This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
Few people realise how important to us and to the world at large are the products of the oil-yielding trees and plants contained within the Empire. The Germans, although they had wisely accumulated large reserves of the vegetable fats and oils- mostly from our own and their lost African empire- have recently suffered through lack of these precious stuffs, while the British official statement during the war that glycerine was no longer to be supplied to chemists, showed clearly how want of foresight added to the difficulties of the war on our part.
We have in our vast tropical possessions an enormous variety of raw materials which can be exploited with little trouble, and will produce lavish supplies of fats and oil to satisfy our hungry population, and also give the glycerine necessary for the manufacture of high explosives.
Soft palm oil, for instance, contains glycerides from which 9 to 10 per cent, of glycerine can be obtained by up-to-date machinery and methods. We have in our Empire vast quantities of this raw material.
Before the war the Germans practically controlled and worked up the bulk of the oils and fats from West Africa and in nearly all our tropical possessions ; and margarine and nut butter were largely imported to Britain from abroad. These products, now made in Britain, have tended more and more to replace dairy-butter, which, although far dearer than before the war, is no more nourishing and frequently less palatable. Careful analyses show that the vegetable fats and oils from kernels and copra have a higher nutritive value than most butters, especially those imported. Yet there is still a prejudice against " margarine," which it is desirable to remove.
More important still, is the necessity for arousing our Government, capitalists, and public alike to the vast and scarcely tapped wealth of our tropical colonies in foodstuffs and other valuable commodities of the Empire. Especially, perhaps, is it desirable to attract attention to West Africa. In its wealth of vegetable oils and fatty substances, West Africa stands out prominently as an important region of the earth's surface. Only about 5 per cent, of its wealth in vegetable oils has been tapped, and although this great commerce has been barely a hundred years in existence, it had already contributed trade to the amount of over fifty million pounds per annum to the world's markets before they were disorganised by the war. Yet, as Sir Harry Johnston has pointed out in criticising the constitution of the Commission appointed by the Government to inquire into the oil-yielding plants of West Africa, ' not a single trained botanist appeared amongst its members'
Even to-day, our Government scarcely realises the value of West Africa, and there is a section which would willingly make over all Togoland and the Cameroons to France, or perhaps hand them back to Germany, and would stand by while the independent republic of Liberia is annexed or exchanged, or would internationalise all Tropical Africa.
Germany, however, has always realised the importance of Tropical Africa, and the dream of a Mittel-Ajrika is not yet abandoned. The importance to her of tropical oilseeds alone may be gauged from the fact that on the averages of the years 1912 and 1913, Germany imported the following :- 248,000 tons of palm kernels ; 109,000 tons copra (the dried fleshy part of coconuts) ; 445,000 tons linseed and linseed meal; 217,000 tons cotton seed ; 125,000 tons soya beans ; and 84,000 tons peanuts (earth-nuts). Considerable quantities of these, especially of palm kernels, are now diverted to this country, and it is of the greatest importance that the British farmer should become familiar with the by-products produced from them.
What is known in the trade as the ' hardening" process will doubtless, in the future, bring into com-petition with the principal oils mentioned in this book, many liquid and even low fish oils for soap-making and edible purposes. There will always be a market for the superior oils, but only at a price, and one which may penalise the economic position of the Colonies.
Before the war also, the bulk of our own palm-kernel trade in West Africa went to Germany.
In 1913 over 234,000 tons of palm kernels were exported from British West Africa, of which over 181,000 tons went to Germany and about 40,000 tons to this country ; and in 1912 over 50,000 tons of the same were exported from French West Africa, of which about 43,000 tons went to Germany and about 3,500 tons to this country.
Perhaps we were partly to blame for this state of things. For example, at Hamburg, according to evidence given to the Edible Nuts Committee, the cost of landing palm kernels was 8d. per ton, and at Liverpool 3s. 3d. Thus, the English importer started with a handicap of 2s. 7d. Another witness put it at 3s. 9d. At Hull there are no quay charges ; and, as a consequence, large oil-crushing mills have been started there. Other reasons are stated in the chapter on Palm Oil and Kernels.
However, as a result of the aforesaid Committee's inquiries, an export duty of £2 per ton has been recommended, although it is not regarded with favour by the natives or their journals on the Coast.
The result of this export duty of £2 a ton, equal to £4 a ton on the oil, should be : (1) Germany should pay the duty of £2 a ton to our West African possessions on the kernels she requires for her own consumption ; (2) British manufacturers should make and sell to Holland the oil for their margarine trade instead of the kernels, as that country has no duty on the oil; (3) in Great Britain we should have the power to crush what we require for ourselves and do an export trade to Canada, the United States, the River Plate, and many smaller markets.
One of the large Dutch margarine makers has already given out contracts for the construction of a very large factory indeed on the lower reaches of the Thames, to be rapidly pushed forward as soon as building operations are possible, and it is almost certain that when one large producer finds it to his interest to manufacture here, his competitors will follow.
Another result of the publication of the Report of the Colonial Office Committee has been a desire on the part of the public for further knowledge concerning oil-seeds and oil-nuts.
I have, therefore, been prevailed upon to issue as a separate book the chapters on ' Ground Nuts," " Palm Oil and Kernels," " Cacao," and " Shea Nuts," which originally formed part of a volume on West Africa-in preparation for publication after the War- and, while enlarging the same, to add chapters on Coconuts and other edible oil-nuts found throughout the Empire. Special reference is made to planting, cultivation, and expression.
I am indebted to the publishers of my " Sierra Leone : Its People, Products, and Secret Societies," for permission to quote from that volume and for the illustration of a Cacao tree ; also to The Producer, the organ of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, for extracts from my articles to that paper, the publishers of my West Africa, for the chapters mentioned, and to the Belgian Government, Messrs. Cadbury, Lever Bros., Craig & Co., and the Eastern Palm Estates, Ltd., for some of the photographs.
H. O. Newland, Capt. Authors' Club, Whitehall Court, S.W. 1, February, 1919.