British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Geoff Dickin
(Agricultural Officer, Tanganyika 1957-60)
A Tribute to Ukiriguru and James Peat
The oldest agricultural research station in Tanganyika, Ukiriguru, was established in the early 1930s. It was primarily for cotton research, located near Mwanza at the south-eastern edge of Lake Victoria. Its contribution to the welfare of this part of Tanganyika, inhabited largely by the Sukuma and Zinza tribes, has been a major success story. It wasn't long before the Eastern Lake Province became one of the relatively few areas in East Africa where peasant farmers had been persuaded to convert from subsistence farming to a cash crop, cotton. James Peat, my first boss and a fine man, was awarded the CBE for the role he played. In 1939 a Training School was also set up at Ukiriguru, mainly to train staff for extension work.

What lasting effect has Ukiriguru had on the country? Mr Peat retired soon after I knew him, but in 1958/59 there were other cotton breeders at the station. Mike Arnold and Ken Brown played an important role and both went on to make a name for themselves elsewhere. Ken, I am told, contributed a huge amount to cotton cultivars in Pakistan. There were also a plant pathologist, an entomologist, a soil chemist and their assistants. Other staff were involved in extension and training. I was working on alternative crops.

A Tribute to Ukiriguru and James Peat
Cotton Weigh-in
According to a 2007 World Bank cotton report by Poulton and Maro, the Ukiriguru Research Station was still very active under the control of the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. The cultivar UK91, bred at Ukiriguru in 1991, was finally released to producers in the 2005/6 season, and research on newer and better cultivars is still going strong. The report also lists cotton production as peaking at over 300,000 tonnes in 2004 and 2005, though it dropped back sharply the following year. Cotton topped the list of Tanzanian agricultural exports in value in 2005 and for many years has been in the top three with coffee and cashews. In 2006/7 there were an estimated 350,000 producers growing about 560,000 hectares of cotton. As much as 85% of this production was in the Mwanza and Shinyanga districts, closest to Ukiriguru.

For all this one can claim that the research and extension staff of the colonial era, as well as the administration of that period, made huge contributions and none more than James Peat.

A Tribute to Ukiriguru and James Peat
Cotton Gin
Mr Peat, a bachelor, had joined the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation (ECGC) in the early 1930s and was sent to Tanganyika to start cotton breeding on the newly established Ukiriguru Research Station. By the time I arrived about 25 years later it was a flourishing centre, used by both the ECGC and the Agricultural Dept., with 13 expatriate staff. With wives, there were 19 expatriates altogether. Mr Peat had also "flourished", and when I met him, a big man, he had a large paunch. To all of us he was "Mr. Peat". Flis office was at one end of the admin building and mine was near the other end, about 30 metres away. If he wanted one of us and saw us in the corridor, he would catch the eye and beckon with an upside-down index finger, calling out one's surname in haughty fashion. If one asked him about a problem, he often pondered over it for at least half a day before giving a very logical solution.

Mr Peat usually arrived at the office an hour or so before the 10.30 morning tea. He was always dressed immaculately in white shirt, baggy white shorts and long white socks. He would leave for home at 1 o'clock for what I suspect was a heavy lunch, and return to the office at 4 p.m. after a lengthy nap. Then he would drive round his trials, or call one of us to show him our field trials, after which he made up for lost time by working in his office until dark. There were legendary stories about the deployment and excellence of his three domestic servants and about his insistence on all the correct etiquette at dinner on camping safaris. I suspect some of these were exaggerated by some of my older colleagues.

A Tribute to Ukiriguru and James Peat
Feeding the Gin
Each working morning (which included Saturday mornings in those days) we gathered for tea in the "common room". In spite of his apparent aloof manner, Mr Peat was actually affable and joined in any discussions of "the world and his friend". More often than not the topic was agriculture and sometimes I, fresh out of my studies, would offer a theory. If it sounded a bit impractical, Mr Peat, instead of arguing the point, would stare down his nose at me and say in a superior tone, "Dickin, did you learn that at university?" I felt completely squashed of course, but soon recognised the twinkle in his eye.

For a long time Mr Peat had been the sole or main cotton breeder. However he also played a major part in initiating other practices. These included contoured tie ridges, earlier planting, manuring, and regular weeding (all by hand in those days). He worked hard persuading the extension services to ensure destruction of harvested plants, with no rattooning, to prevent the spread of pests and diseases from one season to the next. He also identified and advised the eradication of plants which co-hosted cotton pests in the off-season. Of course to promote, encourage and yes, even police these practices, one mustn't forget the role of the many Field Officers of the Agricultural Dept. The name of Norman Rounce stood out in the late 1940s, but there were many others, both expatriates and local, the latter mostly trained at Ukiriguru. The Provincial Administration also played an important supporting role.

The only times we ever saw Mr Peat break his routine, or get a little rattled, was when Archie Forbes (Deputy and later Director of Agric) or Dr Evans (Research Director), visited from Dar es Salaam, or when a senior ECGC officer came from Namulonge in Uganda.

One can view the Ukiriguru Research Station, developed and expanded from the 1930s by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation and the Agricultural Department of the colonial government, as one of the colonial era's great success stories, and a wonderful legacy from James Peat in particular.

Colonial Map
Map of Northern Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, 1948
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 105: April 2013


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