British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by George Brookbank
(Agricultural Officer, Tanganyika 1948-61)
Quality instead of Quantity:
an Agricultural Officer's aimr
Mzinga
I was interested to read David Connelly's review of Francis and Joan Smith's life, recorded in the book Sixty-Nine years Together. I knew them all while I was the Agricultural Officer in Tabora in the early 1950's when David Connelly was a District Officer.

Perhaps I can answer some of David's questions concerning the Tanganyika Government's efforts to improve the income of honey gatherers through quality control of their harvests.

Sales of beeswax were the rewards for work done where traditional crop production was not a worthwhile activity. It was a job in the forested bush, empty of habitations and amenities such as roads and shops, health clinics, and schools, but full of destructive monkeys and baboons, pig, deer and elephants. Beehives were made from a piece of bark that had been carefully stripped from a large tree. They were called mzinga which is a Portugese word for a cannon, which is what they resembled. They were about five feet long with a diameter of two or three feet. The open ends were plugged with removable plates of woven grass. A small piece of bee comb with honey in it was placed in the empty hive to invite feral bees to make their home. The hive was then hung high up in a tree to avoid depredations of animals, and that was both the beginning and the end of beekeeping per se. The bees were left to themselves, undisturbed and unassisted until harvest time when the hive was lowered to the ground.

The waxy comb with its stored honey and brood was demolished and many of the bees were killed. The developing grubs were eaten on the spot. The community of bees was utterly destroyed. The unprotected gatherers, amid clouds of smoke, were stung all over everything was done hurriedly on the dirty ground in order to "get out of here" as quickly as possible. Then the empty hive body with a fresh, fragrant bait was again hung in the tree, waiting for new occupants. A new method of harvesting that called for caring for bees was urgently needed.

Quality instead of Quantity:
an Agricultural Officer's aimr
African Bee
After generations of such treatment it's not surprising that African bees have become known as "Killer Bees". African bees were deliberately imported to Brazil because of their valuable energetic characteristics but unfortunately they escaped from their research institute and are now feral all over the warm parts of South and North America. In large numbers they ferociously defend their home and attack anyone who disturbs their peace and quiet. A barking dog, or a noisy machine, will set them off, as will the person who tries to remove them.

The beeswax gathered in this way was contaminated by almost everything in contact with the operation, and little was done to clean up the product, even in storage. There were no special containers or equipment to clean, and the attitude of the gatherers was the final blow to obtaining a quality product. Beeswax chunks of various sizes and colours were taken to a small shopkeeper nearby, who sold it to a larger shopkeeper, who sold it to an even larger shopkeeper and so on, until it reached an exporter, for there was no territorial manufacturer who could make something of the raw beeswax.

Beeswax was sold by weight, not by purity, and I believe that Francis Smith was given the task to change all that, because it would benefit everyone involved in the production of the commodity. A Beeswax Officer would not be an exotic creature as believed by David Connelly, but a pivotal person in any strategy of economic development.

Such an overall strategy would require changing everyone's attitude towards "quality instead of quantity", and that's what we Agricultural Officers tried to do. Here are some examples of the ways In which producers didn't even consider quality, because they were obsessed with quantity. Some acts were deliberate as much as careless.

Coffee growers would strip entire branches, instead of picking only the ripe red berries.

The small "sardines" harvested from Lake Tanganyika were thrown down on the sand of the shoreline instead of being laid out on drying trays. Sand adds weight!

Fire-cured tobacco leaf weighs more if the leaves are made wet on their way to market.

Bricks and stones at the bottom of a basket of grain increase the weight.

Cattle and goat skins weigh more when dampened down before taken to the sale yard.

Mixing dirt or flour into beeswax increases the volume and weight of the sale.

Copra from coconut meat loses its quality because of mould if carelessly allowed to get wet.

And here's a clever one. Owners of cows, selling milk by the bottle to a home owner in town, would add water to increase the volume. The home owner responded by using a hygrometer to determine the specific gravity of the milk. Some sellers responded by pee-ing into the milk to restore the specific gravity (and they hadn't even taken physics at school!).

Beeswax was sold in varying sized chunks according to the containers melted wax was poured into. There was no standardization and each chunk was weighed and visually assessed by the buyer as to quality. Poor storage on dirt floors easily contaminated the wax.

Quality instead of Quantity:
an Agricultural Officer's aimr
Cooperative Union
Because everyone in the commercial train was repeating his predecessor's bad practices all benefitted in the short term. No long term alternative appeared until Government fostered the grower cooperative concept. Notable success accompanied the marketing of coffee by the Kilimanjaro Native Coffee Growers, and the Ngoni-Matengo Marketing Union in the production of quality fire-cured tobacco. Growers took their cured leaf to established markets of the cooperatives where it was graded into standards according to size, colour, texture, etc, and graduated payment was made accordingly. In spite of the confusion and hustle of the moment, advice for improvement was given directly to growers at the time of payment by the Agricultural Officer attending the market.

Other Government efforts included building copra-drying kilns In villages where the main income was from growing coconuts . A kiln is a large chamber some ten feet deep in the ground with expanded metal sheeting on the top where raw coconut halves were dried by the heat from burning coconut husks down below. This method produced much better copra than putting coconut halves out in the sunshine, and sometimes the rain.

Government encouraged producers and traders to go to extra trouble in preparing their produce for market, and all growers and handlers benefited because of quality improvement. This, I believe, was the justification for hiring a Beeswax Officer.

British Empire Map
Map of Western Tanganyika, 1949
Colony Profile
Tanganyika
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 104: October 2012


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