Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

West African Women and the Development Question in the Post-World War II Economy: The Experience of Nigeria's Benin Province in the Oil Palm Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

West African Women and the Development Question in the Post-World War II Economy: The Experience of Nigeria's Benin Province in the Oil Palm Industry

Article excerpt

West African women as typified by the experience of women in the oil palm industry in Nigeria's Benin Province participated actively in the transformation of the post--World War II economy. The role of the women in the oil palm industry in West African societies has not been given detailed attention in the historiography of the region. This study historicizes the process and its impact on the development of the women in the post--World War II economy. It finds that the colonial policies that facilitated and transformed the role of women in the oil palm economy did not only establish, but also sustained their exploitation and underdevelopment. It therefore recommends that the structure of the oil palm production that was inherited from the postwar colonial economy by post-independence West African states, including Nigeria, should be radically restructured to meet the needs of women in resolving the economic crisis in the region.

INTRODUCTION

The outbreak of World War II created new exigencies for Britain and marked the beginning of innovative policies in the British West African colonies, including Nigeria, between 1939 and 1960. The export oil palm industry in Nigeria thus witnessed the introduction of additional policy measures by the colonial government that facilitated its expansion in line with meeting Britain's diplomatic, nutritional, and industrial objectives. The needs of the war led Britain to declare emergency measures in her West African colonies, especially Nigeria. One of the outcomes of the emergency measures was the establishment of centralized purchasing of all primary export products from her West African colonies. A major impact of this development was that it brought about the formal incorporation of oil palm products into the West African Produce Control Board (WAPCB) under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office (C.O.) in 1942. (1)

This means that palm produce had joined cocoa in the league of commodities that was being centrally procured by Britain. This was an indication that Britain had stepped up its interest in oil palm products from her West African colonies, particularly in Nigeria. This reinvigorated interest was the fallout of Britain's loss of the Far East territories, which was a major source of oil seeds supply in the world market.

The objectives of the emergency measures of the war period were, among others, to (1) control the direction of raw material export flows, (2) prevent the rise in British consumer prices of those items manufactured from raw materials imported from West Africa, (3) increase the degree of overall control over the West African economy, which depended mostly on primary export products, and (4) ensure external markets for West African primary products under conditions of military hostility. (2) These objectives came to constitute the objective content of the developmental goals of the policy measures of colonial administrations in the British West African colonies, including Nigeria's Benin Province throughout the post--World War II era. In furtherance of these objectives in Nigeria, the British Ministry of Food through the WAPCB embarked on the procurement of all palm products exported from all the oil palm producing provinces of Nigeria. Thus, Britain became the only export destination of Nigerian oil palm products. The importance which the British government placed on oil palm products from Nigeria during the period can be gauged from the statement that:

During his recent visit to Ibadan the Resident Minister made it clear
that the situation at home as regards the supply of fats has
deteriorated. Stocks are being maintained at a level sufficient for
consumption at home but there is little margin and His Majesty's
Government have assumed definite commitment in regard to the feeding of
European countries as soon as they are freed from German occupation.
Add to this the fact that the dieticians have advised that the fat
ration at home cannot be lowered without injury to the people's health;
add again that supplies from the French colonies have proved
disappointing and, consequently that it is to the British West African
colonies that His Majesty's Government must look for supplies of
fats--and the vital urgency of the matter becomes clear enough. … 
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