Mijikenda - Economy

The most fertile area in Mijikenda is the kaya ridge. It receives 89 to 127 centimeters of rain annually, in two rainy seasons (from March through May and from September through October). In the past, this area was densely forested, but now much of the land is planted with fruit trees: mango, cashew, orange, and coconut palms. Along the narrow band next to the coast are planted annual crops, such as sorghum, maize, and rice, as well as groves of fruit trees. The interior plateau is a drier and less fertile area that borders the Taru Desert to the west. At a distance of 40 to 48 kilometers inland, precipitation drops below 64 centimeters annually, and cultivation becomes nearly impossible.

When everyone still lived within the hilltop villages, people cultivated the lower slopes of the hills and the adjacent plateau. Fields were used for a few years and then allowed to lie fallow for a longer period. By the mid-nineteenth century, people began to move away from the hilltop villages to vacant land. They burned away the virgin woodlands of the plateau, settling there for a few years and then moving on. The traditional staple crops of the Mijikenda were sorghum and millet, but these two cultigens were largely replaced during the nineteenth century by maize. Additional food crops were beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, and yams. Coconuts and castor seeds were grown for oil, and coconuts, sesame, sorghum, millet, and maize were traded.

The most important crop of the Mijikenda is the coconut palm. The major products of the coconut palm are the oil that is extracted from the meat, the palm wine tapped from the shoots, and the fronds, which are woven into baskets, mats, and roofing shingles. In the eastern areas, each homestead also keeps a few goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks for domestic consumption. Galla and Kwavi raids restricted cattle keeping until late in the nineteenth century, but today cattle are kept in the marginal areas to the west.

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