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.
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.
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
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.
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.