economic functions as lineage members and could hope to be (partially) assimilated in their masters’ society. Between—and within—these two poles, however, there were many different social settings in which many categories of slaves could exist side by side while experiencing dissimilar social positions and being exposed to different working conditions.

Article

Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.

Article

Climate Change and Society in Southern African History  

Matthew Hannaford

Climate has emerged as one of a number of themes in debates concerning the formation and disaggregation of African state structures before the colonial era. The proliferation of paleoclimatic data series from “natural archives” such as tree-rings has shed increasing light on changes in temperature and precipitation stretching back millennia. Such long-term climatic changes could have enduring effects on human livelihoods in agriculturally marginal areas. The apparent coincidence of periods of climatic change with major turning points in African history over the last millennium has therefore led to claims of causation, with early moves towards state formation in the Shashe–Limpopo basin (c. 1000–1220ce) and in KwaZulu-Natal (c. 1750–1800) linked to contemporaneous warm–wet conditions, and the decline, or “collapse,” of state structures, including Mapungubwe (c. 1300ce) and Great Zimbabwe (c. 1450ce), linked to a shift to cooler and drier regional climates. Recent literature from both within and outside of the southern African context has begun to question the veracity of climate-driven historical change. In the southern African case, there remains considerable uncertainty concerning the climate history of the region prior to 1800. The climatic signatures captured by some records are ambiguous in their representation of temperature or precipitation, while many long-duration climate records available for southern Africa are simply of insufficient temporal resolution to capture the short-term extremes in rainfall that have proved challenging to societies in more recent centuries. Even where there is robust evidence for the coincidence of wet or dry conditions with societal change, African farming communities were far from passive observers, but responded to environmental stress in a variety of ways. The relative length, continuity and richness of the historical record in Zimbabwe and Mozambique after. c. 1505 provides opportunities to look more closely at these relationships. From the early 16th century onwards, Portuguese observers left records of those droughts which most impacted societies. These short-term extremes—usually back-to-back years of deficient, irregular or delayed rainfall, sometimes coupled with locust plagues—had varying effects between and within societies as they were “filtered” through different levels of societal vulnerability and resilience, which in turn engendered divergent responses. Analysis of over three centuries of written records on the pre-colonial period suggest that climate-related stress alone, while sometimes leading to famine, was rarely enough to cut deeper into the political fabric of the region; yet, when combined with weak institutional capacity, warfare, or increasingly uneven distributions of power, extreme and protracted droughts could prove decisive and help bring about transformations in society. The Mutapa state and lower Zambezi valley during the late 16th and early 19th centuries, as well as the Zulu kingdom in the 1820s, serve as cases in point.

Article

African Economic History and Historiography  

Alois Mlambo

Africa’s economic history went through various stages, beginning with Stone Age hunter-gatherers, through the Iron Age and the development of agriculture, to sedentary communities with growing and varied economies, bigger and more sophisticated political states, and growing trade activities. Between the 7th and 19th centuries, several large states emerged in the Sahel and in eastern and southern Africa. Key to their rise and prosperity was a growing population and agriculture as well as expanding trade, either through the trans-Saharan trade to the Mediterranean or across the Indian Ocean to Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Africa’s fortunes dipped with the onset of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which ravaged the continent and led to Africa losing millions of people to the New World. Following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, Europe partitioned and colonized the continent and presided over varied economic regimes. These were settler colonies, peasant-agricultural colonies, and concession company colonies. Of the three, settler colonies developed most, although at the expense of the African majority. Independence came after the Second World War and Africa entered its postcolonial phase. After a promising start in the decade of the 1960s, African economies went into decline in the 1970s, necessitating governments to borrow from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to revamp their economies. The structural adjustment programs they were required to implement as a condition for the loans proved to be deleterious to African economies. African economic history scholars have generally shied away from the continent’s very early periods, preferring to focus on the period after the 15th century which has more documented history. They have used three analytical approaches: classical economics, dependency theory, and Marxist paradigms. Each of the three approaches has some shortcomings. Recently, the New African Economic History approach is using cliometric techniques to study Africa’s economic past. More economics than conventional economic history, it has attracted some from more history-based scholars as ahistorical.

Article

The Garamantes in North Africa in the Roman Period  

David J. Mattingly

Roman North Africa has traditionally been studied from a Mediterranean and colonialist perspective, in part reflecting the development of the field during the modern colonial era when archaeology was too readily recruited to the aid of modern imperial projects. The traditional approaches have emphasized the exogenous contribution to the emergence of North Africa as one of the richest and most important regions of the Roman Empire’s core territory. The corollary of this has been a lack of investigation of the cultural, political, and economic institutions of the autochthonous peoples of the region prior to the Roman conquest, with the partial exception of Phoenician coastal settlements. Such approaches are very outdated in the early 21st century and in need of revision, taking account of important new knowledge of North African peoples. The Garamantes, who were a people of the Libyan Sahara external to the Roman Empire, provide an excellent case study for an alternative approach that considers the story of Africa in the Roman Empire in its broader Maghrebian and Saharan context.

Article

The History of Agriculture in Ethiopia  

James C. McCann

Ethiopia’s highlands and their lowland peripheries offer a distinctive and, in many ways, ideal setting for human habitation and the evolution of agricultural ecologies. The ranges in climate variability by season and over time framed a sophisticated set of crops, agricultural practices, and local political ecologies. Chief among these was the development and use of the single-tine ox-plow (i.e., the ard or scratch plow) that integrated endemic annual crops with secondary crop introductions and, in some areas, cultivated or intercropped with perennial crops such as ensete and coffee. Animal husbandry to sustain animal traction and pastoral livelihoods in regional ecologies was essential, over time, to regional economies and their political ecologies. Agricultural patterns existed at the heart of cultural diversities and periods of political conflict and accommodations. In some areas of the south (Sidamo), southeast (Harar highlands), and southwest (Jimma), coffee cultivation complemented annual grain cropping. Yet the plow in its current form as a dominant tool appears in rock painting dating as far back as 500 ad. That technology was both efficient and persistent. While Ethiopia’s plow agriculture dominated the region’s political ecology over more than two millennia, in the late 20th century Ethiopia’s agrarian economy began an inexorable set of changes. New crops (such as maize), urbanization, and global migration of peoples and commodities (oil seeds, fibers, and grains) brought new seeds, inputs, and pressures to adapt to change, particularly for smallholder farmers and new enterprises. Heavy investments in dams and irrigated agriculture also foretell new agricultural landscapes of riverain areas that will need to coexist with the classic highland smallholder farms. The story of maize in Ethiopia’s agricultural history is emblematic of the struggle between pressures for change and the inertia of tradition felt by farmers. Their agrarian adaptation to new methods, new materials, and a new climate will play itself out in existing geographies and natural contours.

Article

The Sahel in West African History  

Barbara Cooper

The Sahel or Sahil is in a sense the “coast” of the Sahara and its cities major “ports” in trade circuits linking long-standing regional exchange in the products of different ecozones to the markets of the Mediterranean through the trans-Saharan trade. Despite botanical diversity and the capacity to support high concentrations of humans and livestock, the productivity of this region depends upon a single unpredictable annual rainy season. Long- and short-term fluctuations in aridity have required populations specializing in hunting, farming, fishing, pastoralism, gold mining, and trade to be mobile and to depend upon one another for their survival. While that interdependence has often been peaceful and increasingly facilitated through the shared idiom of Islam, it has also taken more coercive forms, particularly with the introduction of horses, guns, and a dynamic market in slaves. Although as an ecozone the region stretches all the way to the Red Sea, the political Sahel today comprises Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—all former French colonies. France’s empire was superimposed upon the existing dynamics in the agropastoral meeting ground of the desert edge. Colonial requirements and transportation routes weakened the links between the ecozones so crucial to the success of states and markets in the region. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1905, France tacitly condoned the persistence of servile relations to secure requisitions of labor, food, and livestock. Abolition set off a very gradual shift from slavery to other kinds of labor patterns which nonetheless drew upon preexisting social hierarchies based upon religion, caste, race, and ethnicity. At the same time, gender and age gained in significance in struggles to secure labor and status. “Black Islam” (Islam noir), both invented and cultivated under French rule, was further reinforced by the bureaucratic logic of the French empire segregating “white” North Africa and “black” sub-Saharan Africa from one another. Periodic drought and famine in the region has prompted a perception of the Sahel as a vulnerable ecological zone undergoing desertification and requiring intervention from outside experts. Developmentalist discourse from the late colonial period on has facilitated the devolution of responsibilities and prerogatives that typically belong to the state to nongovernmental bodies. At the same time, competition over political authority in the fragmented postcolonial states of the Sahel has often reinscribed and amplified status and ethnic differences, pitting Saharan populations against the governments of desert edge states. External and internal radical Islamic movements entangled with black market opportunists muddy the clarity of the ideological and political stakes in ways that even currently (2018) further destabilize the region.

Article

Archaeobotany: Methods  

Louis Champion and Dorian Q. Fuller

Archaeobotany’s goals are to investigate the interactions between human societies and the plant world in the past from the botanical remains preserved in archaeological sites, including the environment people exploited and the foods they extracted from it. Archaeobotanical research in Africa has tended to be less widely practiced than in many other parts of the world, and systematic archaeobotanical sampling is still only incorporated into a minority of archaeological field projects in Africa. Nevertheless, there is potential for archaeobotany to contribute to a holistic understanding of Africa’s past. The general scope of archaeobotany is outlined before focusing on how typical archaeobotanical remains relate to agriculture and food production. A short overview on the practical side of collecting archaeobotanical samples is provided. Archaeobotany’s two general themes are discussed: hunter-gatherer subsistence and the origins of agriculture.

Article

Food and Agricultural History of Ghana since Pre-colonial Times  

Samuel Adu-Gyamfi

The importance of food and agriculture in a nation’s history cannot be gainsaid. Generally, countries like Ghana have maintained consistent patterns of eating local staples that have dominated the food crop space for many decades in their regions. Historically, Ghana has been supported by the domestication of plants and animals and sometimes also by the translocation of the same from other regions or countries. When these new plants were made available, various agricultural techniques were deployed to perpetuate them. In Ghana, the British colonial government took steps to improve aspects of food and agriculture during the colonial period to serve domestic interest and especially European interest abroad. In general, the policies that guided the production, manufacture, and distribution of food during the colonial period continued to remain significant in subsequent years.

Article

Labor History of East Africa  

Bill Freund

This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.