PRINCIPAL FEATURES OF INTERNAL TRADE
The information available on the important topic of internal trade is of uneven quality and some of it is fragmentary. There are various reasons for this comparative paucity of information. Internal trade does not pass international boundaries at which its composition and volume are recorded for customs purposes, and it is not centred on a few ports where trade statistics could be recorded for purposes other than customs control. Moreover, this trade represents a section of the economy which has no direct contact with European traders or Western methods. Its organization is often closely connected with local customs and with the family and tribal system; this makes for additional difficulties in the collection of information. Lastly, unlike external trade, it has not, until recently, presented serious economic and political problems to administrators, and they have not been particularly concerned with it.
Internal trade plays a large part in the West African economies. The bulk of the population depend upon supplies of locally produced food which is a main item in urban budgets. The functioning of internal trade greatly affects the level of food production. Farmers will not produce for sale unless a surplus output is profitable. The state of communications, the flow of internal trade and the enterprise of traders are the principal influences affecting marketability of local produce. If internal trade is restricted by communications or by economic or institutional obstacles to the flow of commodities, consumers have to pay higher prices which are not reflected in any higher return to the farmer and therefore do not act as an incentive to expand supplies. Internal trade is thus a topic which needs to be considered, but the information available does not justify detailed treatment. This chapter, therefore, indicates the principal features of internal trade in West Africa and illustrates these with examples drawn from certain branches of the trade selected in accordance with their importance and/or the availability of reliable information.