Slash and burn agriculture was practiced during the Early Stone Age. Image credit MediaWiki

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: Early Societies (Late Stone Age – Early Iron Age): Rise of Agriculture and Domestication and Rearing of animals

  • Rise of Agriculture and Domestication and Rearing of animals


  • The use of iron tools led to the rise of agriculture as iron tools made it possible for people to clear large pieces of land and chop down trees
  • The tree branches and leaves were turned into compost enabling the new farmers to use the same field for a couple of years.
  • This method of farming is called slash and burn and is still in practice in several parts of central and Southern Africa.
  • The first crops grown were millet, rapoko and sorghum
  • It is of importance to note that “slash and burn is suitable for a small population and with the increase of population the societies started adding various roots, melons and bean crops to the main diet
  • Surplus grain was stored for future use.

Domestication of animals

  • It was revolutionary similar to the discovery and use of iron.
  • The livestock domesticated included cattle, sheep, goats, chicken and dogs
  • Two types of cattle reared due to their ability to suit the climatic and ecological conditions of the region
  • These were long horned cattle raised in tsetse fly free areas of central Zimbabwe and western half of South Africa
  • and short-horned cattle found in the Eastern parts of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia
  • The Early Iron Age people also kept fat-tailed sheep
  • The Early Iron Age people were also nomads and moved from place to place in search of pastures and water for their animals
  • This type of seasonal livestock movements is known as transhumance
  • These movements did not involve everyone else but only livestock herders
  • Hunting and gathering remained an important part of the economic base of the people
  • Livestock keeping had the following advantages:
    1. Under good conditions they reproduce themselves
    2. Livestock survive more than grains which may be prone to infestation and grain pests
    3. Livestock can be killed and consumed at any time of the year and in times of crop failure
    4. Livestock is herded by young boys, thereby leaving time for arable farming by adults
    5. They could be used for barter trade
    6. They provided a variety for diet. i.e. proteins
    7. Livestock were a symbol of wealth and status
    8. They could also be used for fine payment and lobola payment
    9. They provided skins for making bedding, clothes and sinews for bow strings

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