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good condition, and is dirty.

With a view to improving the quality of Sierra
Leone produce legislation has been found necessary,
and this should do something towards bringing home
to the people of this countr}^ the necessity for more
careful handling of the palm produce.

In proportion to its value the bulk of palm kernels
is great, and the m.ethods of transport are poor. As
it is, a bushel of palm kernels valued at about 8s. or 9s.
is roughly a man's load, and these loads are often
carried for considerable distances to the collecting
centres. When one considers the time spent in cracking
the nuts, one by one (after the pericarp has been
removed), and then the labour necessary to transport
the kernels, it is not difficult to realise that only a
very small fraction of the possible output is brought
to the market.

At present the palm trees usually occur in belts,
that is, in certain parts of the country large numbers
of them are found growing together, but very little
serious attempt at cultivation is made. Certainly a few
seeds are scattered sometimes when a farm is being
made, but such things as palm tree nurseries and
cultivated plantations are unknown, except in parts
of the Sherbro District.

With the construction of roads suitable for wheeled
traffic the output should increase rapidly. This

Geograjyliy of Sierra Leone. 87

explains why Sherbro exports large quantities; there
the means of transport is by river, chiefly when the
rains make the rivers rise sufficiently; and before the
railway was built the Sherbro rivers were responsible
for the transport of the greater amount of the palm
kernels of the Protectorate. Even now the rivers share
(almost equally) with the railway in the conveyance of
kernels to the ports.

Before the war the greater portion of the kernels
exported went to Germany; in fact almost 85 per cent,
of the total palm produce found its way there. This
was because in Hamburg and Bremen seed-crushing
factories were set up, which were capable of dealing
with the produce immediately, and in England this
was not done. Since then England has taken the
greater part of the produce, and factories have been
set up to deal with it.

The oil obtained from the kernels is chiefly used in
making margarine, which is a substitute for butter.
Butter and lard are to people in England just what
palm oil is to the people of this country.

Just as the staple foods in this country are rice and
palm oil, so in the United Kingdom the staple foods
are bread and butter. Butter is obtained from cow's
milk, and naturally is expensive, the average pre-war
price being about Is. 6d. a lb.

Margarine, which can be manufactured from palm
kernel oil (and other oils, such as coconut oil), is made
to appear and taste like butter, and could be sold for
6d. a lb. before the war. It had practically the same
food value as butter, and the result has been that the
demand for palm kernels has grown considerably.

After expressing the oil from the kernels, the pulpy
mass which is left is made into a cake and used to feed
cattle, and as such has been found to be quite suitable
and' successful. In countries like England, where the
demand for cattle far exceeds the su]")ply, it is
necessary to supplement the ordinary pasturage with
manufactured foods. In the past the chief sources of
the manufactured food or "cake," as it is called, were

SS' An Inirnductioii to the

the pulp left from the crushing of cotton seed and that
from the seed of the flax plant or linseed, but the
practically new discovery of palm seed cake has given
the palm products a new impetus.

There are two ways of obtaining the oil from the
kernels; one is by crushing the kernels and then subject-
ing them to extreme pressure, and the other is to crush
the kernels and then treat them with an oil solvent
such as benzole, afterwards evaporating the benzole.
The first method obtains less oil per ton of kernels
crushed, but the value of the residue for cake making is

The second method obtains a greater amount of oil
per ton of kernels crushed, but the residual pulp is not
so good for making cake for cattle.

Hence there is little to choose between these methods.
If there is a demand for " Cake" within easy reach of
the factory the first method is better, otherwise the
second is the more profitable method, as naturally the
transport of cake to cattle areas far away is expensive,
and the oil seed crusher has to consider all these things.

Kola Nuts. — Next in importance to the products of
the oil palm are Kola nuts. In the 18th Century the
Portuguese who lived in Sierra Leone held the kola in
great esteem. The tree is cultivated to a large extent,
there being a few kola trees planted in all towns and
villages, and it grows wild in some forests.

It is eaten as a stimulant, and is said to enable a
traveller to march great distances without food, and
consequently it finds its way into and across the desert.

In 1916, altogether 2,484 tons of nuts wTre exported,
and valued at £303,000, the two chief places of consign-
ment being Dakar with 1,575 tons, and Gambia with
793 tons, the remainder being sent to Biasso, Conakry
and Nigeria, w4th about 30 tons each. Thus it is seen
that practically none finds it w^ay to Europe. Both
Dakar and Gambia are gates of the Desert, and
naturally the greatest quantities are sent there.

The marketing of the produce is difficult owing to
the need of keeping the nut fresh. The nuts are packed

Geography of Sierra Leone. 89

in a rough basket lined with the large leaves of a cer-
tain tree called Mbuande by the Mendes, and these
leaves have to be renewed about every three weeks. The
work of collecting, packing, and marketing the kola
nuts is almost entirely in the hands of the Syrians, but
the trade is somewhat speculative as the price varies
considerably, a measure of 160 lbs. fluctuating between
£4 and £12 in value.

In the country of its origin it is largely used by the
natives themselves, and a gift of kola is a sign of
friendship and welcome. Water is said to taste sweet
after eating kola, for it has a bitter taste and its con-
tinued use is liable to cause indigestion and sleep-

In the Protectorate there are two large plantations,
one at Blama of 130 acres with about 10,000 trees, and
one at Hangha of about 70 acres, and these are just
beginning to bear.

As a matter of fact. Sierra Leone is peculiarly suited
to the growth of Kola, both in climate and soil, and as
a result has practically no competitor in its production.

Gum Copal. — This tree is noted for its gum and is a
valuable commercial product, as many of the best
varnishes contain this important ingredient.

There is a large belt of Gum Copal trees in the neigh-
bourhood of Susuwuru, about ten miles long by about
two miles broad. As the name indicates, the town was
founded by a Susu man, about 30 years ago, with the
idea of tapping the trees, the value of which was at that
time unknown to the natives.

As a result of his work many of the old trees are
dying, indeed, but few of the trees of any size have been
spared for tapping, and this over-tapping has sapped
the vitality of the trees and in time the whole forest of
these trees would have died out, but fortunately the
Government prohibited the export of Gum Copal for
five years from the 30th September, ] 914.

This will give an opportunity for the seedlings which
have been planted to mature, and much lias been done
to show the natives how best to tap the trees without

00 An Jntrnduction to the

unduly impairing their vitality. To give an idea of
how the supply ot" Gum Copal had decreased, in 1897
when the price was very high the amount exported was
3,967 cwts. ; in 1898. when the price was low, 5,061
cwts., whereas in 1907 only 930 cwts. were exported
although the price was high.

Possibly in the future, the tappers, who are chiefly
Susus, will be licensed and thoroughly instructed in the
correct methods of tapping and this industry will again
thrive. In 1910, 20,000 seedlings were planted out near
Kennema, and 5,000 distributed to Chiefs for planting.

Piassava. — Next in importance to palm oil from the
point of view of export value, is Piassava. It is
obtained from a species of palm tree called by the Sierra
Leoneans, the Bamboo Palm, or Wine Palm, or Nduvui
by the Mendes. From the stem of the tree a wine is
extracted, which is very popular and w^hich ferments
quickly, but the process of extraction soon kills the tree.

The most important use of the leaves is for thatch-
ing, and the making of the "Bamboo Thatch" is a
skilled trade. The fibre obtained from the base of the
leaf-stalk is used by the natives for making the strong-
est rope which they have, and the leaf stalk itself is
split into laths and used for making ceilings, par-
titions, doors and stools. The leaf-stalk is split and
dried and used as a torch for travelling at night, and
the seeds of the palm are ground up to make a poison
which is thrown into ponds to kill fish.

The tree grows best in low swamp3^ parts, sometimes
forming a little forest of its own. A great amount of
labour is necessary in making the piassava fibre from
the leaf-stalks, but there is a great demand for this
commodity: which is used in European countries for the
manufacture of rope, bags, mats, and so on.

In 1916, 882 tons of fibre were exported and valued
at £19,000. Of this quantity the United Kingdom
took 823 tons, and France the remainder.

Rubber. — There are several different kinds of rubber
trees growing in this country, some are indigenous and
others have been introduced. In the past, considerable

Geography of Sierra Leone. 91

harm was done through the ruthless cutting down of
trees in order to obtain the rubber, but with the
increased supply of rubber from other parts and the
consequent falling in the price, this has largely stopped.

In the meantime, several extensive plantations of
Para rubber have been made, and the natives instructed
in the correct treatment of the trees. Possibly this
country will contribute largely to the world's supply
of rubber some years hence.

The tree is tapped in the early morning by making
incisions in the bark, and the sap or latex as it is called
is collected, coagulated with some form of acetic acid
(or the juice of limes), and then dried either in the sun
or over a slow palm-leaf fire.

As with Gum Copal care must be taken not to impair
the strength of the tree by overtapping, and much care
should be exercised in the cutting of the bark, so as not
to injure the tree to any great extent.

In 1916, ten tons of rubber were sent to the United
Kingdom and valued at £1,848.

Coconut. — This species of palm grows well in Sierra
Leone, but no definite attempts have been made to cul-
tivate it, yet the chopped up kernel or coconut yields
the valuable Copra, from wdiich an important oil is
obtained. As a matter of fact, this oil is the chief
competitor of the palm oil and palm kernel oil.

It is generally supposed that this palm only grows
well near the sea-shore, but this is hardly the case,
although it is usually found thus growing. In any case,
there is a long coast-line to Sierra Leone, and there is
no doubt that a large and valuable industry could be
carried on by the cultivation of the coconut palm and
the making of Copra.

For example, the low lying Bullom shore seems
aximirably adapted to its cultivation, and there seems
no reason why Copra should not form an important
commodity for export from this country.

The present value of Copra on the English market is
about £45 per ton. or roughly the same price ns palm

92 An I /I trod actio fi to the

Chapter VII.

In discussing the various occupations of man in
different parts of the world, it was observed that, to a
large extent, those occupations depended on the coun-
try in which he lived ; thus if minerals are available,
then mining is his work ; grass lands provide pastoral
pursuits ; forests provide hunting and lumbering, and
where climatic conditions and soil are suitable then
farming is the chief occupation, and so on.

Generally speaking, the source of all wealth is the
land, and some lands provide wealth in one direction
only, such as agricultural, or pastoral, or mineral,
whilst others have more than one source of wealth.

For example, Nigeria has all three sources, agricul-
tural in the " rivers " district, pastoral in the north, and
mineral wealth in tin and coal.

On the other hand, the main source of the wealth of
Sierra Leone is agriculture, including Forest products,
although it will be observed that the pastoral possibili-
ties are not inconsiderable.

The general geological structure of the land, with the
exception of the north and north-east, hardly gives
promise of much mineral wealth, and consequently there
is all the more necessity for developing the natural
source of our wealth, not only for our own needs but to
contribute to the general supplies of the world as other
countries do.

Before dealing in detail with the many crops which
this country can raise, perhaps it will be as well to con-
sider the present methods of farming, and how these
methods may be improved upon.

With the exception of the forests, both indigenous
and conserved, the country consists of woodlands or
"bush," and grass lands or savannahs, and some


Statute M iles

250 500 r 000

Alpine Flora

Ti.mperate Forest

Eueryreen Trees & Shrub.

Ti I, I Derate Grasslands
..j ,,.ni Ht.Du-Deseri
LLLlD Pesert

Oases & Nile Valleij

Tropical Grasslands

Eauatorial Forest


Geograjiliy of Sierra Leone. 93

When the native farmer wishes to grow rice, maize,
cassava, and so on, the usual method is to cut down the
bush, leave it to dry, and then burn it. The larger
" sticks " which are incompletely burnt are then gathered
and eventually used as firewood ; then the seed is scat-
tered by hand, and roughly hoed in, just the surface of
the soil being scratched. This is done at the end of the
dry season or during the first rains ; the early rains
provide the necessary moisture, and beyond a little
weeding, the farmer's work is finished until the crops
begin to ripen, when it is necessary to keep a number of
women and boys on the farm to drive away the flocks of
small birds which do so much damage.

For this purpose small raised shelters are con-
structed, and ingenious arrangements of strings are
made and controlled by the watchers; finally, when
the crop is ripe, the stalks are cut by hand, one by one,
and hung in small bundles to dry. Sometimes small
stacks are made somewhat resembling the " ricks " seen
in England.

When quite dry the rice is threshed, sometimes by
beating with flails, and often by treading, the rice being
placed on the ground and a number of people treading
it with a circular motion.

The husk rice thus obtained is parboiled and sun
dried, then beaten in a mortar, and winnowed either by
means of a fan, or by cleverly throwing the rice and
husk in the air and catching the rice in large basket
trays. This work is usually done by women and
children, and the " clean " rice thus obtained is ready
for use.

The land which has provided this crop is now allowed
to lie fallow, the stumps left in the ground sprout
again, and in about five years the land is farmed again.

For the next year, then, a new patch of bush has to
l^e cleared and similarly dealt with, and provided that
this new bush is availnble there is probably no economic
objection to this method, other than the loss of soil
fertility, but the increasing population, nnd the nec«s-
sity for clearing larger areas have led the farmer to

y4 -l/( Introduction to the

encroach on land which could be better utilised as
forests, and lor other products such as the palm, gum
copal, and so on.

Although the fallowing of the land does restore its
fertility to some extent, it does not entirely, hence
greater areas have to be cleared, consequently some
parts do not get sufficient rest and the succeeding crops
are poor.

The problem then that the farmer has to tackle is
how to make the best use of the soil at his disposal.

Assuming that the " bush " has been cleared, the crop
of rice harvested, and the cassava (which is often
planted with the rice) been gathered. This will pro-
l)ably be about the end of October or the beginning of
November, and practically no further farm work is
done till the next March or April.

Now is the time for " tillage." Plant foods have been
taken out of the soil, and these must be restored. To
do this the ground must be deep hoed and decaying
organic matter dug in. In general, the soil must be
manured by every possible means to ensure a balance in
favour of organic matter in the land.

The soil which has been dug deeply and turned over
and exposed to the active rays of the sun during the
rest season will improve wonderfully.

In the soil there are very tiny organisms called bac-
teria which have the power of nitrifying the soil, that
is, supplying the soil with available nitrogen which is
such an important plant food. These are dormant
during the dry season but the action of air, moisture,
and heat favours their development, whilst at the same
time these tend to destroy the destructive organisms in
the soil.

In addition to manuring and deep hoeing, there are
certain plants which have the power of increasing the
amount of available nitrogen in the soil. These plants
are chiefly leguminous, such as ground-nuts, pigeon
pea, cow pea, beans, and so on ; they are able to absorb
nitrogen from the air and through the bacteria in the

Geography of Sierra Leone. ,95

nodules on their roots transfer this to the soil in the
form available as plant foods.

Consequently, after a crop of rice, maize, or guinea-
corn, a leguminous crop can be raised which, besides
providing a valuable food keeps up the fertility of the
soil, so that in rotation another cereal crop can be
raised and a large amount of labour saved.

In many agricultural countries this process has been
going on for centuries, and the land continues to give
good crops but only by careful rotation of crops and

In connection with soil the next consideration of the
farmer is whether his soil has a sufficiency of the
ingredients necessary. In general, the soil of this coun-
try is deficient in lime, which is necessary not only as a
plant food but is useful for the nitrifying bacteria,
which are really lower forms of plant life.

There are practically no sources of lime in this
country except the small quantity available from the
burning of oyster shells, and it would be advantageous
if large quantities of lime were imported, together with
other useful artificial manures, including potash ^nd

Further, during the rainy season it is necessary to
keep the land covered with vegetation, to prevent the
heavy rains Avashing away the fine particles of the soil
leaving only the laterite soil so often seen. Conse-
quently where the land is allowed to lie fallow, a catch-
crop, or a crop for " green manuring" is advisable.

Finally, the kinds of crops most suitable to his soil
must be considered ; for example, certain kinds of rice
grow better in swamps than on liill-sides, some localities
are eminently suited to cocoa, whilst others are not,
and so on, and the farmer soon learns this from
experimenting and experience.

This conservation of the soil then limits the areas
given over to one kind of crop, and permits the cultiva-
tion of other economic products, thus making the best
use of all the available land.

90 All Introduction to the

111 connection with the forest products it has been
noted that the burning of the " bush " necessitated by
the desire for new patches has destroyed pahn, gum and
timber trees, whereas less wasteful methods of agricul-
ture, besides producing better and more varied crops,
would preserve these belts of economic trees.

The native farmer has to be taught these underlying
principles, and for that purpose the Government has
set aside an area of about 1,000 acres at Njala, about
six miles north of Mano in the Eonietta District. The
river Taia divides the farm into two parts. On the
north part plantations of coffee, cocoa, rubber, limes,
coconuts, and kola have been made, and in the south
part, experiments in rotation of crops are carried out.

Native chiefs and headmen from all over the Pro-
tectorate are invited to come to the farm and see what
is being done, and invariably they are surprised at the
results achieved.

In addition to this, out-stations have been opened up
in charge of native overseers trained on the farm, and
the people in the neighbourhood can learn from the
actual experiments conducted in their own parts.

Agricultural experts tour the country and advise the
chiefs and people with regard to their crops, and dis-
tribute seeds and plants which have been proved^

Some of the more enlightened chiefs have already
taken advantage of the possibilities opened up for them
and have plantations and farms which are very

It is to be hoped that much more will be achieved as
this work develops and the people gradually learn how
best to develop their country.

Education will do much to further these aims, and it
is proposed to train a large number of young teachers
from all parts of the country at the headquarters of the
Agricultural Department in a College set up for this
purpose Their instruction will be chiefly agricultural
and largely in the vernacular. The scheme arranges
that these youths return to their native towns and

Geogra'phy of Sierra Leone. 97

open up small vernacular schools, again chiefly to give
instruction in improved agricultural methods.

By this means a much larger proportion of the people
will be brought into contact with these improved
methods, and although naturally conservative, the ris-
ing generation should be enlightened and the old
methods will gradually give place to the new.

It is necessary to rouse the interest of the people in
the possibilities of their country, and to encourage them
to produce not only what they require for their own use,
but to contribute towards the requirements of peoples
living in other countries.

For this purpose Agricultural Shows are held, and
successful exhibitors are rewarded ; but many more of
these shows are required and chiefly in those parts
where, although the soil is productive, but very little
use is made of it.

A good system of communications is required by
rail, road and river, so that the farmer can easily and
quickly bring his surplus produce to the markets.

Some of the chiefs have already recognised the value
of good roads and are assisting in the making and
maintenance of these but much more has to be done yet.

With the advent of good roads, better and quicker
means of transport will be available, the present method
of " carrying " is both slow and an enormous waste of
labour. For example, to transport one ton of kernels a
distance of say, 15 miles, 25 to 30 men are employed for
a whole day, whereas an ordinary motor lorry controlled
by one man could deal with this in about an hour.

Further, the obsolete methods of cultivation are very
wasteful. Improved agricultural tools, and in some
parts machines, must be introduced. The grass fields
in parts of the Karene and Northern Sherbro would
permit of the use of the plough, and if horses do not
thrive in all parts, then oxen or motor power could be

The farmer requires aid from the State, facilities
both in land and money should be provided, and the
whole system of labour re-organised, besides guarantees


98 ■^■i^i Introductiun to the

of safety of property in the Protectorate. Under the
present system, the unfortunate farmer or peasant
proprietor cannot call his crop his own, as an unscrupu-
lous chief might step in and in one way or another
deprive the farmer of the fruits of his toil. If not the
Chief, then one of the vast number of unemployed
satellites who constantly follow the Chief and commit
these wrongs in the Chief's name.

The absurd system of domestics which is really a
relic of slavery should be rigorously uprooted, and
instead of the usual large number of people depending
on their domestics for their wealth, all should take a
share in producing by honest labour the natural wealth
of the Colony

Finally the workers must receive adequate return
for their labour, and obtain the best possible prices for

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Online LibraryHarold MichellAn introduction to the geography of Sierra Leone → online text (page 7 of 10)