T. J O'Shea.

Farming & planting in British East Africa. A description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects online

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Online LibraryT. J O'SheaFarming & planting in British East Africa. A description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects → online text (page 8 of 16)
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COSTS. items, which are labour items. A reduction in the

cost of labour means a reduction in the number of


men employed. When we consider the diflSculties
many estates have in getting labour, it is comforting
to realise that rubber is a crop which year by year
entails less labour.

There appears to be some doubt as to the time bearing
a rubber estate takes to become rem,unerative, so stage OF
perhaps I may mention that our Magigye estate now rubber.
provides some information on that point. Early in
191 1 an area of rubber was planted with plants one
year old from seed. Of these 50% had reached the
tappable stage early in 1916. They gave, during
1916, an average yield of 6% ozs. per tree which
certainly places that area in the remunerative stage.
I might add that this yield was obtained without
supervision beyond an occasional visit by a

E. Brown, F.L.S.,
Manager, Kivuvu Rubber Coy. Ltd.



EARLY Black wattle seems to have been introduced into

EFFORTS. this country some fourteen or fifteen years ago, and

to have been planted in vatious districts in the
Highlands. About the earliest records we have are
analysis of bark from trees planted in 1903 in the
Kikuyu district and on the Aberdares, followed by
others from Njoro, Londiani, Limuru, Kyambu and
other places — all of which tended to shew that the
percentage of tannin obtainable from B.E.A. bark
was as high if not higher than from that produced in
Natal and other wattle growing centres; but that the
higher altitudes — from 6,500 to 7,500 — owing to the
greater rainfall gave the best results. On the
strength of these analysis land owners were encour-
aged to plant up areas with wattle, and in the years
1911-1913, a considerable acreage was put under this


Then followed one of those setbacks so fre-
quently met with in the histories of new countries.
Coffee planting came to the fore and ousted wattle
from popular favour. Difficulties in harvesting and
disposing of the bark began to shew themselves, and
while efforts to cope with these were still incomplete,
war broke out, with consequent disorganisation of
shipping, and increased freights, making it im-
possible to ship bark at a profit. As a result wattle
has been under a cloud in B.E.A. during the past
two years, but the writer is among those who believe
that the difficulties hitherto experienced are of a
temporary nature, and that when these are over-
come very much more attention will be given to
wattle and the happy owners of plantations will be
amongst the envied ones of the land — having less
trouble from disease or labour than any other
branch of agriculturalists in the country.


The present world-wide upheaval has been
disastrous to trade in many directions, but the writer
believes it v^dll prove the salvation of the wattle
industry because of having brought home to govern-
ment and dependent industries a realization of the
grip Germany had obtained over it, and of the
necessity for producing the extract in the country of
origin so as to reduce the cost to the lowest possible
limits. If this is done in East Africa, as in Natal,


not only are we assured of our share of Britain's and
the world's trade, but the present difficulty in regard
to drying the bark is automatically solved. In such
a case, who can believe that an industry requiring so
little skill, labour or experience, and giving such
returns, will be allowed to flag?

Since 1864 when, we are told, the first seeds
were planted in Natal, how many fortunes have been
made from wattle bark? And those based on five
year old trees being five inches in diameter, and
yielding five tons of bark per acre valued at £s per
ton. When we consider that in this country we
have cheaper labour, that in five years trees are six
to eight inches in diameter, and upw-ards of 90 feet
in height, while the analysis of bark shews the per-
centage of tannin to be four to five per cent, higher
than that from Xatal — there seems no reason why
fortunes should not be made in this country.

It has been stated that very little time or labour is
required for wattle growing — how little is hardly
realized by people unfamiliar with such a district as
Limuru for instance, where it is only necessary to
cut the bush close to the groiuid with matchets or
pangas, and, when dry, burn off. When the long
rains have set in, pinches of seed (previoTisly steeped
in boiling water and allowed to soak for 24 hours)
are planted just below the surface of the soil at dis-
tances of four and a half feet apart. Within a week
or ten days the seeds germinate and shoots appear
above ground and are allowed to grow to a height
of two or three feet. They are then thinned out :
only the strongest one to each hill being left.

For the next eighteen months it is necessary to
keep the vicinity of each young tree free from weeds
and bush, entailing cleaning perhaps three times in
that period. Thereafter the overhead foliage begins
to form a canopy that soon excludes the light
necessary for other forms of plant life, and the
plantation can be left until the third year, when it
is desirable to further thin out alternate trees,
leaving the space nine feet by nine. The bark from
these thinnings is reckoned to pay the expenses of
the estate to date, and the wood is useful for fuel.

During the next two or three years nature does
all that is needed on the plantation, and the owner
is free to take up other work.


At five or six years the trees reach maturity and
are ready for stripping. The usual method is to
make an incision about four feet from the ground
and peel the bark well down to the root in strips.
After that the tree is cut down, and the remainder
of the bark of the trunk and of the thicker branches
is removed, and the whole sent with speed to the
extract factory. At the present time the question of
the erection of such a factory is receiving the
careful consideration of planters, and with it the full
utilization of all the timber, which at present is only
used for firewood, but has very considerable value
for other purposes. It is hoped that before long
machinery for dealing with all the products will be
erected, and there is little doubt that when the
whole is in working order, wattle growing in British
Kast Africa will be among the industries giving the
highest returns per acre for the time, labour and
capital expended.


As a result of a visit to South Africa by the
writer after the foregoing was written, it is expected
that the proprietors of the extract factories in Natal
will shortly visit this country with a view to the
erection of a factory. In the meantime arrangements
are being made to export the bark ground and pressed
into bales.

W. E. D. K.


gy^RLY Several years ago wheat breeding and testing

EXPERIMENT. was started on a scientific scale on Ivord Delamere's
Njoro estate. The writer, though he was not in the
district during the early stages of the work, was on
hand during the final stages and has had an oppor-
tunity of handling the seeds that were bred at this
place for the last few years. He believes that the
work has been of great service to the wheat industry
of the country, and that a permanent rust resistant
wheat has been finally obtained. The great purpose
of Ivord Delamere's experimental work has, there-
fore, been accomplished — namely, to obtain a wheat
for this climate that has the characteristics necessary

for a staple farm crop. In the writer's opinion this
has been done, and wheat growing is now one of the
many profitable crops of British East Africa.

The eternal struggle that farmers have to wage rust.
against weeds in a tropical country has also been
minimized by the obtaining of a four-five months
maturing wheat. In the case of wheat, as in all
other lines of agriculture, we must evei bear in
mind that seed selection and breeding must be prac-
tised continually, not only to keep up the grade
but to improve the quantity and quality. This
should not be as hard to do here as m those
countries where the appearance of rust is inter-
mittent, for here in East Africa rust, like the poor of
the cities, is always with us, and we therefore have
an ever-present incentive and opportunity to over-
come it.

Here, more than in most other countries factors of
managerial efficiency is the main factor governing success.
economic production of wheat. In a land of con-
ditions very different from those most people have
worked under — tropical sun, high altitude, un-
civilized aborigines and stupid biillocks — one must
be prepared to forget many of our home practices.
Local nature is stern in demanding respect for her
idiosyncrasies, and one must work in with local con-
ditions and not against them.

Inhere are several fundamental factors to which
one should give mature consideration before plung-
ing into wheat fanning in East Africa. On the
other hand there are several good reasons why one
may regard wheat farming as a "sure thing" and
likely to remain so for some years to come. Its
most obvious advantage is that the local market
provides the fanner with a ready outlet for his
product. Wheat fanning with us is entirely exten-
sive farming. For the man who likes to fiddle time
away in a light easy job, content with light work
and small returns, it holds no attraction or profit.
But for the man who glories in breaking-in nature
to his ends on the big open plains with relentless
plough and harvester, wheat farming has a deal in


Coming down to practical considerations, different
factors to be taken into account by the prospective
wheat farmer are dealt with in the following

TOPOGRAPHY. The land should be fairly level or gently rolling,

to facilitate the use of machinery. The cost of pro-
duction, and consequently the nett return received,
being materially influenced by the extent to which
modem machinery can be used, close attention should
be given to this point.

RAINFALL. A rainfall of not less than 30 inches, properly

distributed to facilitate seeding and harvesting, is
generally considered necessary to successful crops.
This is not difficult to find in those parts of the High-
lands where wheat is grown, so that the farmer has
little to fear on this score.

ALTITUDE. So far very little wheat has been grown on lands

lying below 6,500 feet. Up to now it appears to do
best at about 7,000, but it is claimed to do well at
altitudes as low as 5,000 feet, and the area of produc-
tion is steadily spreading to districts which a few
years ago were not considered suitable for wheat.


The soil should be of a loamy nature with good
drainage, so that machinery can be handled to the
best advantage, and with a goodly amount of humus
to hold moisture and be warm enough to equalize the
temperature between day and night, for the wheat to
make the best growth. There should be enough
available plant food in the soil to readily effect full
plant and seed development, but a surplus of 'avail-
able' plant food may cause too much growth for the
crop to be handled with greatest profit. A good
store of the necessary plant foods is, however,
necessary, even with proper rotations and green
manuring, as present freights prevent the profitable
importation of lime or phosphates for dressing the
soil. A soil that is easily workable and still contains
the essential fertility will prove more profitable than
one of a hard unwieldy texture.

TRANSPORT. Distance from the railway is one of the import-

ant factors in this country at present. It is reckoned
that for every 15 miles beyond 10 from the railway


25% more wagons are required. This means that
the maximum distance from the railway at which
wheat can be profitably grown is soon reached.

It is impossible to lay down any hard rule as to price OF
the price a man should not exceed in purchasing land.
land for wheat. To do so at the present stage is,
however, hardly necessary. Present day market
prices are well within the limit the efiicient wheat
farmer can afford to pay, and only in certain favoured
areas are prices likely to exceed that limit within
the next few years. Land on or close to the railway,
is, as might be expected, more costly than that of
similar quality further out, so that the intending
settler with small capital may find it necessary to
take up land some distance from the line, but hard
work and efl&cient management will do much to
counter the increased cost of transport.

In making his selection, the intending settler water,
will do well to see that his land is well provided with timber and
permanent water easily accessible, and that he is fuel.
favourably situated as regards timber for building
and fencing purposes and fuel. This need not of
necessity be on his own land. Neither need his farm
be in the immediate vicinity of a native reserve, but
he should be so situated that he can obtain supphes
of labour adequate for his needs.

In the districts where wheat is at present grov^Ti
the climate is generally healthy for Europeans.

Having, after careful consideration of the sictting to
matters already dealt with, made up his mind to go work.
in for wheat, and secured the right class of land for
that purpose, the newcomer has then before him a
task which, however romantic it may appear on
paper, requires a strong back as well as a strong

He will be well advised to combine the keeping ijvestock.
of pigs, poultry and a small dairy herd with his
wheat farming, as the presence of these on a farm
helps to reduce the cost of living, provides a profitable
outlet for what otherwise would be waste, and, if he '
has ready access to the local markets, secures a small
return from the sale of any surplus. The number of
head of livestock kept will depend on the size of the


farm and to some extent on the inclinations of the
individual. It can be reckoned that 50 bullocks will
do for 100 acres of wheat within five miles of the
railway. Outside that radius the number required
will increase, other things being equal, according to
the distance.

MACHINERY It is general in East Africa at present to use the

AND TOOLS. Australian combined harvester and stripper. With a
good store of spares on hand, and given anything
like a good season, two of these machines will harvest
150 to 200 acres. One grader and one winnower if
of good size will answer for the grain off 500 to
600 acres. Newcomers should co-operate with each
other when possible in buying harvesting machinery.
The wheat farmer would be well advised to keep
himself fully supplied with tools, spares, treck tackle
and the hundred and one odds and ends necessary
to efficient management.

BUILDINGS. A store 100 feet by 30 will hold 500 to 750 bags

of wheat. The floor should be well made and be
very smooth and free from cracks. Ventilation
should be provided in the sides and roof. Corrugated
iron is not the most suitable material for the sides and
roof : its strong attraction for the heat keeps the
temperature of the store at a point that favours the
spread of weevils and causes the wheat to heat
quicker if it should happen to be a little on the wet
side and in need of turning.

The farm house will be built to suit the purse
and taste of the owner. Pig stys should be of
thatched roofs and post sides, dry and well drained.
The cattle bomas should be well drained and of
ample size to prevent their getting into a boggy con-
dition during the rains. They should be built next
the lands where the cattle are needed for work. A
cheap and efficient method of providing shelter
during wet cold nights and dry feed when required,
is to erect in the middle of the boma a shed with
walls of posts just as high above the ground as an ox
can comfortably reach. On these dried grasses are
stacked, to serve the double purpose of providing
shelter and food.

It will be seen from the foregoing that the first
costs of wheat farming on anything like a large scale


are fairly considerable : so much so that they would
prove discouraging to many people if the other side
of the business were not considered. Wheat being a
crop that can be efficiently handled at almost every
stage by machinery, the cost of labour in producing,
harvesting and marketing it, is small. This is an
important consideration, as should a crop fail the loss
is comparatively small compared with other crops
requiring large quantities of labour. Although yields
as high as 26 bushels to the acre have been obtained
during the past two years in certain parts of the
Highlands, an average good crop may be taken as
four 200 lb. (nett) bags per acre, which is worth
about ;(^4-io-o. The costs of production can be, ami
are, easily kept luider £2, so that a good margin of
profit is left to the grower.

The present local consumption is equal to the markets.
production of 60,000 acres, and as the wheat con-
suming population is rapidly increasing, the wheat
farmer need have no anxiety about markets for many
years to come. Wheat farming works in so well
with the farming of livestock that both can be made
very profitable on the one farm, economy of labour
being effected by the combination. As a rule, where
wheat is grown horses do exceptionally well, so that
the wheat farmer can without detriment to his main
undertaking engage in a branch of stock breeding of
great promise.

No attempt has been made to estimate the initial conclusion.
capital required for a successful wheat proposition.
Given the broad outlines, the prospective settler
should satisfy himself on the spot as to the rest.
Those of us engaged in the industry in East Africa
believe that wheat growing will stand the most care-
ful investigation, and would welcome more planters
of the right stamp. But we do not tell them that
wheat is the best thing in the farming fine, for there
is no best type of farming, whatever individuals
successful in a particular branch may say to the con-

The writer will be very pleased to answer any
inquiries from intending planters on points raised or
suggested in this essay.




ITS HiSTORi- T\rHATEVER may be the ultimate position of
CAL IMPORT- ^^ coffee in the agricultural life of East Africa,
ANCE TO B.E.A. the future historian will be certain to accord it
prominence if only for the influential part it played
in attracting attention to the country as a field for
European colonisation. At a time when, according
to many, the future of the East African Highlands
trembled in the balance, coffee turned the scale in
favour of still further perseverance and still further

THE TDRX OF Attracted by its magnificent scenery, wonderful

THE TIDE. fauna, rich soil and alluring climate, enterprising

pioneers drifted into the country in small parties in
the opening years of the century and started
experimenting with a wide range of crops. The
ultimate results were in no case wholly successful —
either the crops grew and rotted for want of a
market, or partly failed through want of experience
— so that after the expenditure of much energy and
patience and more than was desirable of their limited
stock of capital — ^they became faced by a situation
sufficiently grave to cause a feeling of dissatisfaction
among even the most optimistic. Several gave up
in despair and left the country, worse off financially
and physically than when they entered it; most of
the others ceased their experiments and contented
themselves with producing just sufficient to satisfy
their everyday needs. Then, just at the darkest
hour of the crisis, when confidence in the future of
the country was rapidly giving way to despair,
coffee came to the rescue. Small shipments from
the experimental plantations of the earliest pioneers
placed on the London market attracted the attention
of buyers, were favourably reported on, realised
comparatively high prices — and confidence was
restored. Men saw in this first small success that
their faith in the country was justified, that time
and perseverance only were required to prove their
belief in the possibilities of its wonderful soil and
climate, and that some day they would reap a rich
reward for their labour. That they were justified
in their faith is fast being proved in various


Notwithstanding, however, that coffee has as an ESTI-
reahsed the reasonable expectations of those who mate of
have studied and engaged in its production, a word coffee
of warning is necessary to those who think that it prospects.
is only necessary to plant up a hundred or two acres
of coffee in order to secure a rich competence for the
rest of one's days in this world. Coffee is not a
gold mine, figuratively speaking, as some people
seem to think. It is a sound agricultural proposi-
tion, and nothing more than that. It gives a hand-
some return on the capital invested and energy
expended, but when due allowance has been made
for all the risks involved, it is probably no more
attractive than several other branches of agriculture
in East Africa.

The amount of capital required to engage in the capital
industry is dependent upon the intentions of the kkquired.
intending planter, and the qualifications of the man.
For the purposes of this essay it is assumed that he
is competent, after a short stay in the country
studying local conditions, to choose the right piece
of land for his purpose, that he has the innate ability
and the acquired experience to ensure wise adminis-
tration of his capital, and, of perhaps greatest im-
portance, that he has the physical and mental
qualifications of a successful agriculturalist. If he is
going in for coffee only, the selection of his land is
of paramount importance; whether he be engaging
in coffee planting only or in mixed farming with
coffee included, ability to spend his capital wisely
is an essential factor to success, as are also a
capacity for hard work, organising ability, a mind
capable of gauging the relative value of details, the
power of controlling labour of i>oor intelligence,
and an unfailing capacity for hard work.

Five thousand pounds is generally considered making
the minimvmi required by one whose intention is to a start.
concentrate on coffee only. With this sum from
two to six hundred acres may be acquired in a
proven coffee district, of which in the case of the
minimum area practically all would be suitable for
coffee, and in the case of the latter the greater pro-
portion — leaving sufficient for working capital to
carry one along — assisted by the revenue from catch
crops — until the coffee had reached the producing
stage. A start can be made on much less, provided


the intending planter is satisfied to get away from
the Railway or take up land in one of the less
expensive districts, and give primary attention
during the first two or three years to growing
annual crops, gradually planting up with coffee as
increasing revenue from the farm permits. This is
much the better course for all but the really well-to-
do, as coflfee planting is an expensive branch of
farming, and unless one is provided with funds to
meet all and every demand while the estate is still
in the unproductive stage, it is best to aim at
making the farm pay its way in the shortest possible
time. A not uncommon mistake of the intending
coffee planter is to concentrate on a small area of
choice land for which he has to pay coffee land prices,
overlooking the fact that he must have land for the
grazing of his working oxen and for other purposes.
A more economical plan is to acquire a larger area
of which only a portion is suitable for coflfee. Such
land is generally obtainable at a proportionally less
price than small selected areas.

SELECTING Altitude plays an important part in the selection

THE RIGHT of land for coffee in the East African Highlands.
LAND. From 5,000 to 6,500 feet are considered the limits

of suitable elevation. In well sheltered districts
coffee may grow at a higher altitude than 6,500, but
it yet remains to be seen whether it will prove
successful. An annual rainfall of between 35 and
60 inches is required. A good depth of soil is
essential; the land must be well drained and free
from stiff clays, and not too steep. Cleared forest
land is generally considered the best class of soil, it
being rich in humus, but in recent years coffee has
been planted in different districts on classes of soil

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Online LibraryT. J O'SheaFarming & planting in British East Africa. A description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects → online text (page 8 of 16)