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Diseased Cocoa Trees

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 14 June 1950

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the extent of swollen shoot disease in the cocoa areas of Nigeria; the success so far achieved in persuading farmers to co-operate in the cutting-out of diseased trees; the steps taken to investigate complaints by farmers of the methods used by some inspectors; what compensation is paid to the owners of trees that have to be cut out; and if he is satisfied with the progress so far made in dealing with this problem.

I regret to say that the Nigerian Government has recently reported that swollen shoot must now be regarded as endemic in a number of areas, mostly within 30 miles radius of Ibadan, where the cutting-out campaign has been in progress. It has been decided to withdraw cutting-out gangs from these areas and to concentrate on preventing the spread of the disease to areas at present clear or only lightly infected I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of the published statement issued by the Nigerian Government on 30th May explaining this change of policy.

In view of this very important change of policy, would my right hon. Friend consider circulating in HANSARD that statement which he kindly says he is going to send to me? Would he also, when he has had further time to consider the problem, perhaps make a further statement on a particular aspect, touched on in my Question—that of compensation to the farmers, many of whom suffered great hardship in a campaign which may now prove to have been totally useless?

If it is the desire of the House I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the statement I am sending to my hon. Friend. I would like further time to consider this very important change of policy, and perhaps my hon. Friend would put down another question in a week or two.

In view of the fact that persuasion does not seem to have had much effect in remedying this very serious state of affairs, does not the Minister think the time is now ripe to apply compulsion in this matter, just as an English farmer is compelled to take certain steps when there is disease among his animals? Instead of paying compensation does not he think it desirable to replace diseased trees out of the very large funds which are available?

Following is the statement:

The attention of the Government has been drawn to reports that the cutting out of cocoa trees affected with swollen shoot disease has been stopped. These reports are not correct. The facts are as follow:

There is at present no known cure for swollen shoot and cutting out is the only known means of preventing the spread of the disease. It has been found, however, that in areas where the number of infected trees is heavy the progress of the disease cannot be checked and cutting out inevitably results in the removal of all trees. Such an area is known as an endemic area. In areas where the number of infected trees is relatively small the spread of the disease can be prevented, provided that cutting out starts as soon as the disease is discovered and is carried on thoroughly and continuously in respect of all trees which develop the disease.

It had been hoped that, by pursuing a vigorous cutting out campaign, it would have been possible to eradicate swollen shoot from the Ibadan Division, but it has now become clear that in certain parts of the Division the disease is already so widespread that it has, in fact, become endemic in these areas most of which are within a 30-mile radius of Ibadan. As explained above, if cutting out is continued in this area the result will be the eventual removal of all the trees. It has, therefore, been decided that all efforts should now be concentrated on trying to prevent the spread of the disease from these heavily infected areas to areas both in the Ibadan Division and adjoining divisions which are at present "clean" or only lightly infected. This can only be done by cutting out diseased trees wherever the disease is discovered outside the heavily infected area.

It has therefore been decided to withdraw the cutting out gangs from the endemic areas only and to concentrate on protecting those areas which are not at present infected. The cutting out teams are therefore being moved to the boundaries of the endemic area. Constant inspection of farms on this boundary will be maintained so that the disease may be attacked as soon as it appears. By this means, provided there is no further interruption, it is hoped that the spread of the disease will be stopped and the number of trees which will have to be cut out will be kept to an absolute minimum.

It is realised that this change in the method of attack is a most serious step as it may mean that in time all the cocoa in the heavily infected areas will die of the disease, but after the most careful consideration the Government have reached the conclusion that it is the right policy to adopt in the interests of the cocoa industry as a whole. At the same time Government will continue to pursue a vigorous policy to encourage the growth of improved varieties of cocoa on more practical lines and the introduction of new cash crops where the continued growing of cocoa seems impracticable.

The whole question of the swollen shoot campaign and, in particular, the measures for rehabilitation, will be reviewed by the Cocoa Marketing Board at its next meeting, after which a further statement will be issued.