Commercialisation of Agriculture
The new land settlements introduced by the British broughtï¿½about a revolution in the property relations. Along with this,ï¿½a commercial revolution, known as the commercialisation ofï¿½agriculture, began to take shape in Indian agriculture aroundï¿½1860s. Commercialisation of agriculture meant that theï¿½agricultural production became more market oriented, withï¿½focus shifting to crops that were marketable.
Among the factors responsible for this trend were these.
- A rapid expansion of the railway network facilitated theï¿½commercialisation of agriculture by making transportï¿½and trade easier.
- The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 shortened the seaï¿½route between England and India by aboutï¿½5000ï¿½kmï¿½andï¿½brought the two countries much closer to each other forï¿½purpose of trade.
- Technological innovations in England replaced sailingï¿½vessels with modern steam ships. This brought down theï¿½freight rates substantially and had a stimulating effectï¿½on the export of agricultural produce from India whichï¿½grew rapidly in both quantity and value terms.
- During the U.S. Civil War cotton imports to Britainï¿½from the Southern states of the Confederacy were almostï¿½completely cut off and diverted the British demand forï¿½raw cotton from the United States to India. Consequentlyï¿½there was a sudden increase in the export of raw cottonï¿½from India after 1862.
The result of all this was a phenomenal increase in the exportï¿½of agricultural goods from India. The total value of exportsï¿½went up by more than five hundred per cent from 1859-1860ï¿½toï¿½1906?1907.
However, this increase in foreign demand for Indianï¿½agricultural produce did not lead to any significant developmentï¿½of Indian agriculture. There were several reasons for this.
- Backward agricultural organisation in the country
- Lack of resources with the farmer for technologicalï¿½improvement
- Indian peasants, unpreparedness for the commercialisation and therefore their inability to take full advantageï¿½of the opportunities offered
- No increase in the productivity of land
- The role of colonialism which super-imposed theï¿½commercialisation process from the top
It was precisely because of colonialism that theï¿½commercialisation of agriculture emerged as an artificial,ï¿½forced process which could not lead to its genuine growth.ï¿½The objective conditions for such a growth had already beenï¿½destroyed by colonialism.
However, the long term impact of commercialisation wasï¿½quite far reaching. To begin with, it led to a scarcity of food. Thisï¿½happened because the increasing demand for cash crops like rawï¿½cotton, jute, indigo and opium, etc., was met by substitution ofï¿½commercial crops for traditional food crops. This was done byï¿½the farmers to increase their profits, as the commercial cropsï¿½were more paying. But its impact on the food supply of theï¿½country was disastrous. It was reported that one major cause ofï¿½the famine in 1866 in Bengal and Orissa was that the best landï¿½was cultivating indigo instead of rice.
Yet another impact was a differentiation among theï¿½farmers. Although a small section of the farmers, whoï¿½had the resources, prospered by shifting completely to theï¿½cultivation of commercial crops, the poor farmer sufferedï¿½great losses as he now had to depend on a market for hisï¿½own food requirements.
However, there were a few positive aspects also. Regionalï¿½specialisation grew and the village lost its isolation and gotï¿½linked with the world market. The farmer, in his choice ofï¿½crops, came to attach greater importance to market demandsï¿½and prices than to his own immediate needs.
The basic policy of the British was to extract landï¿½revenue whether the peasantry was capable of paying it orï¿½not. The distress sale of land to pay land revenue was notï¿½discouraged as it was a direct consequence of British landï¿½revenue policies.
Historians have pointed out that the land revenue under theï¿½preceding Indian regimes was fixed as a share of the crop, andï¿½varied according to the crop cultivated. The land revenue underï¿½the British, whether directly imposed on the ryots or assessedï¿½on the zamindars, was a true tax on land.ï¿½Thus revenue collections went up, the prices of foodï¿½grains declined, the rural indebtedness increased and theï¿½rural economy was depressed. The direct appropriation of theï¿½agricultural surplus was the sole goal of the British rule and itsï¿½direct consequences were the impoverishment of the peasantryï¿½and stagnation of the rural economy.
Overall Colonial Impact on Agriculture
In summary the agrarian system imposed by and the policiesï¿½pursued by the British created
- Stagnant agriculture
- Indebted peasantry
- Rapidly increasing class of landless agriculturalï¿½labourers
- Mounting deaths through malnutrition, famines andï¿½epidemics
Written by princy