The Ndu Tea Estate -Some Historical Background
The Ndu Tea Estate was founded in 1957 by Estates and Agency Company Ltd (EAC), a British-Indian multinational enterprise. The creation of the Ndu Tea estate transformed Ndu from a small, economically unimportant town into a regional economic center. It was at the time, the only agro-industrial enterprise in the entire Bamenda Grassfields and one of the few enterprises in the region offering wage employment. The establishment of the estate was the outcome of a negotiation process between the Chief of Ndu and the EAC. In return for the chief’s supply of land and labor, the EAC promised to invest substantial capital resources in tea production in the local community.
Strikingly, in contrast to the Tole Estate, the Ndu Estate started to employ almost exclusively male pluckers. Before then, men used to hunt and trade in small livestock, kola nuts and palm products (palm oil, palm wine, and raffia). They engaged in long distance trade in kola nuts to Nigeria. Which used to be an important source of income before the start of labor migration and coffee production. Following the example of the nomadic Fulani (Mbororo and Aku) in the area, they also began to raise cattle.
After the Second World War, there were two important changes in the men’s roles:
1-There was steady increase in the male labor migration to the southwestern plantations. Serious shortages of labor in the southwestern estates after World War II encouraged active labor recruitment among Wimbum men.
2- The introduction of Arabica coffee provided a new major source of revenue to the men and insurance against old age.
Agreement between EAC and the chief of Ndu.
In the early 1950s the EAC owned eleven tea estates in India and Sri Lanka as well as mines and a chain of hotels in different parts of the world. In search for further investments, it participated in 1955 in a mission of British investors to Anglophone Cameroon. During a visit to the Bamenda grass fields, the EAC representatives collected soil samples in the Ndu area. These samples were later analyzed in the company’s Head Office in London and it was discovered that the soils at Ndu were suitable for Tea production.
Soon Afterwards, in March of 1956, an EAC team led by one of the company’s directors, Mr. Bolster, Returned to the Southern Cameroons. It was commissioned to survey area for the purpose of setting up an estate. When the team arrived at Bamenda, the provincial administrator instructed the Senior Divisional Officer (SDO) of Nkambe to conduct the team to Ndu. The SDO, however, was personally more in favor of establishing a tea estate at Nkambe than at Ndu, for it would contribute to the rapid development of the divisional capital. Therefore, he decided to ignore the instruction given by his superior and to direct the team to Nkambe instead of to Ndu. Unaware of the SDO’s intentions, the team arrived at Nkambe and started to survey the area in the vicinity of the town. The local population had not received any information about the objectives of the team’s mission. When rumors spread that its farming and grazing land were about to be expropriated, it revolted and started to erect barricades and blocked the team’s access to its lands. The team then explained its mission to the local chiefs, but they disapproved of the project, on grounds that it would endanger women’s food production and the Fulani’s cattle grazing.
The team was shocked when it learnt from the chiefs that it has been misdirected by the SDO. It took off at once for Ndu. Accompanied by two local parliamentarians, Messrs. J. Nsame and J.T. Ndze, it approached the then chief of Ndu, His Royal Highness Fon William Nformi. It told the chief that it planned to survey the area and requested that he allocate land for the creation of a tea estate. The two deputies were able to convince the chief of the benefits of the introduction of tea production in his area of jurisdiction: it would stimulate local development and halt the growing flow of labor to the southwestern plantations. The chief then offered EAC a vast land of approximately 1660 ha between Ndu and Tatum, a Nso Village located on the border of Ndu and Nso territory. One of his motives for allocating this specific site was to prevent the Nso from further encroaching on his land: the estate would serve as a permanent boundary between the Ndu and Nso territory and put an end to the numerous land and boundary disputes. Consequent on the chief’s decision, farmers and graziers in the allocated area had to be displaced. The company agreed to compensate them for the loss of their lands.
The chief stressed that the land was not sold but rather given “freely” to the company for the purpose of cultivation (and could therefore, always be reclaimed). Nonetheless, he made it clear to the team that he, as the custodian of the land, could customarily expect some “token compensation” from the beneficiary for the benevolent provision of the land. It was finally agreed that the company would pay the chief an annual amount of FCFA 660,000 and also provide him with some additional benefits such as the free supply of transport, electricity, water and wood. This agreement signified the start of a very close alliance between the estate management and the chief. The chief has always been greatly concerned with what was happening on his land and strongly believed that the prosperity of the company would be of enormous benefit to the local community.
With the passage of time, conflict arose from the company’s infringement upon the original agreement. One such conflict was caused by the estate’s unilateral withdrawal of certain benefits to be enjoyed by the chief. It has, in fact, never supplied electricity and water to the chief’s palace. In 1976 it suddenly stopped paying the annual “land rent” to the chief; and it was only after several complaints that it proposed to replace this land rents with a monthly allowance of FCFA 16000. In 1976, it withdrew all the benefits of the chief, because of “its incapacity to meet its obligations due to the financial crisis which the company was facing at the time.
Following the takeover of the estate by the CDC in 1977, the monthly allowance of the chief was reintroduced and even raised to FCFA 25000, but in 1982 payment was stopped. The chief’s successor enthroned in 1982 has often protested to the state authorities and the CDC management against the withdrawal of his benefits, threatening at times to reclaim the land and it was never sold. This threat now seems to be without effect as the state can now claim any land needed for development purposes. And automatically acquire any land occupied by a parastatal body.
During the negotiations, the chief of Ndu expressed his fear that estate employment might disturb his subjects’ loyalty to “traditional” norms and authority patterns. Therefore, he made the actual creation of the estate conditional upon the company’s acceptance of certain rules in respect of labor recruitment.
One of such rules was that employment on the estate should be confined to local men preferably from Ndu and neighboring villages. The Chief argued that this rule would not only halt the male labor migration to the southwestern plantations, but also forestall the construction of labor camps, common to southwestern plantations. The chief, by this requirement, wanted to make sure that the estate workers continued to be integrated into the local community to spend their wage income into the local economy. In one of the chief’s speeches in 1977, he reiterated the construction of labor camps tends to be harmful because:
- The workers would not have in mind to develop themselves because this had happened to our children who had gone to the coast and had brought nothing.
- They would not participate in communal developments in their respective quarters
- They would not have time to help their neighbors
- Most people’s wives and young girls would be taken into the camps.
- A lot of stealing would occur as goats and fowls will be carried into the camps.
The EAC accepted these rules from the chief of Ndu and was allowed to proceed with the construction of the estate. Construction began in January 1957 with a loan of 100,000 pounds from Barclays Overseas Development. There has been steady increase in the estate’s cultivated area and labor force. The EAC owned and managed the estate for 20 years. At the end of 1976, it sold the estate to the Cameroonian Government. From January 1, 1977, the estate became part of CDC.
This material is culled for educational purposes from Piet Konings work “ Gender and Plantation Labour In Africa, The Story of Tea Pluckers’ Struggles In Cameroon.
Konings, P. (2012). Gender and plantation labour in Africa: the story of tea pluckers struggles in Cameroon. Bamenda: Langaa Research and Publishing CIG.
To be continued…..