The Swahili coast was dotted about with around 40 cities, small to large in size, starting in the North with Mogadishu (which is now in the capital of Somalia) and ranging south to Sofala (in modern Mozambique). Each city was well supplied with fruit and vegetables from the cultivated areas within and without the city boundaries. The Moroccan scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta visited the coast in 1331. He described in detail the splendour of the Sultan parading through Mogadishu. .

"All the people walked barefoot, and there were raised over his head four canopies of coloured silk and on the top of each canopy was the figure of a bird in gold. His clothes that day were a robe of green Jerusalem stuff and underneath it fine loose robes of Egypt. He was dressed with wraps of silk and turbaned with a large turban. Before him drums and trumpets and pipes were played…" -From Ibn Battuta in Black Africa, by Said Hamdun and Noel King.

Ibn Battuta also remarks on the rich variety of food along the coast, noting how fat the people of Mogadishu were. He himself ate handsomely there, taking chicken, meat and fish and vegetables, with side dishes of bananas in milk and garnishes of pickled lemons, chilies and mangoes.

On two separate occasions, the Portuguese traveler Vasco da Gama stopped along the coast and received food for his crew. From the King of Mombasa in 1498, he obtained oranges, lemons and sugar cane, along with a sheep. In 1499, from the gardens of Malindi, he received oranges again for his scurvy-ridden crew. But it was not until 1820 that intensive agricultural cultivation was practised. It was then that Sultan Seyyid Said set up large clove plantations in Zanzibar, using slave labour.


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