HC Deb 11 July 1949 vol 467 cc10-3
22. Sir W. Smithers

asked the Minister of Food if he will now make a statement as to the progress and present condition of the groundnuts scheme in East Africa.

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir. During my recent visit to East Africa, I found that the harvesting of groundnuts and sunflower was in progress. About one-half of the groundnut crop, and about one-sixth of the sunflower crop had been harvested. As I informed the House on 9th May, yields at Kongwa will be very low this year, owing to the drought which has affected the whole of East Africa so severely. From the crop so far harvested the yields averaged 245 1b. for groundnuts and 99 1b. for sunflower per acre. Nevertheless, as I have also informed the House, the first small shipments of oilseed to the United Kingdom will be made shortly from this year's crop.

Work is in hand in the three areas of the Scheme, namely, Kongwa, Urambo and the Southern Province, in the preparation of the ground for next year's planting. The initial operation of bush flattening has been completed on the whole of the land which is required for the three units which are being established at Kongwa. The Overseas Food Corporation expect the contractors to complete the clearing of this land, which involves windrowing and rooting, by October next. In this connection, let me repeat that when I use the word "cleared" I mean prepared for cultivation or for roads, camps sites, etc., whatever was the original state of the land, and whether much or little work had to be done on it.

Arrangements have now been made for the transfer of land clearing equipment to Urambo and the Southern Province in order to increase the pace of clearance there. At Urambo some 20,000 acres should, the Corporation advise me, be cleared in time for next year's planting. In the Southern Province 2,000 acres are being cleared for planting this year. This effort is all that can be supported until the new railway has been built. Work on the railway is going ahead steadily, and the rail head should reach the area by the end of this year. Until then clearing operations could not be undertaken in earnest in the Southern Province, which, all the experts on the spot are convinced, is much the most fertile and promising of the three areas in which the scheme is operating.

I have found—

Mr. Langford-Holt

On a point of Order. Is not this the type of answer to a Question which should be given at the end of Questions?

Mr. Strachey

I recognise that my answer is long, but I have been very strongly pressed by the House to give a full and clear exposition of the scheme, and I am endeavouring to comply with the wish of the House in that matter.

I have found that the men and women on the spot possessed a spirit of determination to surmount the very grave difficulties—some expected and some unexpected—which have confronted them. The drought had, of course, been a bitter disappointment to their hopes for this year's crops, but they had rallied from this blow. I should welcome an opportunity, when time is available, to make a fuller statement to the House.

Sir W. Smithers

How much of the taxpayers' money has been spent to date on this scheme, and what is the loss to date? Why has the right hon. Gentleman referred to the drought? It is typical of the Socialist Party to blame something else.

Mr. Strachey

The answer to the first part of that question arises on the accounts of the Corporation, but, roughly speaking, between £20 million and £25 million is the capital cost of this scheme to date. The trading accounts will only begin this year.

Captain Crookshank

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us—we shall want to study his long answer; I have warned him of that—any estimate of what the tonnage of the crop is likely to be this year.

Mr. Strachey

As the harvesting in respect of groundnuts is only one half completed and, in respect of sunflower, only one-sixth completed it would be difficult to give an estimate of the tonnage at this stage; but it will be only a few thousand tons.

Captain Crookshank

If half has been harvested could the Minister say how much has been harvested, so that we could multiply it by two?

Mr. Strachey

The yields differ very much in the different areas because some areas received very much more rain than others. It would be quite misleading to say that double of what has now been harvested would be the final result.

Mr. Dye

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that the yields of sunflower seed on what are regarded as marginal lands in the Eastern counties are ten times as great as the figure he has given? Would he try and develop the growth of sunflower in this country to a much greater extent?

Mr. Strachey

The yield of sunflower seed at Kongwa in this drought year is virtually a failure, and is no comparison with the proper yield of sunflower seed. There is no reason why farmers in this country should not grow sunflower seed.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Would the Minister like to revise by 50 per cent. the estimate he gave during the last Debate on groundnuts?

Mr. Strachey

To what estimate is the hon. Member referring?

Mr. Harris

The Minister's own estimate of the anticipation of the yield of groundnuts for the whole scheme. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say that the statement he has now made means a yield of something like 50 per cent. less?

Mr. Strachey

Oh, no, Sir, certainly not. The original estimate in the White Paper, to which the hon. Member refers, is 750 1b. per acre of the yield of groundnuts over the whole area year by year. I particularly asked my experts on the spot if they had any reason to revise that, and they said, "No."

Mr. Baldwin

Dealing with that part of the Minister's statement in which he said he would increase transport to one of the fields in East Africa, would not it be better to use the transport provided for the groundnuts in West Africa, where they are rotting for want of transport?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir. The areas do not conflict. Railway material is being sent out to West Africa as fast as possible, and the building of the railway in East Africa does not interfere with that.

Mr. Gammans

Can the Minister give us any idea when the result of this scheme is likely to reflect itself in the increase of the fat ration in this country? Will it be next year, or the year after?

Mr. Strachey

We should have a very small contribution this year, a somewhat larger one next year, and it will be gradually increased year by year.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about a "very small contribution" to the ration can he give us any idea of what it will mean to the individual consumer?

Mr. Strachey

I have already answered the right hon. Gentleman, it will be only a few thousand tons this year.

Forward to