I. Prehistoric Times > K. Early Food Production in the Old World (c. 10,000 B.C.E. and Later) > 3. Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
3. Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa
The Nile Valley was a rich environment for hunter-gatherers throughout the late Ice Age and for many millennia afterward. Such was the bounty of game, fish, and plant foods that hunter-gatherer groups could live in permanent base camps for much of the year. It was not until as late as 6000 B.C.E. that wheat and barley were farmed along the Nile.  1
By this time, people living on the semiarid grasslands of the Sahara were herding both cattle and goats or sheep. Some experts believe that cattle were domesticated from wild oxen independently in North Africa or the Sahara as early as they were in the Near East. As the Sahara dried up after 6000 B.C., some of these nomadic herders moved into the Nile Valley and became absorbed into the indigenous population.  2
Two thousand years later, small farming villages flourished from the Nile Delta upstream as far as Aswan at the First Cataract and deep into Nubia (modern Sudan). The farmers took advantage of the annual Nile floods to grow winter crops, grazing their animals at water's edge. This indigenous farming tradition was the foundation of later Ancient Egyptian civilization (See Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture).  3
By 3500 B.C.E., cattle herders were grazing their herds far upstream, in what is now the Sudan. Fifteen hundred years later, some of these herders had moved as far southward as the East African highlands and are ultimately the ancestors of cattle-herding peoples like the Masai who live there today. This movement, and others to the west, were responses to the increasing aridity of the Sahara. Many of these groups cultivated summer rainfall crops domesticated from indigenous cereals like finger millet and sorghum, as did fisherfolk living by lakes and rivers. These crops were to become the staples of tropical African agriculture.  4
Cereal agriculture was practiced on the southern fringes of the Sahara by at least 2000 B.C.E. For thousands of years, peoples living at the fringes of the West and central African rain forests cut off the tops of wild yams and replanted them. This form of vegeculture gave way to more formal root agriculture in the West African forest by 2000 B.C.E., where people lived alongside riverbanks and in clearings.  5
Cereal agriculture did not spread to the savanna regions of east, central, and southern Africa until about 2,000 years ago. This event coincided with the spread of iron-using farmers from West Africa across much of the continent. Iron technology enabled Africans to clear woodland on a large scale. Within a few centuries, iron-using farmers had crossed the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers into southern Africa. Their distant descendants were still expanding southward when European farmers expanded into South Africa's eastern Cape Province in the 18th century C.E.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.