An african adventure

Cotton had by now become one of the most important products on the world market. Germany was becoming the second biggest importer after Great Britain, and cotton products were the biggest import item. In an effort to end its dependence on these cotton imports, the Leipziger Spinnerei tried to set up its own cotton plantations in German East Africa (today Tanzania), hoping to eventually derive its entire annual cotton requirement – 30,000 bales – from its own plantation. It was calculated that this would require 30,000 hectares of land. Put paid to by the First World War, this adventurous undertaking looked like a good prospect only at the outset.

The agriculturalist John Booth supervised the plantation project. As a former commissioner of the Kolonial-Wirtschaftliches Komitee (or “colonial economic committee”), he had personal experience of Africa. Land laws provided for a step-by-step development. After protracted negotiations, the administration leased the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei a 10,000-hectare packet of land, with two adjoining areas in reserve.

The Spinnerei also bought a cotton ginnery (a facility where cotton fibre is separated from the seeds) in Sadani and took over an existing plantation of 1,118 hectares plus an additional 1,900 hectares of land.

Large tracts of uncultivated land, mostly steppe country covered with trees, scrub and grass, had to be cleared before cotton could be grown there. The soil, the climate, what sort of cotton to grow – everything was new territory, requiring research and experimentation. Irrigation, roads and tracks and infrastructure for shipping the cotton also had to be provided. On 12th December 1908, the first 300 bales of cotton arrived in Leipzig. In the following year, the area under cultivation was tripled, but pests destroyed two-thirds of the harvest.