Explore and Understand Africa Through Her Food and Culture

If you like honey, fear not the bees. -African Proverb

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Farming in Africa Changed Little in 3,515 Years

Pounding grain requires great skill and stamina. Traditional crops such as yam, sorghum, millet and teff have been ground in Africa for centuries. The traditional hand tools and techniques for threshing, winnowing, and milling have changed little in 3,515 years and are still commonly used throughout Africa. 


Pounding grain is a communal activity in Africa
Pounding grain is a communal activity in Africa
Since around 1500 B.C., African women were processing grain using a hand milling method with a mortar and pestle to separate the indigestible hulls from the edible grain. 

To many people living in Africa, foods such as wild greens, yams, corn, millet, cassava, teff, rice, sorghum and groundnuts are indispensable in the diet. Traditional crops such as yam, sorghum, millet and teff have been ground in Africa for centuries. Traditional simple hand tools for threshing, winnowing, and milling are commonly used throughout Africa having changed little in 3,515 years. Rural African diets are influenced by mainly subsistence farming specific to the geographical region. In some regions, rice is the main crop while, in others harvesting of wheat supplemented by fruits and vegetables comprises the bulk of daily food intake. 


What is threshing, winnowing and milling?



Pounding grain is often a necessary communal activity and many hours are spent each day milling grain by hand.
African groundnuts or peanuts
Threshing is hitting the stems and husks of grain or cereal plants to separate the grains or seeds from the straw. Wind winnowing or screening is a method used for separating grain from chaff. Pounding or milling grain requires great skill and stamina, the goal is not to produce very fine flour but rather to mill the grain to a point of coarseness that is acceptable to the cook. 

Milling, pounding and grinding are used interchangeably to describe the process of taking grain and decreasing it down to smaller sizes.

Pounding grain is often a necessary communal activity and many hours are spent each day milling grain by hand. Pounding grain is therefore still a common sight and sound in many areas of Africa.

Many people in Africa cannot afford to pay for store bought flour or industrial grain milling and they grind by hand using traditional techniques such as a mortar and pestle.
Rice before milling
Mortar and pestle grinding methods are still in common use throughout Africa today. However, mills are very important machines for many urban communities in Africa as they eliminate much tedium and time-consuming labor. 

Bakhresa Grain Milling, a subsidiary of Tanzania-based Bakhresa Group, is the largest producer of wheat flour in East Africa. Bakhresa Grain Milling operates mills in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique and Burundi selling store bought flour.

Many people still cannot afford to pay for store bought flour or industrial grain milling and they grind by hand using traditional techniques such as a mortar and pestle. 


Share this page

Trending Now

Did you know?

The eye never forgets what the heart has seen - African Proverb