The University of Wisconsin Press

African Studies / Agriculture / Geography / History


People of the Plow
An Agricultural History of Ethiopia, 1800–1990
James C. McCann

For more than two thousand years, Ethiopia’s ox-plow agricultural system was the most efficient and innovative in Africa, but has been afflicted in the recent past by a series of crises: famine, declining productivity, and losses in biodiversity. James C. McCann analyzes the last two hundred years of agricultural history in Ethiopia to determine whether the ox-plow agricultural system has adapted to population growth, new crops, and the challenges of a modern political economy based in urban centers.

This agricultural history is set in the context of the larger environmental and landscape history of Ethiopia, showing how farmers have integrated crops, tools, and labor with natural cycles of rainfall and soil fertility, as well as with the social vagaries of changing political systems. McCann traces characteristic features of Ethiopian farming, such as the single-tine scratch plow, which has retained a remarkably consistent design over two millennia, and a crop repertoire that is among the most genetically diverse in the world.

People of the Plow provides detailed documentation of Ethiopian agricultural practices since the early nineteenth century by examining travel narratives, early agricultural surveys, photographs and engravings, modern farming systems research, and the testimony of farmers themselves, collected during McCann's five years of fieldwork. He then traces the ways those practices have evolved in the twentieth century in response to population growth, urban markets, and the presence of new technologies.

"Those interested in the history of one of the centers of crop origin and genetic diversity will find this book an invaluable reference."—Brhane Gebrekidan, Virginia Tech

James C. McCann
is associate professor of history and director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. He is the author of From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: A Rural History, 1900–1935 and has worked with many international aid and agricultural organizations on issues of agriculture and land use in northeastern Africa.

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An examination of Ethiopia's ox-plow agriculture.

July 1995

LC: 94-037124 S
316 pp. 6 x 9
30 halftones, 5 maps

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Paper $24.95 x
ISBN 978-0-299-14614-6
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