- Mar 28, 2004
1. Winter is highly useful for agriculture. This is in an era before pesticides and lack thereof would result in continuous difficulties with crop pests. Locusts, for instance, have a northern range defined by lowest winter temperatures that also is historically correlated with more productive farmland. It also limited the spread of parasitic insects which both reaped human returns (e.g. less malarial burden), but also less livestock burden. Most historical farmers wanted cold winters because it would kill off problem pests and weeds so they could start their crops without competition with the first spring plowing.1.) I have to doubt this one. Not only are we talking about a nullification of winter as a concept, but we're talking a perfect hand with their crop variety. 10,000 years of farming a root tuber to use with with their local rice production, Sorghum as an emergency crop (which can thrive in just about any situation), beans for protein, and self-fertilizing ground on an open grassland due to the rain cycle.
2.) Use of iron in agriculture had been extremely old and constant, starting with the Nok (500-1,000 B.C), or possibly some earlier culture. It had spread to Mali by the time of Ghana's fall, and likely earlier.
3.) Modern West Africa is still in the middle of a population boom, and is on its way out of a drought. With the French controlling most of their utilities and economies, and infrastructure for up-to-date inland transport methods not existing, it's a pretty poor comparison.
The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, which is the main staple bean in Africa currently is a new world species. Again Africans were not idiots and when a superior staple crop presented itself, they adopted it. Sorgum is a terrible crop for early agriculture. It has this nasty habit of producing cyanide and killing all the draft animals. Local rice production continues to be geographically constrained with much of Africa lying outside of the rice belt. And lest we forget rice is not native to Africa. Which should not surprise us as those 10,000 years also give plenty of time for pests to be established. Which is why the main cereal in Africa today is corn.
Again, you are doing that thing where you imply period Africans were dumb for adopting new world crops and Eurasian techniques for agriculture.
2. I said robust iron agriculture for a reason. African ironworking remained focused on bloomeries until the 20th century, in Europe bloomeries were already beginning to lose out to blast furnaces by 1250. This reliance on bloomeries (even with highly innovated draft techniques) required much more extensive reheating and reworking which limited both the throughput and drastically reduced the ability of African ironworks to produced mixed metal decisions (e.g. hard iron edging with soft iron backing). This in turn lead slower adoption of heavy plows and also to slower adoption of deep inversion tillage practices (this was likely a good long term bet as over a few generations this goes from increasing crop yields to decreasing them through soil loss).
3. So what would you like me to do? Assume that before the boom started they were only 2% of global population? When exactly do you think West Africa was ever more than 5% of global population.
Well their official plan was to:"Much less enticing" is the reason they didn't conquer it? Please tell me what Portugal was trying to do during the time period, and tell me why they changed their minds as soon as it became feasible.
a. Spread Christianity
b. Combat the spread of Islam
c. Dominate the slave trade
d. Protect the Indian trade
They changed their minds largely because the unstoppable juggernaut of Islamic expansion died out with the decline of the Ottomans, the Jesuits and other missionary societies advanced ahead of the empire, the Dutch and English began dominating the slave trade, and the Indian trade was supplanted by the French, Dutch, and English. Sure there were some freebooters who tried to carve out empires in Africa, but in the main the official policy of the crown of Portugal was to secure trade. And up until the invention of the steam engine, it was likely far more lucrative to trade for the high value goods (slaves and gold) than to try to run the place on the ground. After all when Morocco actually tried the latter it became a giant money and manpower sink with little beyond gold and salt heading back to Morocco proper.
And Africa is just an extreme example of this. Many places historically had terrible logistic connections (the US plains off the Mississippi and tributaries, the Balkans off the rivers, and more isolated bits of Persia all similarly faced trouble for any imperial master - getting money out was hard (as was getting it in).
Africa was poorer than the rest of the world. It was less populated both relatively and in absolute numbers. And it was deficient at a lot of technologies that were taken for granted throughout Eurasia (e.g. the simple case being the stirrup which was still making its way through Africa at game start).
None of this is a knock against the people there. They were quite adaptable, but once trade introduced better crops, better technology, or whatnot they typically jumped at it. So much so that many people tend to forget that things like cassava or the common bean were not extant hundreds of years ago. But they did live with the mixed blessing of being highly isolated from the major trade networks. This made their gold's value less and limited their export trade to high value/weight which was particularly heinous when slaves became profitable enough to rival gold in that category.
Africa was behind in technology if only because Africans rapidly adopted things like guns, artillery, stirrup cavalry, beans, polished steel needles, and all the rest.