The early development of agriculture in Central Africa

Central Africa is the core region of the African continent and includes Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Vegecultuer along with agriculture were the first features of the new way of life in northern Central Africa. Vegeculture allowed people to gather wild plants on an organised basis and to guard the regions where wild tubers grew abundantly. The consistent harvesting of wild roots resulted in the perfection of specific digging utensils. Slowly women and men learned how to clear plots of fertile land and consciously plant a piece of each root they ate to allow it to redevelop. This evolved into the selection of plant types that most readily lent themselves to domestication, to the ennoblement of regular crops, and to the development of agriculture.

The next feature of the local agricultural transformation was most significant and had an influence over a wide area of the tropical world. A type of cereal farming based on wild seed of the millet and sorghum families was first developed in the northern savannah. Because millet farming did not entail the long daylight hours of summer that occur in the temperate climes, it became mainly successful in the tropics.

The third feature of the food-producing revolution brought an increase in the scale of food production and in its value. One of the most valuable of the tree crops was the oil palm, Elaeis guineensis. The groundwork of palm fruits to make cooking oil enhanced the nutritional quality of the diet with proteins and vitamins, improving health and leading to population growth and the search for new land to be colonised and cultivated. The tending of trees also enhanced the quality of life in another dimension: some palm trees could be tapped for their sap, and the juice became the basis of a widespread wine industry.

The last evident feature of initial agriculture in Central Africa was the entrance of a new family of plants namely the banana family (Musaceae). Banana plants, like yam tubers, were propagated by cuttings and roots rather than by seeds, but they gradually spread from neighbour to neighbour until the crop had become a dominant one in many parts of Central Africa. Banana plants supplied edible roots and textile fibres, but the two fundamental contributions were vegetable bananas (plantains) for cooking and sweet bananas for brewing. The banana flourished particularly well in the wetter areas—in the forests, along the rivers, and in the mountains—and in many societies it became the essential crop.

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