THE GROUNDNUT SCHEME – ’40 MINUTES AND 40 YEARS ON’

“NUTS”- BBC2 TELEVISION
(March 27th 1986)

To someone (like me) who served as a District Officer in the Western Province of Tanganyika from 1948-50, in the Nzega Kahama and Kasulu Districts, this evocative programme aroused a bitter-sweet nostalgia, as memories of a long forgotten dream came flooding back. A dream which began on the first Colonial Service Course at Oxford to be held after World War II when the austere post-war Labour Government inspired a battered Britain, freezing, short of coal, clothes and food to a bright vision of a great self-governing Commonwealth of free Nations, economically interdependent, basking in the reflected glory of the British Crown.

Our mentors at Oxford elaborated on the speeches at Westminster and the ‘leaders’ in the ‘Times’; benevolent Britain would invest the then enormous sum of £30 million (equivalent to £300 million at today’s prices) into clearing 3 million acres of tsetse infested bush in the Central, Western and Southern Provinces of Tanganyika, which would then be planted with enough groundnuts to provide vegetable fats like margarine for the people of the United Kingdom – if not Europe and the world – to the mutual benefit of all! Useful spin-offs would be the eradication of the tsetse fly and the mosquito with the consequent reduction in sleeping sickness, Trypanosomiasis and malaria, the employment and ultimate resettlement of thousands of Tanganyikans and the provision of schools, hospitals, plus the usual infrastructure of roads, railways, ports, telecommunications and so on.

Clement Attlee, Stafford Cripps, John Strachey and Arthur Creech Jones were the heroes of the hour, if not the villains of the piece! We were proud indeed to be sailing for Tanganyika where such a splendid scheme was being launched, supervised by an impressive array of agricultural experts and scientists.

In Tanganyika itself it was a different story. The long-suffering professional Colonial Service Officers, many of whom had spent the entire war without home leave, trying to run the whole Government machine on £4,000,000 a year were resentful and suspicious of the “whole crazy Whitehall scheme”, superimposed by a Government in London with little or no local consultation, bringing in its wake an army of “highly paid helpers” and many Senior Officers, most of whom had little or no knowledge of the country or its language and still less farming skills.

This TV programme, though inevitably made up of somewhat uneven and disjointed sequences of old film and survivors, nonetheless did succeed to a “large extent in recapturing the extraordinary atmosphere of hope and despair, rumour and confusion, cultural conflict, disappointment, political intrigue and lies which reigned supreme. A night stop at Urambo station remains in my memory where a noisy drunken rabble of workers, prostitutes and hangers-on swarmed along the platform in the moonlight like a scene from a 19th Century gold rush. “Panda Mali Kufa Kwaja!”

The ghastly Beehive brandy which we drank as a last resort stirred old memories as did the swimming pool in the bush with the old fashioned costumes which reminded me of pleasant swims in the dams of Nzega District with Peter and Rachel Bleackley. It was good to see Tom Unwin suitably dressed for the bush reminiscing in his inimitable style. But the dream faded and eventually became a joke.

We were given the basic facts. The second year (1949) target for land clearing – 450,000 acres; land cleared 227,000. Target for production of groundnuts 58,500 tons; actually produced 2,500 tons or 4%. One case quoted was of 3,000 acres planted in 3 days at the rate of 112 lbs of seed per acre; the harvest averaged 82 lbs per acre! And we were given the reasons for the failure – bad management, inexperience, unsuitable equipment, very abrasive soils and lack of rain.

Randal Sadleir
Dr. RANDAL SADLEIR was a District Commissioner in Tanzania and later founded the Swahili newspapers “Baragumu” and “Mwangaza”. He is now with the “Cancer Research Campaign”

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » 36 YEARS OF TANZANIAN AFFAIRS – PART 1 said,

    September 1, 2011 at 1:00 am

    […] by scattered obstacles and trees/bushes). Randal Sadleir reviews a BBC documentary on the groundnut scheme – forty years […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.