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Colonies (Livestock Production)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 12 April 1949

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Motion made, and question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

11.31 p.m.

I apologise for detaining the House at this late hour, but I feel that the question which I want to raise is of some importance. Meat is a most important item in the normal diet of our people, and the shortage affects practically every one of us—as was shown by references even in many of the county council elections, There, they were, I think, irrelevant and out of place, and made for party purposes, but the continuing shortage of meat is something of very serious concern to the whole country. I do not want to say much on the general conditions except in so far as they affect the particular issue which I want to raise.

It is clear that Great Britain, as the largest importer of meat in the world, has been very badly affected by the reduction of supplies from exporting countries. "The Times" of 28th March referred to the fact that there had been a world reduction in the export of meat of about 12 per cent. between the years 1937 and 1947. That reduction has, of course, affected us very adversely and to a very much greater extent. Our position, as the House knows only too well, has been further worsened by the failure of the Argentine to deliver 100,000 tons of their last annual contract—an amount which, I believe, was equal to about one-quarter of the carcass meat which they had promised in that twelve months. We had another serious blow in the very severe winter of 1946–47, when we lost more than four million sheep as a result of frost and snow. It will take all our energies to make up that very severe loss.

To deal with the situation, it seems that there are three projects, two of which have been actively pursued. We are strengthening our own home production so that by 1952, at any rate so far as beef and veal are concerned, we should have 10 per cent. more than before the war. We are also encouraging in every possible way meat production in the Dominions. I am glad that the Overseas Food Corporation are developing pig production in Queensland, and that we have a seven years' arrangement with New Zealand whereby they are planning to increase their supplies very considerably. In fact, one of the few satisfactory features of the present situation has been the very considerable development in New Zealand, where production for the United Kingdom has gone up from 260,000 tons before the war to about 360,000 tons now, and promises to go over the 400,000 tons mark before long. Personally, I can only wish that we had devoted rather more of our capital resources to the British Commonwealth—to New Zealand and Australia—rather than to furthering and financing the Argentine meat industry, which has let us down so badly. Those are the first two possibilities; the first two plans.

I now come to the third possibility—the possible increase from our British Colonies. I realise at the outset that there can be no quick solution to our problem. Indeed the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies told me, in reply to a question on 30th March, that there could be very little increase in the next 12 months. That is one factor. Another factor is that in most areas of the British Colonies the indigenous population is also growing and will itself make further demands upon any supplies of food. But both these reasons give added drive to us to do all that is possible to increase our supplies from Colonial territories. The indigenous people need them, we need them and the whole world population need them.

There are several areas which can be considered, but I think the most important one will be British Africa. The large-scale possibilities opened up by the drug antrycide being used in tsetse-infected areas present great opportunities. In his Press statement of 29th December last year, the Under-Secretary said that land 75 times as large as England and Wales would be liberated for cattle breeding; British East Africa, which is now producing 16 million head of what he called "extremely scruffy animals" should be able in future to sustain probably more than the 33 million cattle and the 25 million sheep which the Argentine has at present. Since that statement some doubts have been expressed. There are people who doubt whether such a large number of animals could be inoculated under the conditions appertaining in East Africa. I believe it is possible. Certainly we know that in Nigeria more than two million doses of vaccine are given annually for various conditions, and that in East and West Africa there are more than three million inoculations for rinderpest each year.

I should like to ask the Minister what are the possibilities of livestock development in the Colonies in relation to rinder-pest and tsetse infection. There is no doubt that if the tsetse fly can be cleared from these large areas in Africa, and if the cattle can be rendered immune, the possibilities there are enormous. One of the tragic sensations in going through a country like Uganda, where there are millions of acres of the best grass land possible, is to realise that until quite recently it has been useless for cattle production.

In this connection one of the necessary steps will be to increase the number of veterinary officers and veterinary assistants because, although I believe most of these drugs can be given after very little practice, there will be need for a good deal of supervision. So often in cases of this kind we find that the technical personnel who must be in charge are not available. I have before drawn attention in this House to the very limited facilities for technical training available in East and West Africa. In the same context I should like to ask the Under-Secretary what policy is being followed with regard to increased breeding. The House has always been told that we could never expect a revolution in agriculture because it takes more than three years to get a cow. Sheep take less time, and I suppose pigs give the quickest return. I should like the Under-Secretary to give some forecast and say within what time we can expect some meat, mutton and pork from the Colonies.

It will be generally agreed that it is one thing to stimulate production but quite another to arrange for a new export trade on a large scale from a very big area. New organisations will be needed; transport problems will inevitably arise; credit facilities may be required; and there is the question of refrigeration and slaughter-houses. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary the immediate policy of his Ministry in this connection.

I am quite certain the Colonies have a very important part to play in future meat production, and there is every reason to expect close and happy co-operation between the Mother Country and the Colonies. As I have said, the indigenous peoples' needs are very great and have to be met. Our own shortages are so desperate that we must take every step, and finally the development of many of the territories will be assisted very greatly if the Colonial people feel that they can help forward our own plans of capital investment in their territories by this return to this country. Their action is complementary to our own action in giving as much capital investment as we can to these territories. I think we ought to have as much information about the immediate plans as possible, and I hope the Under-Secretary has some encouraging things to say to us.

11.43 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a matter of considerable importance to Africa. I think it would be wrong if any false hopes were raised that Africa will contribute a large amount to the tables of this country. The hon. Gentleman was quite right to direct attention to Australia. If we are to get an increased supply from the Empire, Australia is the place, but in Africa I am quite sure if we are to get the work out of the natives which it is necessary for them to put into the country, they have to be fed better. All the meat that can be raised in Africa will be wanted for the Africans themselves. They are doubling their population every 20 or 25 years and making increasing demands on their food supplies.

At the same time Africa is quietly bleeding to death. Great areas of land each year are eroding very largely because the native cannot be prevailed upon to part with his cattle. I think the first thing the Government have to do in Africa—and I am sure the Colonial Office will assist them—is to try to break down the price system by which the natives look upon cattle as the only source of wealth. The only means of buying a fresh wife is when he has accumulated six or seven cows. It is for that reason that the first thing to be done is to persuade them to sell their surplus cattle. They are keeping a great many more cattle and goats on the land than it is capable of sustaining. In addition, there is the problem of the large areas which are being eroded and washed away with every big rainstorm. Something will have to be done quickly if Africa is to save itself. Liebig's went out some years before the war and erected a big factory in the hope that the natives could be persuaded to sell their surplus cattle: but the natives could not be persuaded to do so, and when I was there two years ago the factory was being used for bacon processing.

I hope the Colonial Office will endeavour to educate the young Africans in their own colleges out there, instead of bringing them to this country to educate them to be lawyers, and will teach them agriculture and get them to go back to the reserves and in turn educate their own people in the right way to use their land. The first thing they have to do is to reduce the enormous stocks of cattle which are now beating down the land until it is producing less and less. Too much hope should not be placed in the reduction of the tsetse fly. But there is something that has to be beaten down as well as the tsetse fly and disease, and that is the drought which prevails in many parts. There are vast areas where the rainfall is extremely small, and the production of beef on a large scale is, in my opinion, something which we will never get out of Africa.

The hon. Gentleman is referring to conditions as they are, and not considering the possibility of large-scale development on new lands, in Uganda, for example. He is thinking of things as they have been, and not as things as they can be.

11.48 p.m.

I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Skeffington) for raising this most important subject, even if it is somewhat late at night, because it is a vital subject not merely to the people of this country but, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said, primarily to the people in the Colonies, to give them a better protein diet. In the long-term, I would say that Africa should be able to produce far more cattle than it is producing today. It should be able to export a certain amount.of cattle carcasses—I cannot say how much yet, for reasons I will give later—and a certain number of pigs. In the short-term, we can obtain from Africa a certain amount of tinned beef and a certain number of pigs. The numbers are bound to be vague, and I shall explain why in a moment.

The two hon. Members who have spoken have touched upon the triumvirate of which I have spoken previously which faces most matters in Africa—the prevalence of disease, the failure to conserve water, and the difficulty of communications. When we are dealing with cattle, the problem resolves itself very largely under these three heads. We have to tackle the rinderpest problem, clear the tsetse fly, deal with the long dry seasons, with poor grazing, poor quality stock, inadequate water and lack of communications. In addition to these we have to counter the reluctance of nomadic stock-owners to part with their cattle, and furthermore the lack of organised marketing.

In areas other than Africa, the numbers of cattle are totally insufficient for the people of the particular Colony concerned, and it is a matter of building up herds for milk rather than beef. With regard to pigs, the problem is to build up numbers, based on the Large White, of which I am sure the hon. Gentleman opposite is a connoisseur, to ensure hygienic conditions for their production, to counter swine fever in East Africa, and to provide an abundant supply of feeding-stuffs. With reference to sheep, there is a possibility of building up numbers of that animal in the Falkland Islands, encouraging the farmers to produce sheep for meat as well as for wool. Our policy is to tackle all these problems in every possible way with the utmost urgency.

In order to implement our policy we have recently held an inter-departmental meeting, under my chairmanship, and decided to have a survey of the potentialities of Africa as an exporter of beef, pig meat and feedingstuffs. The Territories are being asked to let us know what exports they can make, at what prices, under what conditions and whether they require long-term contracts. I must here and now stipulate that we have pointed out to the Governments that it is not intended that any exports shall rob the peoples of these territories of the proteins they require. It is a question of providing the extra produce which will be possible. There will not only be a growing production for export, but also for the home market. When I say home market, I mean local market.

With regard to cattle, I am glad to say that the Ministry of Agriculture are now prepared to take carcass beef from certain areas in Africa under certain circumstances. That is a big step forward. Previously that has been one of the great difficulties about exporting carcass beef from Africa. The conditions are that the animals have been bred and kept in clean areas, and have not been immunised, that the animals stay three weeks in quarantine before slaughter, and that slaughter takes place in clean areas. This opens up considerable possibilities, because a healthy export trade cannot be built up by canneries, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said about Liebig's. We have now to isolate certain clean areas and in these build up a stock which can be exported in the form of carcass meat. Rinderpest eradication is possible in these areas and this is being intensified as a result of the international conference held in Nairobi last October.

With regard to the tsetse fly, here again we can open up fresh areas for grazing, both by aircraft spraying and by antrycide. We are holding in Jos in November a land utilisation conference which we hope will lay down suggestions and conditions for the utilisation of these new lands, so that the conditions which the hon. Gentleman has told us have been present in the old lands will not be transported to the new. We have to improve the breed of native stock by careful selection, and that can be done with hard work. There are government improvement centres and experimental breeding farms to convey to the Africans better knowledge of animal management, and to ensure that water supplies are improved in all these grazing areas. In Nigeria alone £250,000 is being spent this year in improving water supplies, for this purpose.

One of the most important questions facing us is the organisation of a proper marketing system. Here, more than anywhere else, the difficulty has been found in the past. Too much has gone into the pockets of middlemen and, therefore, we are giving a great deal of thought to the organisation of a proper marketing system. If I make the example which the hon. Member for Leominster raised, namely, of Liebig, it is true that the factory did not go to any large extent in Kenya. But then, on the other hand, Liebig's never gave the African the price in Kenya which was an economic price and which justified his selling his beef for slaughter. They were only prepared to take what one might call the prime cuts, tongues and things of that kind, for export in their canning trade. What we are now doing in Kenya is to set up a proper slaughtering system by which every part of the animal except the bellow will be used, and thus to provide the farmer with a proper price for his stock. The hon. Member for Leominster is a farmer himself, and I am sure that he would be no more inclined than an African farmer to take less than the real value for a beast. I would not like to be the person to offer him a great deal less than the market price of a beast.

In dealing with prices, the reason Liebig's could not get on with the factory was that the farmers arrived on the lawns outside the Governor's House and sat there until the Governor withdrew his compulsory orders.

I say that it is no good to have compulsory powers, which I believe the Government of Kenya has now got, unless you are prepared to offer the farmer a fair price. Once you are in a position to do that, there is no reason why a cattle de-stocking policy should not be followed through vigorously. I would be in favour of it. But you must be fair to the farmers. I do not think that up to now they have been offered a fair price. There has been no difficulty in selling in West Africa, as the hon. Member knows.

Finally, I would say that what is needed in regard to cattle is a market assurance from this country; that is to say, an undertaking that we are prepared to take their stock for a certain number of years.

Yes, though I do not know to what extent that would be found essential; but I would not be surprised if it were to be found that that would have to enter into the negotiations which will ensue. Regarding pigs, there is no difficulty about these animals in West Africa. In East Africa there is swine fever, but it is easy to overcome the difficulties and the Ministry of Agriculture would admit in certain conditions pigs from East Africa. There again, the organisation of an export industry is urgently necessary, and furthermore I think that a market assurance will have to be given, either in the form of long-term contracts or something of that kind, because there is a good deal of capital cost involved in providing the type of sty and the type of surroundings for the pig farms which will have to be set up to satisfy the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. Yet that expenditure cannot be incurred unless those who incur it have reasonable satis- faction that they are going to recover some of the money over a period of years.

1 am sure the House will realise that I should be indiscreet tonight if I were to put any term to the period which the long-term development would take, and I should be indiscreet if I were to say what numbers might be achieved as a result of our policy. What I can say is that, as a result of the inter-departmental meeting which I mentioned, various Colonies are being asked what they require in the way of assurances, and what they can produce over a number of years. When we get these answers and they have been considered by the various Government Departments, we will, I think, be in a position to give to the hon. Members who have raised questions tonight answers which I hope will be satisfactory.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twelve o'Clock.