From Coomassie we make numerous excursions to the surrounding country. Everywhere we go we see multitudes of cocoa-trees, alternating with stretches of forest or occupying a clearing in the heart of the jungle. The situation of the cocoa farms, the numerical strength of the trees, methods of cultivation, the way in which the crop is harvested, fermented, dried, and taken to market, and the quality of the beans, are all reminiscent of cocoa production as we have become familiar with it in the Gold Coast Colony. We are constantly being confronted with evidence which goes to prove that Ashanti, no less than the neighbouring colony, is richly endowed by Nature for cocoa production.
Particularly interesting and enjoyable is our visit to the Coomassie Agricultural Station, a Government enterprise, consisting of gardens and experimental plantations cultivated under the direction of trained agriculturists. The senior curator acts as our guide, and at the outset of our tour he impresses on us that his labourers are all Ashantis, that they use their own primitive style of agricultural implements, and that they are only taught the simplest agricultural methods.
The main purpose of the station, of the instruction that is given there, and of the work done by the staff of travelling instructors, is to give simple object-lessons showing how the farmers could improve their crops by taking more care over details, such as seed selection and everyday measures for the prevention of disease. The same policy and similar methods are pursued at all the agricultural stations which have been established in the Gold Coast and Ashanti, and thanks largely to the whole-hearted service of the Director of Agriculture and his staff, to the trouble taken by these experts to understand the character of the natives, and to their infinite patience, considerable progress is being made in the education of the farmers, as we shall presently see when we visit a cocoa farm as developed by one of the curator's model pupils.
Ashanti has struck us as being quite as rich an agricultural country as the Gold Coast. Our peep at the Coomassie Agricultural Station strengthens this impression. Here, where the land is cultivated with knowledge and care, we are in a veritable paradise.
Here we see not only the ubiquitous cocoa-tree, but as witness to Ashanti's magnificent possibilities there are flourishing crops of ground nuts, kola nuts, oil palms, rubber, cassava, rice, coffee, and numerous other tropical products. There are tropical fruits, too, in abundance and infinite variety, and, wonder of wonders, there is a model English market garden, where fine crops of lettuces, cabbages, runner beans, onions, beetroot and artichokes proclaim the good news that Ashanti is capable of producing health-giving fresh vegetables.
We are, of course, specially interested in the station's cocoa plots. We notice that nowhere is the undergrowth allowed to reach bush heights, as is common on the farms, that the trees are pruned, and that the fallen leaves are used as a mulch. The plots are respectively occupied by different varieties of cocoa-trees, which are being cultivated by methods that could easily be followed by the farmers, should experiments prove that some variety of cocoa, other than the now commonly grown Forastero, Amelonado amarillo, would yield a richer harvest, particularly in the way of better quality beans. As indicative of the farmers' possibilities of increasing their output, it is interesting to know that the average annual yield per tree of the Forastero, Amelonado amarillo, grown at the Coomassie Agricultural Station is 7 to 8 lbs., and the record yield 14 lbs., as against the average annual yield of 2 to 3 lbs. per tree on the farms.
A few days later a merry party of us set off by motor, under the guidance of the curator, to visit a model cocoa farm. The model farmer, who turns out to be an important chief, meets us at a village a few miles out of Coomassie. Onwards from this point the only means of access to our destination is a bush trail.
We have trekked for about three miles through dense forest when the trail merges into a broad path, and the jungle gives place to a vast clearing planted with cocoa-trees. We have reached the chief's cocoa plantation, and in comparison with anything we have seen so far it is certainly a model farm. On the authority of the curator, this farmer-chief carries out, generally speaking, the instructions of the agricultural department. We notice that the undergrowth is kept down; that the trees have been pruned to the extent of having dead and diseased branches removed; that wild cotton-trees, which are a feature of the average farm and the beloved haunt of one of the cocoa-tree's deadliest enemies, are conspicuous by their absence; and that the plantation is intersected by clear-kept paths which give easy access to the trees for cultural attention.
The principal enemies to the cocoa-tree are:
A fungus which spreads rapidly over the surface of the pod and penetrates to the beans.
A fungus which affects the leaves. The white threads travel quickly among the leaves, killing every branch they attack. The whole tree dies unless the affected limbs are removed.
A moth, or, to use the family name by which the insect pests are commonly known, a "cocoa bug." In science, it belongs to the Helopeltis species, and in everyday language it is called the "cocoa mosquito." It punctures the pod to attack the beans. The outward signs of its ravages are small black spots.
A very deadly bug belonging to the Sahlbergella species. Large black spots near the base of cocoa pods are the mark of this beast. The native names for it are "Akati" and "Sankouabi." The latter means "back to the oil palm," and the idea at the back of the meaning is resignation to an evil against which even the fetich man cannot supply a juju (charm). Here is a fuller translation of "San-kouabi": We can't fight against fate, so when this evil spirit attacks our cocoa-trees, let him do his worst, and if worst comes to the worst we will go back to collecting the fruit of oil palms, the trees which the good spirits cause to grow wild in abundance in our forests and to yield a crop which we can easily exchange for chop and cloth.
A particularly deadly enemy, which makes black punctures that distort the pods. Fortunately it has not so far become a prevalent danger in the Gold Coast and Ashanti.
Other pests in this part of the cocoa growing world are squirrels, rats, and bush deer.
The cocoa-tree was introduced into the Gold Coast by a native of the colony. Previous to its introduction the people of that country had no agricultural knowledge or experience other than what they had gained by growing food for themselves, and their crops were of the temporary kind known as annuals. By taking up the cultivation of cocoa they made their first attempt to establish a permanent crop, which for such a people was a revolutionary enterprise and a big stride towards progressive civilization.
With our own eyes we have seen something of the astounding success with which that enterprise has been pursued. Here, briefly summarized in figures, is the record of achievements: The first export of cocoa beans from the Gold Coast was in 1891, and the total shipment was 80 lbs.; the total had risen to 960 tons by 1901, to figures which eclipsed those of any other country in the world by 1911, and to 90,964 tons by 1917. The estimated output for 1919 was 180,000 tons.
Girls On Cocoa Plantation : Trinidad (British West Indies)
The stupendous figures for the last few years include the rapidly increasing output from Ashanti.
British merchants and manufacturers, as we have seen, have played the leading part in developing the Gold Coast cocoa industry on the export side. We know, too, that the Agricultural Department has rendered valuable service. But whilst we should not forget to give credit, where credit is due, to the Europeans who have helped to make a success of the industry, we must remember that it was the people of the Gold Coast themselves who founded the industry, and that, commercially speaking, it is these people and the Ashantis who have planted all the cocoa-trees and who have produced and are producing every bean of the total exports. In all the circumstances let us rejoice that these people have made the British Empire the biggest cocoa producer in the world, rather than bemoan the fact that, at this comparatively early stage in their civilization, they have not shown an "infant prodigy "ambition to adopt modern agricultural methods and to improve the quality of their output.
Still, for their own sakes, for the sake of their country, and for the sake of the Empire in which they are now partners, it is to be hoped that the farmers will soon begin to see more clearly that they need to raise the standard of their efforts and of their ambitions. There is no country in the world in which cocoa can be grown as easily and as cheaply as in the Gold Coast and Ashanti. An outside estimate, based on numerous inquiries we have made on the spot, puts he all-in cost of production at 5s. per load of 60 lbs. At the outset of the cocoa-growing enterprise, natural advantages proved a blessing by acting as an encouragement to a people who were making their first experiment with a permanent crop. But at this stage of the industry's development, those advantages, together with the phenomenally high prices which cocoa has recently been commanding, are apt to be a dangerous source of incentive to slackness. And slackness might so easily mean a disease-born catastrophe such as ruined the coffee industry in Ceylon and Malaya, or a big loss of business due to cocoa-producing competitors in other parts of the world making efforts to increase the output and improve the quality of their output, whilst the farmers of the Gold Coast and Ashanti are, with a few exceptions, contentedly resting on their laurels.