Harold Michell.

An introduction to the geography of Sierra Leone online

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their products ; the surest means of increasing produc-
tion is the encouragement of individual effort.

Agricultural Products.

Rice. — Although there are nearly 100 different
names given to the dozen varieties of rice grown in
the country, they may be, roughly, divided into two
kinds, upland and swamp rice.

The method of growing the upland rice has already
been described; swamp rice is usually grown on the
banks of tidal rivers at the river mouth, and also in
the valley swamps in the interior of the country.

In some parts of the country, especially at the mouth
of the Skarcies River, the rice is transplanted from
nursery beds when about a month or six weeks old in
a somewhat similar manner to that of the East.

Generally speaking, the natives sow their farms too
thinly; probably the best quantity of native rice to sow
per acre is one bushel.

Rices from other parts of the world, India, British
Guiana, and so on, have been experimented with, and
many do well in this country, but generally the native
prefers his own varieties of rice, which have larger

Geogra'phy of Sierra Leone. 99

grains than the Indian varieties, although British
Guiana rices are in demand. Most of the native
varieties are certainly most excellent rices, and if
grown in sufficient quantities should, be valuable for
export. At one time most of the rice exported found
its v^^ay to other West African ports, but owing to the
necessity for conserving the food supply of the Colony
the export of rice has been forbidden.

In 1914, 18,705 bushels of rice were exported and
valued at £4,855; in 1915, 21,600 bushels, valued at
£7,288; whereas in 1916, 3,192 bushels only were
exported and valued at £1,364.

Just as in India before the irrigation of the land
was undertaken, the rice crop depended entirely on the
Monsoons, so in this country, the rice crop depends on
the rains being punctual and regular, and if after
planting (usually in May and June) there is a cessation
of rain, the crops naturally fail. If the rains come too
early, the " brushing " and burning are delayed, so it
can be seen how important the weather conditions are
to the farmer.

Ginger is grown extensively in the Colony, but in the
Protectorate it is chiefly grown in the Mende country
adjoining the railway, Mano being one of the chief
centres from which this produce is despatched.

Generally speaking, the quality of the ginger grown
in Sierra Leone is poor compared with that of the East;
the roots, or rather the rhizomes, are smaller, the native
method of preparing the produce for the market is
careless, and consequently the price realised is very low.

The native farmer plants his ginger on laterite soils,
preventing the rhizomes from attaining any great size,
and a large amount of " seed " is wasted, because he
plants haphazardly and not in lines, thus using three
times as much as is necessary. Further he leaves the
ginger in the ground two years before harvesting, and
here again he loses.

Ginger, particularly, repays deep-hoeing, and ex-
periments have shown that if the land is deep-hoed,
and the ginger sown in lines 1 ft. apart with 9 ins.


100 ^1/) Introduction to the

between the " seed," there is a saving of seed and a.
much higher yield per lb. of seed sown.

Harvesting is made easier when the ginger is planted
in lines; the produce must be w^ell cleaned and prepared
for the market so that it will look its best.

Formerly practically no ginger was exported to the
United Kingdom, but during 1916, no less than 288
tons valued at £8,239 were exported there, and as
much as 700 tons valued at £17,372 sent to the United

In the United States and in the United Kingdom,
ginger is preserved in sugar and used as a sweetmeat in
various ways. A popular beverage known as " ginger
beer " also requires large quantities of ginger in its
manufacture, and, in addition, ginger has valuable
medicinal properties.

The demand for ginger is gradually on the increase,
and there is no reason why the ginger grown in this
country should not favourably compete with that,
brought from the East.

Yams are not grown to such a large extent in Sierra
Leone as in the Gold Coast and Nigeria, where they
are almost the staple food of the people.

In the Colony proper, a few yams are grown chiefly
by the settlers, but being a valuable food it is surprising
that the natives do not cultivate them to a greater extent.
The method of growing yams is as follows. Large-
holes about 1 foot in diameter and 2 feet deep are dus
and left open for some time to allow the air and sun
to do their work. The holes are filled with good soil
rich in humus, and the shoots planted. As the climb-
ing stem grows up the stick placed to support it, the
lower portion of the stem is earthed up to a height of
about a foot. The plant requires but little more atten-
tion, and in November and December good results
should follow.

Roughlv, between 6 and 6J tons per acre can be
obtained in this way, and yams can easily be grown
in the soil after a crop of rice has been gathered.

Geography of Sierra Leone. 101

Maize grows very well in this country, especially in
the drier parts, such as in Koinadugu. There are
several different varieties of maize grown, some called
native and others imported, such as Lagos maize and
South Africa maize. In South Africa maize forms
the staple food of a large proportion of the native
inhabitants and is called mealies. Belonging to the
cereal family like rice, wheat, guinea-corn, etc., it
requires a soil rich in nitrogenous foods, but being a
somewhat deeper feeder than rice, it is a useful crop
in a rotation; the yield is very satisfactory, from 1,200
to 1,500 lbs. per acre being obtained, and in countries
where the soil has been brought into good condition after
some years of manuring, as much as 3,000 to 4,800 lbs.
per acre are obtained.

In England, maize flour, called corn-flour, is con-
sidered a valuable food, and in this country the popular
"Agidi" consists of pounded maize wrapped in the
agidi leaf.

At present there is not a surplus of maize for export

Fundi (millet) and Guinea-corn are both grown,
especially in Karene and Koinadugu, and form a use-
ful substitute for rice.

Peppers of all kinds thrive in Sierra Leone, from
large pimentos to ordinary capsicum and chillies.
Although there is a certain amount exported, much
more could be cultivated and the industry is a paying
one, the shrubs requiring little attention after the soil
has been well prepared.

In 1916, 83 tons of peppers were exported to England
and valued at £4,645, whilst France took seven tons,
worth £576, and Dakar and the Gambia took another
seven tons between them.

In Europe it is used largely as a condiment and in
the manufacture of the countless sauces and pickles.

Tobacco is cultivated chiefly in the Koranko, Kissi
and Yalunka countries, and the natives spend a ^ood
deal of time and care on its prodnction. Much of it is
used as currency between them and the natives of

IOC An Introduction to the

French Guinea, but the variety produced is hardly
likely to have any value as an export.

Some Leguminous Crops.

Cow Pea. — It is a lov7 shrubby plant and grows very
well in this country. In the Colony it is planted
towards the end of the rains, and it is a quick-growing
bean, coming into bearing about two months after
sowing. It is little known in the Protectorate, but
where it has been introduced it is very popular, the
pulse having an agreeable taste.

Owing to its early maturity it is a useful catch-crop
and useful for green manuring purposes, and, needless
to say, valuable beca,use of its ability to return the
fertility to soil which has been used up by a cereal.
Roughly, between 400 and 500 lbs. per acre is the yield,
and being a valuable food it is a plant well worth

Pigeon Pea, another legume w^hich is also very use-
ful, not only as a food but in many other ways. It
grows quickly and can be used as a green manure, thus
providing nitrogenous foods through its roots, and
organic matter when dug in.

Planted in rows round a garden it makes an efficient
hedge, and if planted where weeds and grass prevail,
it will check their growth considerably.

Many samples of this pea have been distributed, and
it is hoped that the natives will continue its cultiva-
tion, as it is a most nutritious food ; it can be eaten
green like French beans, and when ripe.

Probably in large quantities it would find ready
markets in European countries. Two Indian pulses
have been grown in this country, and where successful
have been highly appreciated. They are the black
gram, one of the most highly esteemed of Indian pulses,
and lab-lab, a climbing variety of bean, but they are
sometimes liable to fungoid disease in the very heavy

Geography of Sierra Leone. 103

There are many native beans generally all called
" towe " by the Mendes, but of different varieties.
There is, however, little definite cultivation of these,
although they are most excellent foods and they would
form a good stand-by should the crops of rice and
cassava fail. Furthermore, if sufficient quantities of
these beans were raised, there is no doubt markets
would be found for them, as Europeans are great con-
sumers of beans of all kinds.

Ground-nuts are grown in most places in the Pro-
tectorate, but chiefly in the Karene and Koinadugu
Districts. In the Gambia Colony, ground-nuts form
the chief crop, and a very valuable export trade with
France is carried on. Sierra Leone imported between
four and five thousand pounds worth of ground-nuts
in 1916.

This should not be, as this country could more than
supply its own needs if proper methods of cultivation
were conducted. Besides being a valuable food,
ground-nuts return to the soil much food taken
out by cereal crops, and if planted in ridges they are
much less liable to disease.

Ground-nuts are much appreciated by the people in
this country; they are eaten in a variety of ways both
raw and cooked, kanya and konju being two of the
most popular dishes.

European residents use them largely as food, either
parched or cooked as in soups and stews. When
exported to Europe (chiefly France) a valuable oil is
expressed called ground-nut oil, and much is sent back
to the West Coast and used in place of palm oil and

Cassava is probably the most popular plant grown
and is used in many ways. It is usually grown in
farms, and the method of planting is very simple. The
stems are cut up and stuck in the soil usually heaped
up in little mounds, and the large roots provide an
abundance of starchy food. It is often eaten quite
raw, although this is probably inadvisable, and it is
cooked in a variety of ways, the most popular being to

104 An Introduction to the

make foofoo. The cassava is grated and boiled to
drive oft" an essential oil which is poisonous, and then
made into a thick paste and rolled into balls. It forms
the staple food of a large proportion of the in-

Grated and dried, it can be preserved and corre-
sponds to the tapioca or farina, which is so largely
used in European countries. Being rich in starch,
the natives often make starch from it, and during the
so-called " hungry season " cassava is the mainstay of
a large proportion of the inhabitants of the Pro-

Other Products Including Fruits.

Cocoa is grown chiefly in the Northern Sherbro Dis-
trict, and produces good crops provided the soil is deep
and the plants well looked after.

Cocoa does not withstand the dry season very well,
especially if the soil is of the porous laterite variety,
but although some experiments in the Colony have
failed, those conducted at the experimental farm and
in Northern Sherbro so far have been successful.
During the dry season it is necessary to deep-hoe the
plantations, and protective belts of trees are all that is
necessary to protect the plants from prevailing winds,
and to provide a light shade.

The samples of cocoa produced have been excellent,
and have been valued in England equal to the produce
of the Gold Coast. On the Gold Coast, cocoa, entirely
in the hands of native cultivators, has become the most
valuable product of the Colony, which has now the
leading position in the world as a cocoa producer.

In European countries cocoa is manufactured into
chocolate, which is a most popular sweetmeat, and is
also used as a beverage. In the manufacture of cocoa
and chocolate, a valuable fat or cocoa butter is obtained,
which has a variety of uses, medicinally and as a food.

Coffee will grow well in this country, and there is
probably no finer coffee in the world, but care is required

Geograjjhij of Sierra Leone. 105

in the treatment of the beans during fermenting and

The true Sierra Leone coffee (C. stenophylla) is the
best variety, and grows best on high lands, as at
Leicester in the Colony.

Areas have now been opened up for permanent plan-
tations of coffee, and as with cocoa, the plantations
repay deep hoeing. There should be a great future for
coffee in this country if its cultivation is definitely
taken up.

Coffee is used in European countries, chiefly as a
beverage, and is exceedingly popular. There would be
no dearth of markets for the produce of this country,
as the coffee is particularly well flavoured.

Cotton. — Several attempts to grow cotton on a large
scale have been made in this country, but generally the
quality is not good; possibly the drier parts of the
Protectorate ma^^ yet prove successful.

Cotton is grown haphazardly by the natives, who
make their own thread and dyes, and weave cloths, but
generally this industry is dying out. In most cases,
even where it is continued, English thread has largely
replaced the native thread. This is rather rec:rettahle,
as in the past these " country cloths " played an im-
portant part in the life of the natives, often being used
as currency, and some of the cloths, besides being
exceedingly durable, were often artistically woven.
The importation of tawdry, though gaudy, cotton goods
from Europe is the chief cause of the decline in this
desirable industry.

Indigo flourishes in this country, and the fast blue
dye used by the natives is made from this plant.
Although in Europe indigo has to some extent been
superseded by aniline dye, there is still a demand for
this product. In any case, the plant is useful as a
green manuring crop.

Fruits. — Sierra Leone is naturally rich in fruits, but
very little attempt at proper cultivation is made; many
of the fruits grow quite wild, that is, they are not

106 All Introduction to tlie

It is possible that with careful cultivation and the
advantages of cold storage, a considerable industry in
the export of fruits to Europe could be set up.

Many fruits of approved varieties have been planted,
at the Experimental Farm, and many fruit trees have
been distributed throughout the country.

The English market takes many thousands of pounds
w^orth of oranges and bananas, and much of these
imports have to come long distances, so that provided
this country produced sufficient supplies and of the
approved kinds there should be no difficulty in dispos-
ing of them.

In the West Indies a large trade in concentrated lime
juice has been developed, and limes grow as well in
Sierra Leone as in the West Indies. If lime cultivation
were taken up there is no doubt that a large industry
could be made to pay in preparing otto of lime, dis-
tilled lime oil, and concentrated lime juice for the
English market.

Guavas and pineapples usually grow wild, and these
if cultivated would find ready markets : guavas for
making guava jelly, and pineapples for the canned
fruit industry.

Tangerines, mangoes, melons, avocada pears, and a
host of wild fruits would all pay for cultivation if
properly organised, thereby setting up a valuable in-
dustry in the Colony.

Market garden produce is chiefly cultivated on the
Bullom Shore and in the Colony, and brought to the
Freetown market three times a week, but the supply is
hardly equal to the demand.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, salads, cabbages,
kohlrabi, spinach, French beans, and even carrots and
turnips will thrive in this country if proper care is
taken with the soil ; these, besides finding a ready
market among the resident Europeans, would form
pleasant and valuable changes in the diet of the

Geoyniphy of Sierra Leone. 107

Chapter VIII.

It has already been observed that in the general dis-
tribution of mankind, people in one part of the world
are often engaged in producing for people in another
part. Thus the dwellers in the Steppes engaged in
raising cattle are glad to exchange their produce, cattle,
hides, and so on for the produce of the farmers in the
cultivated plains. The people in manufacturing dis-
tricts, if they spend their time making things, some
other people must produce their food for them.

This then opens up a general system of exchange
which has been going on from time immemorial.

Long before Europeans visited Africa, the Hausas
of Northern Nigeria exchanged their produce for that
of the people living in North Africa, Algeria and
Morocco ; men travelled long journeys extending for
months across the desert wastes for this purpose, and
towns like Kano and Timbuctoo were great centres of
exchange. Indeed, the caravan routes are still followed
and a certain amount of trade is still carried on in
this way.

The Phoenicians from the Eastern Mediterranean
found their way to England (more than two thousand
years ago) when that country was almost unknown, and
exchanged their beautifully made cloths and hardware
for the copper and tin dug up by the English natives.

Their method of exchange was rather interesting.
The Phoenicians would land and place their goods on
the beach and retire to their boats. The natives who
had been standing some distance away would then come
down and place their metal near the goods they desireH,
and then in their turn would retire, whilst the Phrrni-
cians came ashore again, and if sntished they look up
the metal and went away, but if not satisfied, either
more metal was forthcoming or they took thoir goods
away to try elsewhere.

108 All Introductioji to the

This was barter pure and simple, and probably satis-
factory to those concerned; indeed this method exists
to-day in many parts of Africa, but the next step is to
introduce some sort of currency.

To-day in parts of the Protectorate tobacco leaves,
" country " cloths, thin iron bars and so on are forms
of currency, but standardised coinage is rapidly replac-
ing these.

With the improved facilities of communication both
by land and water, productions naturally find their
way to markets farther afield, and in much greater

Thus, a study of the exports and imports of a country
will teach much about that country and its people, just
as in the same way, if the occupations of the people are
known, a fair estimate of their exports and imports can
be arrived at.

For example the exports of South Africa are gold,
diamonds, wool, maize, etc. Consequently it may be
concluded that the people are engaged in mining, sheep
rearing and farming. The imports are manufactured
hardware, including machinery for both mining and
agricultural purposes, and cloth, etc., and from this it
can be deduced that the people do not manufacture
much of these things themselves, although they have
abundance of coal.

In general the exports of this country may be grouped
under one heading, raw materials, and imports under
another heading, manufactured goods.

This follows what has already been learnt about the
country and the people ; many products will grow here
quite well, but practically nothing is made here,
although there is plenty of iron, there is no coal.

Palm oil is certainly made, or rather extracted, but
it can hardly be considered as a manufactured product.

The chief export is palm kernels; next in point of
value is kola nuts, then palm oil, followed by ginger,
piassava, hides, pepper, rice, rubber, calabar beans,
beniseed, shea nuts, lumber and coffee in order of value. '

Geogra'phy of Sierra Leone.


The table of exports shows the relative values of
these exports and the countries to which they go. The
uses to which the chief exports are put have already
been dealt with : the others are used as follows.

Rubber, for which there is an enormous demand, is
chiefly used for making tyres for motor cars, for rubber
tubing, insulating materials, parts of machinery, water-
proof cloth and a host of minor uses.

Beniseed for making oil, shea nuts for making shea
nut oil or butter, calabar beans for oil and food, and
hides for leather goods.


Palm Kernels

Kola Nuts

Palm Oil

Countries of Destination.

United Kingdom.
Conakry ...






Other West African Ports





United Kingdom




Conakry ...

Other West African Ports























An Introduction to the


Commies of Destiniitiou.



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Online LibraryHarold MichellAn introduction to the geography of Sierra Leone → online text (page 8 of 10)