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TThe Zulu-speaking people are descendants of the Iron Age communities of Southern Africa who cultivated the soil and kept livestock. They inhabited the well-watered region of Southeast Africa, the interior in the Highveld, and the territory between the Drakensberg and the Kalahari borderland. They had mixed economies growing crops in a harsh environment. Temperature, topography and rainfall influenced the productive characteristics of the soil. Warm temperatures and high rainfall in the coastlands and lower river valleys permitted long growing seasons, whereas the growing season became shorter as rainfall and temperature declined in the interior.

Farmers adapted to these conditions by growing crops with different productive and harvesting characteristics. The most important crops that these societies grew before 1700 were millet and sorghum because they had the capacity to withstand drought and infertile soil conditions. During the 18th century, maize, a foreign product that the Portuguese had introduced into the region, replaced or coexisted with millet and sorghum. Maize had similar requirements to sorghum in planting, weeding and harvesting. It was, however, superior to sorghum in producing a higher yield of food per hectare, and was less susceptible to damage by birds.

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