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.
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
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
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
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.
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