Commercialisation of Agriculture

The new land settlements introduced by the British brought�about a revolution in the property relations. Along with this,�a commercial revolution, known as the commercialisation of�agriculture, began to take shape in Indian agriculture around�1860s. Commercialisation of agriculture meant that the�agricultural production became more market oriented, with�focus shifting to crops that were marketable.

Among the factors responsible for this trend were these.

  • A rapid expansion of the railway network facilitated the�commercialisation of agriculture by making transport�and trade easier.
  • The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 shortened the sea�route between England and India by about�5000�km�and�brought the two countries much closer to each other for�purpose of trade.
  • Technological innovations in England replaced sailing�vessels with modern steam ships. This brought down the�freight rates substantially and had a stimulating effect�on the export of agricultural produce from India which�grew rapidly in both quantity and value terms.
  • During the U.S. Civil War cotton imports to Britain�from the Southern states of the Confederacy were almost�completely cut off and diverted the British demand for�raw cotton from the United States to India. Consequently�there was a sudden increase in the export of raw cotton�from India after 1862.

The result of all this was a phenomenal increase in the export�of agricultural goods from India. The total value of exports�went up by more than five hundred per cent from 1859-1860�to�1906?1907.

However, this increase in foreign demand for Indian�agricultural produce did not lead to any significant development�of Indian agriculture. There were several reasons for this.

  • Backward agricultural organisation in the country
  • Lack of resources with the farmer for technological�improvement
  • Indian peasants, unpreparedness for the commercialisation and therefore their inability to take full advantage�of the opportunities offered
  • No increase in the productivity of land
  • The role of colonialism which super-imposed the�commercialisation process from the top

It was precisely because of colonialism that the�commercialisation of agriculture emerged as an artificial,�forced process which could not lead to its genuine growth.�The objective conditions for such a growth had already been�destroyed by colonialism.

However, the long term impact of commercialisation was�quite far reaching. To begin with, it led to a scarcity of food. This�happened because the increasing demand for cash crops like raw�cotton, jute, indigo and opium, etc., was met by substitution of�commercial crops for traditional food crops. This was done by�the farmers to increase their profits, as the commercial crops�were more paying. But its impact on the food supply of the�country was disastrous. It was reported that one major cause of�the famine in 1866 in Bengal and Orissa was that the best land�was cultivating indigo instead of rice.

Yet another impact was a differentiation among the�farmers. Although a small section of the farmers, who�had the resources, prospered by shifting completely to the�cultivation of commercial crops, the poor farmer suffered�great losses as he now had to depend on a market for his�own food requirements.

However, there were a few positive aspects also. Regional�specialisation grew and the village lost its isolation and got�linked with the world market. The farmer, in his choice of�crops, came to attach greater importance to market demands�and prices than to his own immediate needs.

The basic policy of the British was to extract land�revenue whether the peasantry was capable of paying it or�not. The distress sale of land to pay land revenue was not�discouraged as it was a direct consequence of British land�revenue policies.

Historians have pointed out that the land revenue under the�preceding Indian regimes was fixed as a share of the crop, and�varied according to the crop cultivated. The land revenue under�the British, whether directly imposed on the ryots or assessed�on the zamindars, was a true tax on land.�Thus revenue collections went up, the prices of food�grains declined, the rural indebtedness increased and the�rural economy was depressed. The direct appropriation of the�agricultural surplus was the sole goal of the British rule and its�direct consequences were the impoverishment of the peasantry�and stagnation of the rural economy.

Overall Colonial Impact on Agriculture

In summary the agrarian system imposed by and the policies�pursued by the British created

  • Stagnant agriculture
  • Indebted peasantry
  • Rapidly increasing class of landless agricultural�labourers
  • Mounting deaths through malnutrition, famines and�epidemics

Written by princy

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