Ancient African Farming

Farming was very important in Ancient African society, and the kinds of food people farmed depended greatly on the part of the continent they settled in. The food grown in North Africa differed greatly to the food grown in the south.

Most North African countries farmed similar foods to those in the Middle East and southern Europe, like barley, wheat, and other cereals and grains. Farmers south of the Sahara Desert, meanwhile, typically focused on vegetables – for example, sorghum and cowpeas.

Kente cloth patterns

Farming in Ancient Africa

There was not as much emphasis placed on animal farming in Africa as in Europe and the Middle East. This is because the African climate was inhospitable (unsuitable) to most kinds of animals – it would have been difficult to keep cattle, or regular goats, for example, because the air would be too hot and dry.

Animals like horses were kept for agricultural use, and were occasionally eaten, but most farming was geared around to production of vegetables, plants, and other useful crops rather than the raising of animals.

Not all crops grown in Ancient Africa were used for food, however. In Ancient Egypt, and other countries close to it, the papyrus plant was grown for use in the construction of paper, and crafts like reed boats.

A plant called flax was also extremely important to Ancient African societies, as it was used to make clothes and blankets. Although flax and papyrus were not edible plants, they were important to the economic development of Ancient Africa, and their products made up the bulk of African exports.

Ancient Africa Farming

Countries which could not grow flax or papyrus would have to import them from neighboring nations – this dependency on other countries’ crops created a link between cultures, and frequently encouraged leaders to find peace rather than start wars with each other.

In this way, the farming system of Africa helped to develop good relations between African countries. The varying climates and agricultural production in Africa meant that countries were reliant on one another, and therefore could not hurt each other.

Kente cloth patterns

The Crops of Ancient Africa

Nowadays, as with back then, exotic fruits were one of the most common crops in Africa. Fruits like bananas, oranges, and even grapes grow easily in Africa due to the warmth of the climate, and many of these foods were a staple part of the African diet. Because bananas are such a hardy, resilient fruit, they were easy to tend to and healthy for those who ate them.

While there was still an emphasis on crops like grain (to make bread and other baked goods,) fruits and vegetables made up most of Africa’s farm production. Fruits with skins and protective casing flourished in Africa, as they were protected from the harsh elements of the atmosphere.

This is why fruits like watermelons were so popular and widely grown – they were some of the few types that could survive the heat of Africa.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
As previously stated, animal farming was not particularly common in Africa, though some tribes and cultures did keep a select number of animals for use on the farm. Tougher farm animals, like donkeys, horses, mules, and goats, may have been kept for their help in labor, before being eventually eaten.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

Farming was considered such an important part of Ancient African life that many cultures worshipped gods and spirits who ensured a good harvest – particularly in Ancient Egypt, where the flooding of the Nile River was seen as a blessing from the gods despite the damage it caused.

This is because it would leave the soil around the Nile black and fertile. Where people settled in Africa was based on the fertility of the soil they found. The more fertile the ground was, the greater the number of people who would settle there.

As in mainland Europe,farming was the most common profession for men, and subsistence farming (farming food only for survival, just enough to live) was how most people spent their days.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

Facts about Ancient African Farming:

  • Farming was very important in Ancient African society.
  • The kinds of food people farmed depended greatly on the part of the continent they settled in.
  • Most North African countries farmed similar foods to those in the Middle East and southern Europe, like barley, wheat, and other cereals.
  • Farmers south of the Sahara Desert, meanwhile, typically focused on vegetables – for example, sorghum and cowpeas.
  • There was not as much emphasis placed on animal farming in Africa as in Europe and the Middle East.
  • This is because the African climate was inhospitable (unsuitable) to most kinds of animals.
  • Not all crops grown in Ancient Africa were used for food, however. In Ancient Egypt, and other countries close to it, the papyrus plant was grown for use in the construction of paper, and crafts like reed boats.
  • The farming system of Africa helped to develop good relations between African countries. The varying climates and agricultural production in Africa meant that countries were reliant on one another, and therefore could not hurt each other.
  • Nowadays, as with back then, exotic fruits were one of the most common crops in Africa.
  • Fruits like bananas, oranges, and even grapes grow easily in Africa due to the warmth of the climate, and many of these foods were a staple part of the African diet.
  • Farming was considered such an important part of Ancient African life that many cultures worshipped gods and spirits who ensured a good harvest.

Q&A:

What kind of food was farmed in Northern Africa?

– Hunting, fighting, and building.
What were girls taught from a young age?

– Wheat, barley, and other grains.

What kind of food was farmed in Southern Africa?

– Vegetables, like sorghum and cowpeas.

Why was animal farming unpopular in Egypt?

– The climate was unsuitable for most animals. Too hot, and not enough water.
Name two uses of papyrus.

– The construction of paper, and in reed boats.
Name two fruits grown in Africa.

– Bananas, oranges.