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The following table shows the principal imports of Sierra Leone during 1922 and 1923:
In addition to the above, large quantities of apparel, foodstuffs, lumber, metal iron manufactures, and other articles were imported. Imports of cotton piece goods in 1923 were not equal to those in 1913, when 16,074,461 yards, valued at £267,089, were imported, but they were greater than in 1921 when only 4,526,771 yards, valued at £219,566, were imported. There were increases in nearly all important lines in 1923, especially in manufactured articles, which increased from £780,546 in 1922 to £1,136,110 in 1923.
The following table shows the principal exports from Sierra Leone during 1922 and 1923:
Increases were recorded in all but kola nuts and native rice. The total for palm kernels constitutes a record for the colony. The commercial and economic life of the colony is dependent on the export of these raw materials. Production is now increasing as prices are rising above the 1921 depression.
The following table shows the direction of the trade of Sierra Leone during 1922 and 1923:
Thus, the United Kingdom again improved its position in the trade of Sierra Leone. The United States furnished a smaller share of the imports largely due to the price and exchange factor, but purchases of Sierra Leone products increased. Among the notable changes were the decrease of exports to other British West African possessions and the increase of exports to Germany.
As disclosed by the above table the United States is second in the import trade of Sierra Leone and in 1923 supplied 9.52 per cent of the total imports, which is nearly 2 per cent less than in 1922. Although the percentage dropped there was actually an increase in the value of American imports. More tobacco, sugar, kerosene, and flour were imported, although there was a considerable decrease in the quantity and value of lumber. In exports to the United States, an advance was recorded mainly on account of heavier shipments of ginger, palm oil, pepper, and piassava. With the institution in recent years of direct steamship service between the United States and West Africa, a great increase in trade was noticeable, but the chief drawbacks to American goods are high prices and the high exchange, which are still apparent.
Of late years the government has been devoting itself to the building up of a more extensive system of communications. In 1896 the Sierra Leone Government Railway was started, and in 1923 there were 338 miles of road open to traffic. The main line runs from Freetown to Pendembu, à distance of 22774 miles, with a branch line running from Boia Junction to Kamabai, a distance of 104 miles. The capital expenditure on December 31, 1923, was £1,696,977. The following table shows recent increases in the business of the railways:
Supplementing the railroad is a network of roads and paths leading to such centers as Bo, Kamabai, Moyamba, Hangha, Blama, Pendembu, Segbwema, Bauma, and others. In 1923 there were 260 miles of first-class roads and well over 1,200 miles of second-class roads. During certain seasons of the year the latter are not usable. There is also a considerable mileage of waterways, but for the most part not navigable. A number of streams are navigable for 20 or 25 miles, but above that they are blocked by rapids, falls, etc. Some steps are being taken to further develop some of the streams. The railway department has charge of the telegraphs and telephones, with well over 1,000 miles of wire in use, mainly following the railway. The post-office department has opened 41 offices in the colony.
Nearly all of the external trade of Sierra Leone enters and clears at Freetown, but other ports of call for vessels are Sherbo, Mano Salya,
and Sulima. The harbor at Freetown is deep enough for all vessels and the government has constructed a wharf which is connected directly with the railway. A number of private wharves have also been constructed. Sherbro does not have a deep harbor and most of the traffic is river borne or coasting. The revival of trade in 1923 is shown in the following table of entrances and clearances of vessels:
Vessels of British registry made up 68.09 per cent of the total shipping in 1923, the remaining 31.91 per cent being largely Dutch, German, American, and Italian, with a small amount of Swedish, French, and Danish.
CLIMATE The climate of Sierra Leone is tropical, with a heavy rainfall and high atmospheric humidity during the greater part of the year. The shade temperature rarely falls below 70° or rises above 950 F. There are two seasons, the wet and the dry. The single rainy season lasts from May to the end of October. The rainfall is highest on the coast, decreasing gradually inland. Records taken at Freetown show the average rainfall from 1882 to 1891 was 166.07 inches, and from 1912 to 1921 it was 122.66. The highest was 204.19 inches in 1883, and the lowest was 102.34 inches in 1914.
OIL PALM Sierra Leone, like the other British West African colonies, is largely dependent upon its indigenous agricultural products. The mainstay of the colony is the oil palm, which is found in nearly all parts of the colony and protectorate, except the rocky and mountainous tracts. The exports of both palm kernels and palm oil were retarded because of the lack of transportation, but since the opening of the railway and the feeder lines they have greatly increased. The following table shows the relation between the yearly exports of Sierra Leone and the average price per ton for the corresponding year in Liverpool:
The 1923 shipment constitutes the record and marks a great improvement since the depression of 1921. The United Kingdom took 97 per cent of the kernels exported in 1923 and the remainder went to Germany. This position is just the reverse of the 1913 shipments. The exports of palm oil totaled 3,346 tons in 1923, valued at £102,645, an increase from 2,076 tons in 1922, valued at £61,786. This is only a small part of the total oil produced as it is one of the principal articles of diet of the natives. The United Kingdom took most of this oil, while 99 tons were shipped to the United States.
KOLA NUTS Kola nuts are produced in Sierra Leone for local consumption and for export to the neighboring countries, very small amounts being shipped to Europe. The trees do not grow in the wild state, but are planted in groves or along the approaches to the towns in the moist zone. Exports in 1905 totaled 1,722,224 pounds, valued at £75,728. In 1913 exports had increased to 4,179,840 pounds, valued at £328,069 and to 6,044,926 pounds, valued at £206,820, in 1922, but fell off to 5,698,703 pounds, valued at £187,476, in 1923.
GINGER Ginger is not indigenous in Africa, but was introduced into Sierra Leone in the early days. At first the methods of preparation were not the best and tended to produce an inferior quality, but this has been overcome of late years. Exports in 1905 were 678 tons, valued at £7,767, and increased to 2,047 tons in 1913, valued at £35,468. In 1922 exports were 1,330 tons, valued at £36,084, and in 1923 amounted to 1,395 tons, valued at £46,231. Of the 1923 exports, 87 per cent went to the United States and the remainder to the United Kingdom, a complete reversal of the trade in 1922.
PIASSAVA AND OTHER FIBERS Piassava fiber is produced from the leaf stem of the wine palm, which grows in the swampy districts near the coast. Exports have increased from 226 tons, valued at £3,980, in 1905, to 1,620 tons, valued at £20,033, in 1923. Other fibers of the jute and ramie type have been cultivated.
At one time hopes were entertained that a thriving cotton industry might be developed. However, the low quality of the cotton and the inefficient methods of the natives caused a rapid decline in the short-lived industry. A ginnery was erected at Moyamba, but not enough cotton was produced to keep it employed. In 1906 exports amounted to 87,805 pounds, valued at £1,829. No exports have been recorded since 1909.
Large quantities of rice are produced in Sierra Leone, principally for domestic consumption. In 1922 exports of rice totaled 944 bushels, and in 1923 only 259 bushels. Other crops which are cultivated for local consumption include maize, peanuts, tobacco, cocoa, pepper, coffee, citrus fruit, bananas, and copal.
LIVESTOCK It is difficult to raise horses on account of the tsetse fly, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to introduce donkeys. In the northern part of the protectorate a small reddish-brown type of cattle is raised. The natives are unfamiliar with the proper care of cattle. Sheep and goats seem to thrive very well, however. Small quantities of hides are exported annually, in 1923 the total being 10 tons.
FORESTS AND MINERALS Large sections of the colony and protectorate are covered with forests. Considerable quantities of rubber for export have been extracted. In 1905 these exports totaled 426,610 pounds, valued at £49,132, but the competition from plantation rubber of the East Indies caused a rapid decline until in 1919 only 30,011 pounds, valued at £1,871, were exported.
There are no mineral deposits of commercial value in Sierra Leone; however, traces of iron ore and gold-bearing quartz have been found and plumbago was mined for a while on Sherbro. Manufacturing is unknown, though weaving and dyeing were formerly carried on in every locality to supply the local demand. In some sections pottery making is still engaged in, and iron is smelted for local use.
There appears to be an adequate supply of labor. The traders and the government require a certain amount of labor, which is readily obtainable at from 6 to 9 pence per day.
FINANCES A silver coinage was introduced in 1913 and in 1920 alloy coins were put in circulation in addition to the West African currency notes which are used. It was estimated that £20,000 of silver coins, £40,000 of British West African currency notes, and £78,000 of alloy coins were in actual circulation on January 1, 1923. Banking facilities are offered by the Bank of British West Africa and the Colonial Bank, with headquarters at Freetown. There is also a post-office savings bank, with 5,036 depositors who have £65,350 to their credit.
In speaking of the financial condition of the colony, the acting colonial secretary said: “Although the financial state of the colony still demands strict economy and the closest supervision, there is abundant ground for believing that the worst of its financial troubles have been for the present overcome, and that, given this economy and supervision, there is no reason to fear that Sierra Leone is in any immediate danger of falling back into that state of economic depression from which it has happily made so rapid a recovery.” The following table shows the condition of the public finances of the colony: