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Government and the Decline of the Nigerian Oil-Palm Export Industry, 1919–1939*

  • David Meredith (a1)

Extract

Between 1900 and 1925 the British Government evolved a policy concerning agricultural development in West Africa by which expatriate-owned plantations, especially for oil palms, were excluded. This prohibition created as many problems as it solved, for the Nigerian Government in particular faced the problem of competition in the international palm-oil and kernel market from plantations in South-east Asia and the Belgian Congo. In the 1920s the Nigerian Government went to considerable effort to entice British capitalists to invest in palm-oil processing (but not production), but to no avail. In the 1930s the Government concentrated on trying to rehabilitate the oil-palm industry by encouraging the establishment of small, native-owned plantations, improving native methods of oil extraction and controlling the quality of palm-oil and kernel exports. This policy was beset with difficulties of finance, inadequate research and the effects on land tenure systems. It failed, and the Nigerian palm-oil export industry lost its place in the world market.

British trusteeship does not appear to have been a positive policy as far as economic development was concerned. It created a dilemma which the colonial authorities were not equipped to solve in the economic and political context of the inter-war period.

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1 Omosimi, Olufemi, ‘The Gold Coast land question, 1894–1900: some issues raised on West Africa's economic development’, Int. J. Afr. Hist. Studies, V (1972), 453469; Lugard, Lord, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (London, 1922, 5th edn. 1965), 486487; Buell, Raymond Leslie, The Native Problem in Africa, I (New York, 1928), 750765; Lugard, Sir Frederick Dealtry, ‘Tropical Africa’, Edinburgh Review (Apr. 1919), 367379; Dennett, R. E., ‘Agricultural Progress in Nigeria’, J. Afr. Soc., XIX (July 1919), 266289; Crabtree, W. A., ‘Great Britain in West Africa’, J. Afr. Soc., XX (Apr. 1920), 196205; Leggett, Sir H., ‘Economic problems of British tropical Africa’, United Empire, XIII (July 1922), 436440; Lugard, Sir Frederick Dealtry, ‘Native races and the land’, Economist (18 Apr. 1925), 740741; Report by the Hon. W. G. A. Ormsby-Gore (Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the Colonies) on his visit to West Africa in 1926, British Parliamentary Papers (hereafter BPP), 1926, IX, Cmd. 2744, 211; Lugard, Sir Frederick Dealtry, ‘The white man's task in tropical Africa’, Foreign Affairs (New York) (Oct. 1926), 5768; Ormsby-Gore, William, ‘British West Africa’, United Empire, XVIII (Jan. 1927), 2841; Thompson, Sir Graeme, ‘Problems of administration and development in Nigeria’, J. Afr. Soc. (July 1927), 305314.

2 Nworah, K. Dike, ‘The politics of Lever's West African concessions, 1907–1913’, Int. J. Afr. Hist. Studies, V (1972), 248264; Buell, , Native problem, I, 766780; Hancock, W. K., Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, II, Problems of Economic Policy, 1918–1939, Pt. 2 (London, 1942), 190191; Wilson, Charles, The History of Unilever, a Study in Economic Growth and Social Change, I (London, 1954), 180183; Report of the Committee on Edibleand Oil-producing Nuts and Seeds with a Despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, BPP, 1916, IV, Cd.8247, 15; Evidence, 1916, IV, Cd.8248, 63; Correspondence respecting the grant (to Messrs. Lever Bros.) of exclusive rights for the extraction of oil frompalmfruits, BPP, 19121913, LIX, Cd.6561, 657.

3 Hopkins, A. G., An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), 210216; Usoro, Eno J., The Nigerian Oil Palm Industry (Ibadan, 1974), 3640; Fieldhouse, D. K., Unilever Overseas (London, 1978), chap. 9. British planters elsewhere – producing cocoa in Trinidad, rubber in Malaya and tea in Ceylon for example – sought and received substantial government assistance during the inter-war period. See Imperial Economic Committee, 22nd Report, Cocoa (London, 1932); Fitz-Randolf Martin, Robert, International Raw Commodity Price Control (New York, 1937).

4 Report by Ormsby-Gore, 107–108; Public Record Office, London [hereafter cited as PRO]: Lord Lugard to Secretary of State for the Colonies, 17 May 1925, C.O. 583/138/23843/25. For the firmness of the Colonial Office position see Hyam, Ronald, ‘The Colonial Office mind, 1900–1914’, in Hillmer, N. and Wigley, P. (eds.), The First British Commonwealth (London, 1980), 46.

5 Hetherington, Penelope, British Paternalism and Africa, 1920–1940 (London, 1978), 4560; Ehrlich, Cyril, ‘Building and caretaking: economic policy in British tropical Africa, 1890–1960’, Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd series, XXVI, iv (1973), 649667.

6 Calculated from The Statistical Abstract for British Self-Governing Dominions, Colonies, Possessions and Protectorates in Each Year From 1903 to 1923, BPP 1926, XXVIII, Cmd.2738, 307.

7 Calculated from League of Nations, Statistical Yearbook, 1926 (Geneva, 1927). Nigerian exports include those of the mandate of the British Cameroons for 1922. The Yearbook's compilers converted the export of palm kernels into oil at a rate of 45 per cent.

8 PRO: Clifford to Secretary of State, 26 March 1923, C.O. 583/118/19166/23.

9 PRO: memorandum by O. T. Faulkner, Director of Agriculture for Nigeria, 20 June 1922,0.0.583/110/33360/22.

10 Lugard, , Dual Mandate, 487.

11 PRO: Clifford to Secretary of State, 29 May 1920, C.O. 583/88/29829/20.

12 PRO: Memorandum by Faulkner, 1922, C.O. 583/110/33360/22.

13 PRO: Clifford to Secretary of State, 31 Dec. 1923, C.O. 583/121/3041/24.

14 Clifford, Sir Hugh, ‘Foreword’, in Barnes, A. C., ‘Chemical investigation into the products of the oil palm’, Special Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria (April 1924), 6.

15 Ibid., 63.

16 Ibid., 6.

17 PRO: Clifford to Devonshire, 31 Dec. 1923, C.O. 583/121/3041/24.

18 Report of a Committee Appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, September1923, to consider the best means of securing improved and increased production of palm oiland palm kernels (Colonial No. 10, London, 1925).

19 Ibid., 9.

20 PRO: Clifford to Secretary of State, 16 Oct. 1924, C.O. 583/128/51833/24.

21 Ibid.

22 PRO: Thompson to Secretary of State, 15 Jan. 1926, C.O. 654/68/1191/26.

23 Speech by Lord Leverhulme, Liverpool, 9 July 1924, reported in West Africa (26 July 1924), 745. See also evidence given by Messrs Smart, Trevor and Knowles to the Committee on Edible and Oil-Producing Nuts and Seeds in 1916: BPP, 1916, IV, Cd.8248, 68–297.

24 The scheme was set out by Faulkner, in a memorandum, ‘Proposals for Financial Assistance to Palm Oil Factories’, 11 Dec. 1925, and enclosed in Thompson's despatch of 15 Jan. 1926, C.O. 554/68/1191/26.

25 PRO: Thompson to Secretary of State, 10 Mar. 1927, C.O. 583/146/70/27.

26 Report by Ormsby-Gore, 109.

27 PRO: minute by Ormsby-Gore, 18 Jan. 1927, C.O. 583/146/146/70.

28 PRO: minute by Flood, 1 Feb. 1927, C.O. 583/146/146/70.

29 Waters, H. B., ‘Notes on a visit to the oil palm plantations of Sumatra and Malaya, 1926’, Sixth Annual Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria (1927), 112.

30 PRO: memorandum by Faulkner, enclosure no. 1, 31 Aug. 1927, C.O. 146/146/70.

31 27 Sept. 1927; a copy of the minutes were sent to the C.O., 4 Oct. 1937, C.O. 146/146/70.

32 Adeniyi-Jones, Dr C. C., ‘Political and administrative problems of Nigeria’, West Africa (1 Sept. 1928), 11801181.

33 Ojo-Cole, Julius, ‘The oil palm: present conditions and prospects of the West African trade’, West Africa (1 Sept. 1928), 1189. Ojo-Cole's italics.

34 Ibid.

35 PRO: Thompson to Secretary of State, 29 Dec. 1927, C.O. 583/155/40/28.

36 PRO: Thompson to Secretary of State, 18 Oct. 1929, C.O. 583/168/692/29. Nigerian Products made their application in Oct. 1928 and in Feb. 1929 were told that the scheme could not apply to one firm only. In June the new owners of the African and Eastern Trading Corporation, the United Africa Company, threatened to close the mill if the Nigerian Government would not subsidize its operations. It agreed to do so under the terms of the 1929 scheme for five years in July 1930. See C.O. 583/170/718/30.

37 The Pioneer, a ‘self-contained power-driven mill’ with a capacity to crush 10 cwt. of fruit per hour and recover 85 per cent of the oil (compared to 60 per cent by a hand-screw press), was distributed by the United Africa Co. Lord Trenchard made the offer to Sir Bernard Bourdillon, Governor of Nigeria, 18 May 1939: Nigerian National Archives [hereafter NNA] Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) 26/630/36546. See also Nigerian Government, Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1939, pp. 2526.

38 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Colonial Secretary, 1 July 1940, CSO/26/630/36546.

39 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Colonial Secretary, 6 Nov. 1939, CSO/26/630/36546.

40 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Colonial Secretary, 20 Aug. 1940; minute by Colonial Secretary, 5 Sept. 1940, CSO/26/630/36546.

41 NNA: Colonial Secretary to Trenchard, 5 Feb. 1942, CSO/26/630/36546.

42 Ibid.

43 NNA: memorandum to Governor, 15 Dec. 1947, CSO/26/276/43683. See also Usoro, , Nigerian Oil Palm Industry, 88.

44 West Africa (24 July 1924), 745.

45 See Mars, J., ‘Extra-territorial enterprises’ in Margery, Perham (ed.), The Economics of a Tropical Dependency, II (London, 1948); Bauer, P. T., West African Trade: A Study of Competition, Oligopoly and Monopoly in a Changing Economy (London, 1954).

46 Fieldhouse, D. K., Unilever Overseas (London, 1978), chap. 9.

47 Nigerian Government, Oil Palm Planting (Lagos, 1934), I.

48 NNA: memorandum by Faulkner, 22 Sept. 1936, reviewing policy of previous fifteen years, 080/26/1126/29777.

49 PRO: Cameron to Secretary of State, 27 Sept. 1933, C.O. 583/193/1255/33.

50 Nigerian Government, Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1938 (Lagos, 1940), 19, and for 1939, 19.

51 Nigerian Government, Trade Report for the Year 1939 (Lagos, 1940), 2.

52 NNA: Findlay to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 10 Aug. 1933;CSO/26/515/17696.

53 NNA: Bourdillon to Secretary of State, 2 Apr. 1937, CSO/26/516/17696.

54 NNA: memorandum by the Director of Agriculture on the Report by A. F. B. Bridges on the oil palm industry of Nigeria, 18 Oct. 1938, CSO/26/516/17696.

55 NNA: minutes of a meeting between the Association of West African Merchants and Bourdillon, Feb. 1937, CSO/26/1127/29777.

56 NNA: Colonial Secretary to Secretary, Western Provinces, 21 Oct. 1940, CSO/26/717/17696.

57 NNA: memorandum by Faulkner, 22 Sept. 1936, CSO/26/1126/29777.

58 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Governor, 16 Jan. 1934, CSO/26/525/28556.

59 NNA: Bourdillon to Secretary of State, 2 Apr. 1937, CSO/26/1127/29777.

60 Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1937, 21.

61 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 7 Nov. 1931, concerning apprehensions of the Oba of Benin; Resident of Benin to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 25 Nov. 1931, CSO/26/515/17696.

62 NNA: Findlay to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 11 Aug. 1933, CSO/26/515/17696.

63 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 7 Nov. 1931, CSO/26/515/17696.

64 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Secretary, Southern Provinces, 8 Sept. 1933, CSO/26/515/17696. See also Meek, C. K., Law and Authority in a Nigerian Tribe (London, 1937), 18.

65 NNA: Director of Agriculture to Colonial Secretary, 27 Feb. 1934, CSO/26/516/17696.

66 Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1937, 19.

67 Faulkner, O. T. ‘Measures for increasing production of palm fruit in Nigeria’, Fifth Annual Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture of Nigeria, 1926 (Lagos, 1927), 13.

68 NNA: memorandum by Director of Agriculture on Bridges' Report, 18 Oct. 1938, CSO/26/516/17696.

69 Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1937, 20; for 1938, 18.

70 Faulkner, O. T., ‘Aims and objects of the agricultural department’, First AnnualBulletin of the Department of Agriculture of Nigeria, 1922 (Lagos, 1923), 15.

71 Gray, J. E., ‘Native methods of preparing palm oil’, First Annual Bulletin…1922; Faulkner, O. T. and Lewin, C. J., ‘Native methods of preparing palm oil – II’, Second Annual Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture of Nigeria, 1923 (Lagos, 1924).

72 Barnes, A. C., ‘An improved process for the extraction of palm oil by natives. The “cooker-press” process’, Fifth Annual Bulletin…1926.

73 Manlove, D. and Watson, W. A., ‘Improvement of small press process for palm oil extraction’, paper no. XVII, Second Conference of West African Agricultural Officers, Gold Coast, 1929, Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of the Gold Coast, No. 20, 1930, 212.

74 Ibid.

75 Manlove, and Watson, , ‘Press extraction of palm oil in Nigeria’, Tenth Annual Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria, 1931 (Lagos, 1932).

76 Ibid., 35.

77 Annual Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1937, 22.

78 Ibid, and Report…1938, 27.

79 Report…1937, 23.

80 Faulkner, , ‘Aims and objects of the agricultural department’, 10.

81 Calculated from the Colonial Office List, 1922–1939.

82 Nigerian Government, Annual Report on the Customs Departments of the Year 1929 (Lagos, 1930).

83 Speech by G. G. Auchinleck, Second Conference of West African Agricultural Officers, Gold Coast, 1929, I, Proceedings, Department of Agriculture, Gold Coast, Bulletin No. 19, 1930, 48.

84 Ibid.

85 Report of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria for 1937, 18.

86 Empire Marketing Board, Annual Report, 1931–1932 (E.M.B. no. 53, 1932), appendix II.

87 Ibid.

88 Details of grants made from the Colonial Development Fund, 1929–1940, appear in the interim reports of the Colonial Department Advisory Committee, nos. I–II.

89 Anon, , ‘The African palm-oil industry, part in – machinery’, Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, XV, i (1917), 5778; Barnes, , ‘Chemical investigation into the products of the oil palm’, op.cit., and ‘Mechanical processes for the extraction of palm oil’, Supplement to Special Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria, 1924 (Lagos, 1925).

90 Waters, H. B., ‘Notes on a visit to the oil-palm plantations of Sumatra and Malaya’, Sixth Annual Bulletin of the Agricultural Department of Nigeria, 1926 (Lagos, 1927), 112113.

91 A short ‘Eleventh Bulletin’ was published in 1936.

92 Great Britain, Colonial Office, Report of the Mission Appointed to Enquire into the Production and Transport of Vegetable Oils and Oil Seeds Produced in the West African Colonies, Colonial No. 211 (1947), 15.

93 Findlay, A. J., ‘Inspection of produce in Nigeria’, paper given at the Second Conference of Agricultural Officers, Gold Coast, 1929, Gold Coast Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 20 (Accra, 1930), 129.

94 Calculated from the Statistical Yearbooks of the League of Nations, 1935/36 and1940/41 (Geneva, 1936, 1941).

95 Calculated from Statistical Abstract for the Several British Overseas Dominions and Protectorates in each of the Years 1913 and from 1922 to 1927, Fifty-ninth number, BPP, 1929–1930, XXX, Cmd.3434, 196; Statistical Abstract for the British Commonwealth for eachof the Ten Years 1936 to 1945 (Trade and Commerce Section), Sixty-ninth number, BPP, 1946–1947, XV, Cmd.7224, 121.

96 Calculated from: Annual Report on the Customs Department of Nigeria for 1922; for 1929; Trade Report for 1938.

97 NNA: Secretary of Southern Provinces to Colonial Secretary, 25 Jan. 1939, CSO/26/516/17696.

98 Calculated from Usoro, , Nigerian Oil Palm Industry, 24.

99 Ibid., 28.

100 NNA: Secretary of State to Nigeria, 16 Oct. 1934, CSO/26/1126/29777.

101 Agreement between the United Kingdom and Norway Relating To Trade and Commerce (May 1933), BPP, 1932–1933, XXVII, Cmd.4323, 533; Ratified (June 1933), BPP, 1933–1934, XXVII, Cmd.4500, 657.

102 NNA: Sierra Leone to Nigeria, 27 July 1933, 080/26/1125/28659.

103 NNA: Gerard Clauson (Colonial Office) personal to Cameron, 27 June 1933, 050/26/1125/28659.

104 Meyer, Frederick, Britain's Colonies in World Trade (London, 1948), 265; Great Britain, Parliament, 292, H. C. Debs, fifth series, 772–773, statement by Sir Phillip Cunliffe-Lister, 16 July 1934.

105 Nigeria, Legislative Council Debates, 22 and 24 Oct. 1934, 4251, 109111.Anon, , ‘Exploitation or evolution?’, West Africa (21 Aug. 1934); Nigerian Government, ‘World trade in oil, nuts and seeds’, Sessional Paper No. 18 of 1935 (Lagos, 1935); Great Britain, Parliament, 292, H. C. Debs, fifth series, 211, statement by Cunliffe-Lister, 19 June 1934.

106 NNA: Secretary of State to Nigeria, 16 Oct. 1934, CSO/26/1126/29777.

107 NNA: Cameron to Secretary of State, 21 Feb. 1935, CSO/26/1126/29777.

108 NNA: Secretary of State to Cameron, 28 Feb. 1935, CSO/26/1126/29777.

109 NNA: Secretary of Southern Provinces to Colonial Secretary, 25 Jan. 1939, CSO/26/516/17696.

110 Ibid.

111 Sir Arthur Richards, Governor of Nigeria, wrote to the Secretary of State, 16 Oct. 1945, recommending the establishment of a ‘comprehensive collective system of marketing covering all palm products. This I envisage on lines somewhat similar to the proposals contained in the Cocoa White Paper and it will, I submit, be the only means by which the producer can be assured of receiving the full value of his labours’, NNA:CSO/26/276/43683. Usoro, , The Nigerian Palm Oil Industry, chap. 6, contains a full discussion of post-war developments.

112 In 1926 Nigeria accounted for 44 per cent of the world's kernel exports, in 1932 51 per cent and in 1938 44 per cent. Calculated from League of Nations, Statistical Yearbooks, 1935–1936 and 1940–1941 (Geneva, 1936, 1941).

113 NNA: memorandum by Faulkner, 22 Sept. 1936, CSO/26/1126/29777.

114 NNA: E. Melville (Colonial Office) to G. Beresford-Stooke, Officer administering the Government of Nigeria, 28 Nov. 1947, CSO/26/276/43683.

115 West Africa (2 Aug. 1924), 774.

116 Compare McPhee, Allan optimism in 1926: The Economic Revolution in BritishWest Africa (London, 1926), 199.

117 This issue was debated by members of the Nigerian Civil Service during the war in the Forestry Department's journal, Farm and Forest; see, for example, 8. White, , ‘Economic and social development in Africa in the post-war period’, Farm and Forest, IV, iii (1943), 116; Gisborne, J. H., ‘Some thoughts on post-war development’, Farm andForest, V, i (1944), 24.

118 PRO: minute by Harding, 13 Nov. 1925, C.O. 583/136/48391.

* I am grateful to the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, University of New South Wales, for financial assistance to research for this paper; also to Christopher Fyfe and J. Forbes Munro, who commented on an earlier draft.

Government and the Decline of the Nigerian Oil-Palm Export Industry, 1919–1939*

  • David Meredith (a1)

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