§ 5. Mr. Braine
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps are being taken to expand copra and cocoa production in the Western Pacific Dependencies.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
As the answer is long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Braine
In that connection, can my right hon. Friend also say whether any special difficulties are being encountered by way of recruitment of agricultural staff? I do not necessarily desire an answer now.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I do not think so. I have had no complaint about difficulties of staff. There are a number of problems arising out there, both in regard to copra and cocoa, such as the declining productivity of some trees. But, on the whole, I think we can say that a good recovery has been made since the war.
§ Following is the information:
§ Although copra production is somewhat higher than before the war many of the trees are near the age of declining productivity. The Government are considering the recommendations of a committee appointed to prepare a plan for the effective rehabilitation of coconut areas. A Rhinoceros Beetle Eradication Board was set up in 1953, and Government also contributes to the cost of investigations into control methods which are being carried out by the South Pacific Commission.
§ The Colony's development budget for 1955 provides for capital expenditure of £F.14,500 on a pilot scheme for cocoa development. Many of the best varieties and strains have been established, and progress has been made in propagation and distribution. About 40 acres were to be planted in 1954.413
§ Soil surveys have been carried out, and new roads now being built and projected will open up further land for development.
§ British Solomon Islands Protectorate
§ The rehabilitation of the copra industry has been one of the main tasks since the war, and steady progress has been made. In the first two years after the war only 700 tons of copra were produced, but by 1954 exports had reached 18,000 tons a year, compared with the pre-war production of around 22,000 tons. The Protectorate Copra Board has devised a cheap hot-air drier suitable for use by small producers and arrangements are being made for essential parts to be made locally for sale to producers.
§ The Copra Board, in association with the Agricultural Department, proposes to reorganise the extension service in the districts to provide advice and technical assistance to producers. A copra improvement officer has been posted to the Western District and the posting of an agricultural officer to Malaita should improve the quality of native-produced copra there. The Board also hopes to stimulate the production of better quality copra by widening the price spread between hot-air dried and smoke-dried copra.
§ The cause of the coconut disease known as early nut-fall is the subject of an entomological research scheme financed jointly by colonial development and welfare funds and by the Copra Board.
§ A cocoa survey was carried out in 1951, and trial blocks have been planted in Malaita and Guadalcanal. A scheme for the production of cocoa on a commercial scale in the Western Solomons, in which Government would participate with Levers Pacific Plantations Proprietary Ltd., is being investigated. Interest in native cocoa production on Malaita is increasing, and seed is being distributed to growers under a scheme in which the Department of Agriculture and the Malaita Council are collaborating.
§ An Agricultural and Industrial Loans Board which is being set up will, it is hoped, assist the production of cocoa and copra by making loans to planters for purchase of equipment and planting of new land.
§ Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony
§ Production of copra rose steadily during 1953 and 1954, and now averages around 8,000 tons, compared with about 6,000 tons before the war. Efforts to improve production are directed mainly at encouraging landowners to pay more attention to the care of their land and to cut more copra. It is hoped to train a Gilbertese agricultural assistant to assist the improvement of coconut plantations, but land shortage will preclude any significant increase in copra production.
§ New Hebrides
§ Shortage of labour has caused some neglect of cocoa plantations in favour of copra. The Condominium Agricultural Department, established in 1952, has concentrated on the selection and propagation of suitable strains of local cocoa, fertiliser trials and pest control. It has received expert advice in recent years on both cocoa and copra from the South Pacific Commission.