Africa's Environments: Zones & Agricultural Adaptation

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  • 0:00 Africa's Environment
  • 0:41 Sahara & Sahel
  • 2:17 Tropics & Highlands
  • 3:32 East Coast & Savanna
  • 4:46 Southern Africa
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore several of the largest ecosystems of Africa and the agriculture that is practiced in each. Let's take a look at a landscape which is as diverse as the continent itself. After you've watched the video, see what you've learned by testing yourself with our quiz questions.

Africa's Environment

Diversity in all walks of life is a wonderful thing. After all, it would probably get pretty annoying to have the same thing for lunch every day! The importance of diversity extends not just to food choices, but to environments as well. In Africa, for instance, there is a huge variety of climates and ecosystems. Over the course of history, mankind has developed different tools and farming techniques across the continent to adapt to each region's particular circumstances.

In this lesson, we will explore the main climates that cover the continent of Africa and the unique crops and agricultural practices that humans have developed in each.

Sahara & Sahel

Possibly the most defining feature of the African continent is the Sahara Desert. Famous for its landscapes of windswept sand dunes and fables about lost travelers dying of thirst, the Sahara Desert covers an enormous amount of space - roughly 3.3 million square miles - and is the largest desert on Earth. Reaching from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Nile River Delta, the Sahara covers virtually the entire northern third of the continent, with the exception of a thin strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea in Morocco and Libya. What few communities eke out livings in these rough conditions often cluster around oases. These are natural springs that come to the surface when deep underground reservoirs push their water to the surface. This makes basic, subsistence agriculture around these areas possible, but on a very local level. Communities tend to be only a few thousand at most.

The Sahara does not end abruptly. Instead, there is an intermediary zone between the dryness of the Sahara and wet climes of Africa's tropics: the Sahel. The Sahel is much smaller in scope than the Sahara, but it stretches across the length of the continent along the Sahara's southern border. The Sahel is mainly plains of scrubby grasslands and hearty trees, like baobab, which can live in conditions with little water. Though conditions in the Sahel are better for agriculture than in the Sahara, the area is still prone to extreme droughts, and recent studies have shown growing desertification in this region, making prospects for farmers even tougher. Still, some farmers are able to make a living growing sorghum, onions, and other hearty vegetables.

Tropics & Highlands

South of these regions, in heavy bands in Central Africa and along the gold coast, are Africa's tropical rainforests. Unfortunately, much of Africa's native rainforests have been destroyed as a result of human activity, including forestry and agriculture, and what does survive is under constant threat. The immense amount of rain these regions receive each year make traditional agriculture possible, and the rich biodiversity of the rainforest helps make its soil rich in nutrients. Rainforest land is routinely cleared by both poor farmers and agribusiness corporations to plant all sorts of crops, from rice, to cassava, to sugar cane.

Northeast of Africa's central rainforests, are the Ethiopian highlands, a unique geographical feature of Africa that was created by the movements of the Earth's crust millennia ago. The rolling hills and stark climbs of the highlands make it an ecosystem unlike any other in Africa, and the Ethiopian highlands are where some of the earliest fossils marking the evolution of man have been found. These highlands are also heavily farmed, and Ethiopia is an enormous agricultural exporter of coffees, flowers, cotton, and other crops. The heavy agricultural use of these lands has led to diminishing agricultural returns in recent decades.

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