The Struggle for Cotton


THE fight for raw materials is one of the outstanding features of modern civilization. European nations are almost wholly dependent upon the tropics for many of the essential products used in their manufactures, such as cotton, vegetable oils, rubber, and a host of lesser commodities that cannot be produced in temperate climates. Although the territorial control of large supplies of raw materials is not essential to the welfare of great industrial communities, it has long been recognized that it is extremely desirable that manufacturers should not be entirely dependent upon the grace of foreign countries for the supplies that are required for the industrial machine. For this reason most of the manufacturing nations of Europe have endeavored to secure a territorial hold upon countries of production, so that in the struggle for industrial supremacy, or at least for industrial efficiency, they shall be partly independent of foreign sources of supply. Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Spain, and Portugal have all in turn established plantation colonies, sometimes under the disguise of philanthropic effort, sometimes for the purpose of strategic defense, sometimes merely as calling-stations for their ships; but in all cases these establishments have sooner or later become valuable sources of supply and their value has increased in proportion to the advance in the industrial efficiency of the mothercountry.

It is evident that, while plantation colonies are not absolutely necessary, — the case of Germany, which at present has no colonies, and of Czechoslovakia, whose industries have vastly increased since the war, may be cited, — there is an almost inherent tendency among democratic communities to hold what they have and to develop their overseas colonial possessions to the best of their ability.

Great Britain is in a peculiarly fortunate position as a plantation power. She possesses vast tropical estates capable of almost indefinite development, supplying many of the essential products consumed by her manufactures, and contributing directly to her prosperity both as producers and consumers. In the proper development and effective administration of these great territories her own prosperity and that of their native races are directly involved, and the great economic problem of the present age, the production of raw materials, is intimately associated with a number of questions with which the whole world is indirectly concerned. Within the British Empire there are certain products of which the British Commonwealth has almost a monopoly; but there are others the supplies of which lie mainly outside British territory. The United Kingdom considered by itself is mainly dependent upon overseas sources for the raw materials of commerce, while in the matter of foodstuffs for the industrial population of the British Isles great quantities also have to be imported. It is essential, therefore, for her prosperity that she should be able to secure ample supplies at reasonable prices so that there shall be no stoppage of the industrial machine. One of the main products upon which a very large section of her population depends for its livelihood is cotton, and in this product the British Empire as a whole is singularly lacking and is mainly dependent upon the United States. The United States, on the other hand, although she possesses a vast and compact territory, is entirely deficient in rubber, jute, silk, and certain important vegetable oils; so that, like the United Kingdom, she has to import certain commodities over which she has no territorial control. For this reason, and also because she is directly concerned in the steps that are being taken to develop cotton within British countries, interest is being manifested in the new possible cottonareas, in Africa and elsewhere, that, sooner or later, will come into active competition with the United States.

The three great cotton-producers of the world — eliminating China, which consumes all that is locally grown — are the United States, with its longstaple varieties so essential for the mills of Lancashire; Egypt; and India, which grows mainly the shorter kinds that are not required for British consumption. It is generally conceded that there is a world-shortage of cotton and that this shortage will increase, rather than diminish, unless effective steps are taken to secure new fields of production. For Great Britain and other industrial nations this shortage is a most serious problem which, while it has already tended to a great increase of prices, must eventually, if not overcome, bring about widespread unemployment in one of the greatest manufacturing processes carried on in the United Kingdom. How important this product is to England in general and to Lancashire in particular may be judged from the fact that it is computed that nearly one fifth of the entire working population is dependent, directly or indirectly, upon the cotton-trade for its living. It has been recognized, therefore, for some years, that the industrial salvation of this great community rests upon the finding and establishing of new sources of supply.

VOL. 136 — NO. 4

The position with regard to the United States as the main producer of the raw material is simple and can be stated briefly. During recent years production and average production per acre have decreased, while at the same time internal consumption of the rawproduct has advanced, so that the available surplus for export grows less and less. The remarkable advance in manufacture in the United States, and the diminution in the export of rawcotton that has already resulted from that fact alone, are serious problems that are confronting all consuming countries at the present day, and everyone is aware of the precarious position in which the cotton-manufacturing industries, not only of Great Britain, but also of the other industrial nations, may one day stand. While the acreage under cotton in the United States has increased from 33,128,703 for the years 1909-10-1911-12 to 33,657,038 for the years 1919-20-1921-22, the production has decreased from 2,972,132 tons1 to 2,604,969 tons and the average

production per acre from 178 pounds to 156.2 pounds during the same period. In Egypt also acreage, production, and yield have been greatly reduced, the last from 382.2 pounds per acre to 299 pounds per acre. This alarming reduction in available sources of supply, if unchecked, will end sooner or later in disaster so far as Great Britain is concerned.


It will be of interest to examine what steps are being taken to remedy this shortage. When it first began to be realized that the time was approaching when the cotton supplies of the United States would be insufficient to meet the increasing demand upon them, efforts were made in Lancashire to establish new sources of supply. Early in 1901 attention was drawn to the dangerous position of the Lancashire cotton industry, owing to the fact that it was dependent upon the United States for the bulk of its supply and, therefore, was at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather in one particular part of the world. A failure of the American crop caused widespread distress, and effective steps were taken to establish an association which should encourage the growing of cotton within the British tropical colonies.

The late Sir Alfred Jones, one of the most active and farsighted of our industrial leaders, took steps on his own initiative to commence the growing of American cotton in West Africa; and in 1902 the British Cotton Growing Association — which has done a great work, the results of which are as yet hardly commensurate with the energy and money expended — was formed. With a subscribed capital of £470,000, drawn from both employers and employed, — an outstanding example of coöperative effort in Great Britain, — much work has been done to develop new sources of supply in Africa, with, it must be admitted, varying success. As a first effort, cotton planters and experts from agricultural colleges in America were sent to West Africa, where cotton was cultivated in fairly large areas on the plantation principle. In certain colonies, such as Sierra Leone, the effort was unsuccessful; in the Gold Coast, cocoa almost entirely superseded cotton as a possible crop; while in Nigeria, a great tropical territory about one third the size of British India, with a population of nearly eighteen millions, the plantations that were developed proved unsuccessful, not because good cotton could not be grown, but because the African native does not take kindly to work as a hireling on large plantations, but prefers to own and cultivate his land. Subsequently the Association entered on the right track by encouraging the natives to grow their own crops, and the great function of the Association to-day, apart from many important but minor activities, is to act as a coöperative buyer so as to stabilize prices for the natives, so far as possible, and to guarantee a definite price for the year’s crop. It also distributes improved seed and assists native production in various parts of Africa, notably Uganda, in the manner already indicated.

Early in its operations the Association established four great facts upon which the success of all efforts at cotton-growing in Africa must ultimately depend. Experience soon demonstrated — certainly in Nigeria, where land was acquired in proximity to some of the large towns and was in consequence more or less exhausted — that suitable soil was a prime factor; and there is now no doubt whatever that such soil exists in many parts of Africa. A sufficient rainfall was also found to be essential in areas where irrigation could not be successfully accomplished. But, given these two prime factors, it was further demonstrated that there were two other great requirements — ample and cheap labor, and adequate transport. Enormous areas, probably suitable for cotton, are at present almost entirely useless owing to the totally inadequate local labor-supply. Although this does not apply to such countries as Nigeria as a whole and Uganda, it is a serious factor in territories like Kenya, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, and South Africa, where the available supply of labor is either small or employed in other more pressing directions. As we have noted above, the African worker, except perhaps in South Africa, does not take kindly to hireling work, or at any rate for prolonged periods such as cottongrowing requires. It is established, therefore, that in most districts it is essential that the native producer should become practically interested in the work, so that he and his family may give their individual attention to their own small cotton-plantations. Great cotton-estates are not likely to be established in those parts of the continent where the native has been accustomed to work more or less independently, and it has become evident that successful cultivation, such as occurs in Uganda, can be attained in Nigeria, for example, only if the native farmer is encouraged deliberately to work on his own behalf. This is now the general policy of the various Governments, the Cotton Growing Association, and other bodies.

The fourth factor of outstanding importance is transport. During recent years there has been a remarkable advance in the construction of railways in Africa; but these advances, great as they have been, have not kept pace with the increased production of the natives. Already the Uganda Railway, which brings the increasing Uganda crop from Lake Victoria to the coast, has proved insufficient for the demands made upon it; and other railways are finding difficulty in coping with the enormous increase in productive output. Where railways do not exist, it is almost impossible, of course, to bring cotton to the coast, and largely for this reason considerable activity exists in the extension of railways in such countries as Kenya, Tanganyika, and Nyasaland, where the increase of cotton-growing depends on improved transport facilities.

The efforts of the British Cotton Growing Association in Africa and elsewhere, notably in Queensland, the garden state of Australia, laid the foundations of successful cotton-growing in the British tropical colonies. But the position that arose in the United Kingdom as a result of the war again focused attention upon the precarious state of the cotton supplies, and the Government became directly interested in the question. Steps were taken to put the effort upon a more satisfactory basis. While the Association was left to continue its work, a new body — the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation— was formed, with a more extended task than that of the parent Society. In 1915 the President of the Board of Trade, a cabinet minister corresponding to the Minister of Commerce in other countries, called into being an Empire Cotton Growing Committee to consider the situation in all its aspects. Their report, presented in October 1919, led to the establishment of the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, formed under Royal Charter and representative of all the interests concerned in the cotton trade. This Corporation is in possession of an assured and established income, derived in part from a capital contribution of nearly one million pounds sterling made by the Government, luckily before the need for national economy had been demonstrated, and in part from the proceeds of a new form of taxation imposed on a particular body of people for a specific purpose. This took the form of a levy of sixpence per standard bale on all cotton imported into and spun in the United Kingdom, enforced by an Act of Parliament passed in 1923.

This was a great advance upon the purely voluntary effort of the old Association. The work of the Corporation has in reality only recently commenced. Preliminary reports upon the possibilities of Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Nigeria, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and India as sources of long-staple cotton have prepared the way for the extensive experimental work that will be undertaken by the Corporation, which is mainly concerned in extending by every possible means the cultivation of cotton within the Empire. Experimental stations are being established, students trained, experts distributed to the different colonies, and, in conjunction with the local Departments of Agriculture, much work is being done to increase the output of proved areas and to try the possibilities of other districts. So wide are the activities of the Corporation that they extend from the supply of ploughs for the natives of Uganda to the establishment of a Central Experiment Station in the West Indies, where all kinds of scientific investigations will be carried on.

Coincident with these activities in Great Britain was the creation of a similar body in India, where the India Central Cotton Committee was placed on a sound financial footing by a cess of four annas on each bale of raw cotton used or exported. The work of the Committee is similar to that of the Empire Corporation. It will advise the Government of India on all questions of cotton policy and will assist in the production of improved varieties, especially those that will be suitable for the British markets. So far as India is concerned, attention need be directed only to the great irrigation schemes in Sind — the Sukkur Barrage over the River Indus, now being built at a cost of £12,300,000, which is estimated to irrigate an area of 5,300,000 acres, a region more than the total cultivable area of Upper and Lower Egypt and equally as capable of producing vast quantities of cotton.


The present position of cotton-growing in the British Empire may be summed up as follows. The greatest advances have been made in Uganda and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Situated in the centre of tropical Africa, where the great through routes of the future will eventually converge, the Uganda Protectorate is one of the best examples of British methods of dealing with an intelligent native people, capable of infinite advance along the paths of civilization. The situation of Uganda with respect to the Great Lakes, especially Lake Victoria, the richness of the soil, and the comparatively ample population have rendered it an ideal country for cottongrowing, in spite of the fact that its distance from the sea has been a considerable drawback on account of the cost of haulage. The Uganda Railway from Mombasa on the coast traverses the highlands of the Kenya Colony and, at present, carries from the shores of Lake Victoria all the cotton produced in this region. Other railwayfeeders are being constructed, but the chief hope of the future lies in the eventual canalization of the Nile, which would provide a direct and cheap mode of water-transport to the Mediterranean. The production of cotton in Uganda is entirely a native industry, fostered, it is true, by the Government in coöperation with the Cotton Association and Cotton Corporation, but carried on by native growers, working on their own lands, aided by their families — an ideal condition, provided that the quality of the cotton can be maintained. Fortunately the natives are exceptionally intelligent and are quick to adopt the best methods of cultivation. Practically all the cotton is derived from two varieties of long-staple American Upland which were selected after experimental trials; and the annual compulsory burning of the old cotton-plants is a great factor in keeping the crop free from series pests.

There has been a continuous increase in output since 1909-10, when the yield of ginned cotton was only 2769 tons against 15,000 tons in 192021, since which date there has been a further considerable advance. The possibilities of Uganda as a cotton country are immense and there can be little doubt that cultivation can be vastly extended.

In the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan farther north is another vast area in which large districts are capable of producing cotton. Here several great experiments are being tried, but throughout the whole country there is a lack of population and the conditions of production are different from those in Uganda. Owing to deficient rainfall most of the crop is dependent upon efficient irrigation, and for this purpose large irrigation schemes are under construction. In the Sudan the partners in the enterprise are three — the local government, cotton syndicates, and the native peasantry. The government supplies the land and water; the syndicates undertake the entire management, do the minor canalization, plough the land, and finance and market the crop; while the native does the actual work of cultivation and gets forty per cent of the proceeds. Whether this elaborate scheme of tenant cultivators will appeal continuously to the African native is a matter of doubt, as unless the peasant becomes personally interested in his job there is always the danger of his returning eventually to his ordinary agricultural life. Great advances have been made, however, in the establishment of cotton areas. One of the chief of those districts is in the Gezira, a large plain situated between the two Niles immediately south of Khartoum, where an enormous dam is under construction near Sennar which, when completed, will enable 300,000 acres to be placed under cultivation, with a total of 2,000,000 acres should the full scheme be accomplished. Another extensive district is in the Kassala area, to which a railway is now being constructed, and a third region exists around Tokar on the Red Sea. There is, however, no real limit to cotton cultivation in the Sudan, except that imposed by want of labor and lack of irrigation, for in addition to the northern districts vast countries exist in the south which are at the present time entirely undeveloped. The annual output is about 560O tons, produced from Sakellaridis, Assili, and American seeds.

In West Africa the great State of Nigeria is a peculiarly promising region, presenting enormous areas suitable for cotton and having intelligent native chiefs, a dense population, peaceable internal conditions, and seaports within a comparatively short distance of Europe. Although American cotton is being grown, the chief output is the indigenous variety, which has been cultivated for many centuries and is largely consumed in the country itself. There is no doubt, however, that there are great areas, especially in the neighborhood of Lake Chad, where good cotton can be grown; but at present the principal difficulty is the absence of transport, and until the Lagos-Kano railway is extended in this direction there can be no hope of establishing cotton-fields at any distance from the main avenues of traffic. Similarly in Nyasaland the production of cotton is hampered by lack of adequate railwaytransport, the great want being a bridge across the Zambesi and the extension of the present railway northward to Lake Nyasa.

In Tanganyika, on the other hand, the British administration is now benefiting from trials made by the Germans, who had established experimental stations and erected ginneries in many places. There are three enormous regions in this Territory capable of producing cotton — the coastal belt, where the rainfall is sufficient and failure of the crop is extremely unlikely, the Morogoro and Kilossa areas, and the Lake basin. In these districts production is extending, and 35,000 acres are computed to be under cultivation. It has been reported by Mr. Ormsby-Gore, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, that East Africa offers probably the finest field in the Empire for the further development of cotton, particularly in the Tanganyika Territory and Uganda; and there seems no reason to doubt this optimistic estimate. Farther south the great territory of Rhodesia offers opportunities for the cultivation of cotton along the valley of the Zambesi and its tributaries, and especially in Northeastern and Northwestern Rhodesia; while in the adjacent Union of South Africa, notably in Natal and Zululand, and in the native territory of Swaziland, advances are being made, although the output is retarded, owing to the lack of labor.

South Africa is one of those countries where the possibilities are great, but the present position scarcely warrants the assumption that these possibilities will be carried into successful operation except on a comparatively small scale, largely because there are enormous demands for labor in other directions which seem to have the prior claim upon the attention of the authorities. In Zululand and Swaziland, however, there is an available supply of labor within easy reach, and for this reason railways are being built to the cotton areas.

It is unnecessary to say anything about cotton in the British West Indies, where, in any case, the output cannot be greatly extended; but in Australia there are vast areas, especially in Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, where cotton can be grown. At present the output is almost entirely confined to Queensland. Here, however, the crop is produced by European labor, so that production is likely to increase only so long as the present high prices of cotton are maintained. As soon as the cotton shortage is adjusted and prices fall, it seems inevitable that the Queensland crop will have to give place to other products, unless there is a change in the national policy of employing only white labor. In any case the great difficulty of the future in all tropical countries, when the experimental work of to-day has seen fruition and there is a vastly extended cultivation of cotton in Africa and elsewhere, will be to nurse the native through the years of falling prices that must inevitably occur. It is essential, if British cotton-growing is to be permanently successful, that the marketing of the crop shall be conducted under government supervision for many years, so that the native can be assured of the fruit of his labors and not discouraged by a continuous, and to him unaccountable, decline in the remuneration he receives. Under such supervision prices could be gradually adjusted to meet changing conditions, so that the native, upon whose coöperation the success of cotton-growing ultimately depends, would feel that he was not being cheated. Lancashire, in common with other cotton-trade districts, must look to the peasant proprietors or tenants of Africa for her salvation, and for this reason it is essential that the various Governments and the different associations already named should coöperate in maintaining the economic position of the native. This is one of the main factors of the situation, which is realized to the full by such bodies as the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation and the British Cotton Growing Association.

  1. When tons are mentioned in this article, tons of 2000 pounds each are intended.