In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Food and Food Production

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • Ecology
  • Gender
  • Feeding African Cities
  • Political Economy of Food Crisis
  • Food Policy
  • African and Comparative Perspectives
  • Contemporary Challenge of Food Security
  • Genetic Modification and Biotechnology

African Studies Food and Food Production
Ayodeji Olukoju
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0097


The transition from a hunter-gatherer existence to food production and urbanization was a turning point in human history. In Africa, the acclaimed cradle of the human race, the domestication of plants and animals, the refinement of tools from stone to iron implements, the adaptation of humans to peculiar ecologies across the continent have received (admittedly uneven) scholarly attention. Scholarly debates have focused on the origins of food crops, the regional varieties of yams, rice, cocoyam and millet, and the adoption of exotic crops such as cassava and maize. Whether domesticated in Africa or adopted from Asia and Latin America, especially in the context of European maritime enterprise and colonization, these crops have been central to the cuisine and diet of African peoples. Trade in raw and processed food crops consequently flourished in local and regional settings.

General Overviews

Food and food production evolved in specific ecological settings in accordance with seasonal changes, soil conditions, and density of precipitation since the dawn of the previous millennium. Clark 1984 provided general overviews of the arable and pastoral economies of Africa in which food production took place. Studies in prehistory have relied on archaeology, linguistics, and botanical sciences to shed light on developments on various crops, plants, birds, and animals as part of the diet and economy of the peoples and regions of Africa. The diversity of food production systems, cuisine, food processing technology and practices, ecology, and local agency is reflected in studies in Jones 1959 (on cassava, a major staple), Hansen and McMillan 1986 (food supply, nutrition policy, and agricultural practices in Africa), Harlan 1982 (indigenous agricultural complexes), Phillipson 1982 (polycentric origins of food production), Shaw, et al. 1993 (metallurgy, urbanism, and food production), McCann 2009 (cuisine) and Richards 1985, cited under Ecology.

  • Clark, John Desmond. From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa. ACLS Humanities E-Book. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

    A collection of thirty essays on the prehistory of food and food production in Africa. Has broad regional coverage and charts the transition from hunting and gathering to food production.

  • Hansen, Art, and Della McMillan, eds. Food in Sub-Saharan Africa. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1986.

    A rich collection of essays on food supply, nutrition policy, and agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Includes chapter by Davis (pp. 151–168) that examines food policies and production under European colonial rule.

  • Harlan, Jack R. “The Origins of Indigenous African Agriculture.” In The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to c. 500 BC. Edited by J. Desmond Clark, 624–654. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521222150

    A concise study of savanna, forest-margin and Ethiopian agricultural complexes, diffusion of food crops to and from Africa, and the diversity of indigenous agricultural techniques.

  • Jones, William O. Manioc in Africa. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959.

    A major study of the introduction of cassava (manioc) from Brazil since the 16th century and its spread across Sub-Saharan Africa. Contains now-dated statistics of production, consumption, and distribution. Highlights its processing and importance in human and animal diets.

  • McCann, James C. Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. Ohio Africa in World History Series. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.

    A major study of food, diet, and culinary cultures of Africa and the diaspora. Classifies African cuisines under west African, the Maize Belt, and Africa’s Maritime World categories.

  • Phillipson, D. W. “Early Food Production in Sub-Saharan Africa.” In The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to c. 500 BC. Edited by J. Desmond Clark, 770–829. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521222150

    Analyzes the diversity and innovativeness of African food production systems. Emphasizes the polycentric origins of food and food production, with differential antiquity of origins.

  • Shaw, T., P. Sinclair, B. Anda, and A. Okpoko, eds. The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals, Towns. London: Routledge, 1993.

    A collection of essays on the archaeology of metallurgy, urbanism, and food production in Africa. Includes chapter by A. Muzzolini (pp. 227–239) on the emergence of a food-producing economy in the Sahara.

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