The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations

The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations
The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations

The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations

Examine the Nutrients in Euro-Nigerian Relations from 1850-1900 under the following sub headings:

  1. The growth of missionary activities in Nigeria
  2. The palm oil trade
  3. The growth of British influence in the Niger Delta
  4. The new imperialism and British conquest of southern Nigeria

The establishment of the trade in palm oil was due to the industrial revolution in Europe and also as a replacement for the slave trade. As ‘people began to take washing seriously’, the oil was wanted for soap manufacture, and also for other industrial uses. In the 1830s, 11 000 –14000 tons of palm were exported per annum from West Africa; by 1870, exports from Niger delta were 25000 – 30000 tons; in 1911, British West African territories exported over 87000 tons, valued at £1,900,000. The exports of palm kernel began in 1832. In 1911, British West Africa exported 157000 tons, valued at £3,400,000, of which about 75 per cent came from Nigeria. At this time, the demand for palm oil and kernel exceeded the supply, all of which came from wild and semi wild palms.

The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations

In the late nineteenth century the West African palm oil trade entered a period of difficulties, characterized mainly by a fall in prices from the early 1860s. Part of the reason for this lay in the introduction of regular steamship services between Britain and West Africa from 1852. As steam came to replace sail so the palm oil trade underwent major changes. These changes can be quantified fairly precisely. One effect of the introduction of steamers was the concentration of the British side of the oil trade once again on Liverpool, its original centre. Another effect was the increase in the number of West African ports involved in the trade.

The most important impact was the increase in numbers of traders in oil trade from around 25 to some 150. The resulting increased competition in the trade led to amalgamations becoming increasingly common – a process that culminated in the formation of the African Association Ltd in 1889. It was also to provide the context for the pressure exerted by some traders for an increased colonial presence in the 1880s and 1890s.

The utilization of a relatively unused source, the Customs Bills of Entry, enables the structure of the British side of the West African palm oil trade to be studied in detail. Three main developments emerged in the period from 1830 to 1855 when the introduction of regular steamer services radically altered the trade.

The Palm Oil Trade in Euro-Nigerian Relations

Firstly, Liverpool’s pre-eminence as the main British palm oil port began to be challenged by Bristol and London; secondly, Britain’s reliance on the Niger Delta as a source of supply appears to have proportionately declined, and thirdly, new traders entered the trade, especially after 1840, and challenged the hegemony of the older, established merchants. These structural changes suggest that the organization of the British side of the oil trade, hitherto controlled by a few large Liverpool traders, was breaking down from the 1840s and that this contributed to increased tension and rivalry among British traders in West Africa.

This in turn helps to explain the development of the aggressive behaviour between British traders and African middlemen, noted in the Niger Delta in the 1860s, which led to the subsequent appeals for British imperial intervention.

The export of palm represented a surplus after the local The trade in palm oil and palm kernel attracted European merchants most of whom were agents of European trading firms mostly from Liverpool, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Lisbon, Spain and Paris. Flint explained that the merchants of Liverpool had much capital invested in the trade with West Africa and so: Were able to adjust and quickly took to the transition from slave trade economy to ‘cash crop’ economy by the first half of the nineteenth century.

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