Peasants & Farmers
THE TIME OF OPEN FIELDS AND COMMONS
(i)Before late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in large party of England the countryside was open. It was not partitioned into enclosed lands privately owned by landlords. Peasants cultivated on strips of land, around the village they lived in. each villager was allocated a number of strips to cultivate. Usually, these strips were of varying quality and often located in different places, to ensure that everyone had a mix of good and bad land. Beyond these strips of cultivation lay the common land. All villagers had access to the commons. Here they pastured their cows and grazed their sheep, collected fuel wood for fire and berries and fruit for food. They fished in the rivers and ponds, and hunted rabbit in common forests. For the poor, the common land was essential for survival. It supplemented their meager income, substantiated their cattle, and helped them tide over bad times when crops failed.
(ii)From about the sixteenth century, when the price of wool went up in the world market, rich farmers wanted to expand wool production to earn profits. They were eager to improve their sheep breeds and ensure good feed for them. They were keen on controlling large areas of land in compact blocks to allow improved breeding. So they begar dividing and enclosing common land and building hedges around their holdings to separate their property from that of others. They drove out villagers who had small cottages on the commons, and they prevented the poor from entering the enclosed fields. Between 1750 and 1850, 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British Parliament passed 4,000 Acts legalising these enclosures.
NEW DEMANDS FOR GRAIN
(i)English population between 1750 and 1900, multiplied over four times, mounting from 7 million in 1750 to 21 million in 1850 and 30 million in 1900. This meant an increased demand for foodgrains to feed the population. Moreover, Britain at this was industrializing. More and more people began to live and work in urban areas. Men from rule areas migrated to towns in search of jobs. To survive they had to buy foodgrains in the market. As the urban population grew, the market for foodgrains expanded, and when demand increased rapidly, foodgrain prices rose.
(ii)By the end of the eighteenth century, France was at war with England. Prices of foodgrains in England sky rocketed, encouraging landowners to enclose lands and enlarge the area under grain cultivation.
THE AGE OF ENCLOSURES
(i)In the nineteenth century, grain production grew as quickly as population. Even though the population increased rapidly, in 1868 England was producing about 80 per cent of the food it consumed.
(ii)This increase in food-grain production was made possible by bringing new lands under cultivation. Landlords sliced up pasturelands, carved up open fields, cut up forest commons, took over marshes, and turned larger and larger areas into agricultural fields.
Importance of turnip and clover for farmers:
In about the 1660s farmers in many parts of England began growing turnip and clover these crops improved the soil and made it more fertile. Turnip was a good fodder crop relished by cattle. These crops became part of the cropping system. These crops had the capacity to increase the nitrogen content of the soil. Nitrogen was important for crop growth. Cultivation of the same soil over a few years depleted the nitrogen in the soil and reduced its fertility. By restoring nitrogen, turnip and clover made the soil fertile once again.
Enclosures were now seen as necessary to make long-tern investments on land and plan crop rotations to improve the soil. Enclosures also allowed the richer landowners to expand the land under their control and produce more for the market.
THE CONDITIONS THE POOR
When fences came up, the enclosed land became the exclusive property of one landowner. The poor could no longer collect their firewood from the forests, or graze their cattle on the commons. They could no longer collect apples and berries, or hunt small animals for meat. Nor could they gather the stalks that lay on the fields after the crops were cut. Everything belonged to the landlords; everything had a price which the poor could not afford to pay. In places where enclosure happened – the poor were displaced from the land . They found their customary rights gradually disappearing. Deprived of their rights and driven off the land, they tramped in search of work. From the Midlands, they moved to the southem counties of England. But nowhere could the poor find secure jobs. Labourers were being paid wages and employed only during harvest time. As landowners triad to increase their profits, they cut the amount they had to spend on their workmen. Work became insecure, employment uncertain, income unstable. For a very large part of the year the poor had no work.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THRESHING MACHINES
(i) During the Napoleonic Wars prices of foodgrains were high and farmers expanded production vigorously. Fearing a shortage of tabour, they began buying the new threshing machines that had come into the market.
(ii) After the Napoleonic Wars had ended, thousands of soldiers returned to villages. They needed alternative job to survive. But this was a time when grain from Europe began flowing into England, prices declined, and as Agricultural Depression set in. Anxious, landowners, tried to cut wages and the number of workmen they employed.
(iii) The Captain Swing riots spread in the countryside at this time. For the poor the threshing machines had become a sign of bad times.
BREAD BASET AND DUST BOWL
(i) At the end of the eighteenth century, settled agriculture had not developed on any extensive scale in the USA. Forests covered over 800 million acres and grasslands 600 million acres.
(ii) Most of the landscape was not under the control of white Americans. Till the 1780s, white American settlements were confined to a small narrow strip of coastal land in the east . Native American groups in the country were nomadic, some were settled. Many of them lived only by hunting, gathering and fishing; others cultivated com, beans, tobacco and pumpkin.
(iii) By the early twentieth century, this landscape had transformed radically. White Americans had moved westward and established control up to the west cost, displacing local tribes and carving out theentire landscape into different agricultural betts. The USA had come to dorninate the world market in agricultural produce.
THE WESTWARD MOVE AND WHEAT CULTIVATION
(i) After the American War of independence from 1775 to 1783 and the formation of the United States of America, the white Americans began to move westward. By the time Thomas Jefferson befferson became President of the USA in 1800, over 700,000 white settlers had moved on to the Appalachian plateau through the passes. Seen from the east coast, America seemed to be a land of promise. Its wilderness could be trued into cultivated fields. Forest timber could be cut for export, animal hunted for skin, mountains mined for gold and animals.
(ii) In the decades after 1800 the US government comment committed itself to a policy of driving the American Indians westward, first beyond the river Mississippi, and then further west. As the Indians retreated, the settler’s poured in. they settled on the Appalachian plateau by the first decade of the eighteenth century, and then moved into the Mississippi valley between 1820 and 1850. Then they cleared larger areas, and erected fences around the fields. They ploughed the land and sowed corn and wheat. When the soil became impoverished and exhausted in one place, the migrants would move further west, to explore new lands and raise a new crop. It was, however, only after the 1860s that settlers swept into the Great Plains across the River Mississippi.
THE WHEAT FARMERS
(i) From the late nineteenth century there was a dramatic expansion of wheat production in the USA. The rising urban population, export market was becoming ever bigger and rise in what prices, encouraged farmers to produce wheat. The spread of the railways made it easy to transport the grain from the wheat growing regions to the eastern coast for export. By the twentieth century the demand became even higher, and during the First World War the world market boomed.
(ii) In 1910, about 45 million acres of land in the USA was under wheat. Nine years later, the area had expanded to 74 million acres, an increase of about 65 per cent. In many cases, big farmers – the wheat barons – controlled as much as 2,000 to 3,000 acres of land individually.
THE COMING OF NEW TECNNOLOGY
(i) This dramatic expansion was made possible by new technology. Through the nineteenth century, as the settlers moved into new habitats and lands, they modified their implements to meet their requirements.
(ii) The prairie was covered with a thick mat of grass with tough roots. To break th sod and turn the soil over, a variety of new ploughs were devised locally. By early twentieth century, farmers in the Great Plains were breaking the ground with tractors and disk ploughs, clearing vast stretches for wheat cultivation.
In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented the first mechanical reaper. By the early twentieth century, most farmers were using combined harvesters to cut grain. With one of these machines, 5oo acres of wheat could be harvested in two weeks.
(iii) For the big farmers of the Great Plains these machines had many attractions. The price of wheat was high and the demand seemed limitless.
(v) With power driven machinery, four men could plough, seed and harvest 2,000 to 4,000 acres of wheat in a season.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE POOR ?
For the poorer farmers, machines brought misery. They borrowed money on loan to buy machines but found it difficult to pay back their debts. Many of them deserted their farmers and looked for jobs
elsewhere. Mechanization reduced the need for labor. After 1920’s most farmers traced troubles. Production had expanded so rapidly during the war and post-war years that there was a large surplus. Unsold stocks piled up, storehouses overflowed with grain, and vast amounts of corn and wheat were turned into animal feed. Wheat prices fell and export markets collapsed. This created the grounds for the Great Agrarian Depressions of the 1930s that ruined wheat farmers everywhere.
In the 1930s, terrifying dust storms began to blow over the southem plains. Black blizzards rolled in, very often 7,000 to 8,000 feet high, rising like monstrous waves of muddy water. As the skies darkened, and the dust swept in, people were blinded and choked. Cattle were suffocated to death; their lungs caked whit dust and mud. Sand buried fences, covered fields, and coated the surfaces of rivers till the fish died. Dead bodies of birds and animals were strewing all over the landscape. Tractors and machines that had ploughed the earth and harvested the wheat in the 1920s were now clogged with dust, damaged beyond repair. They came because the early 1930s were years of persistent drought. Ordinary duststorms became black blizzards only because the entire landscape had been ploughed over, stripped of all grass that held it together. When wheat cultivation had expanded dramatically in the early twentieth century, zealous farmers had recklessly uprooted all vegetation, and tractors had expanded dramatically in the early twenties century, zealous farmers had recklessly uprooted all vegetation, and tractors had turned the soil over, and broken the sod into dust. The whole region had become a dust bowl.
THE INDIAN FARMER AND OPIUM PRODUCTION
Over the period of colonial rule, the rural landscape was radically transformed. as cultivation expanded, the area under frosts and pastures declined . In the colonial period, rural India also came to produce a range of crops for the world market. In the early nineteenth century, indigo and opium were two of the major commercial crops. By the end of the century, peasants were producing sugarcane, cotton, jute, wheat and several other crops for export
A TASTE FOR TEA : THE TRADE WITH CHINA
(i) In the eighteenth century, the English East India Company was buying tea and silk from China for sale in England .As tea became a popular English drink, the trade became more and more important in fact the profits of the East India Company came to depend on the tea trade.
(ii) England at this time produces nothing that could be easily sold in China. In such a situation, how could Western merchants finance the tea trade? They could buy tea only by paying in silver coins or bullion. This meant an outflow of treasure from England, a prospect that created widespread anxiety. Merchants therefore looked for ways to stop this loss of sliver. They searched for a commodity they could sell in China, something they could persuade the Chinese t6o buy. Opium was such a commodity.
(iii) The Chinese were aware of the dangers of opium addiction, and the Emperor had forbidden its production and sale except for medicinal purposes. But Western merchants in the mid-eighteenth century began an illegal trade in opium.
(iv) While the English cultivated a taste for Chinese tea, the Chinese became addicted to opium. People of all classes took to the drug-shopkeepers and peddlers, officials and army men, aristocrats and paupers:As China became a country of opium addicts, British trade in tea flourished. The returns from opium sale financed the tea purchases in China.
THE OPIUM CAM FROM
When the British conquered Bengal, they, made a determined effort to produces opium in the lands under their control. Before 1767, no more then 500 chests were being exported from India. A hundred years later, in 1870, the government was exporting about 50,000 chests annually.
FARMERS WERE UNSILLING TO TURN THEIR FIELDS OVER T POPPY
First the crop had to be grown on the best land, on fields that near villages and well matured. Second, many cultivators owned no land. To cultivate, they had to pay rent and lease land landlords. Third, the cultivation of opium was a difficult process.
Finally, the price the government paid to the cultivators for the opium they produced was very low
UNWILING WATORS WERE MADE OPPRODUCE OPIUM
(i)In the rural areas of Bengal and Bihar, there were large numbers of poor peasants. from the 1780s such peasants found their village headmen (mabato) giving them money advances to produce opium.
(ii)By taking the loan, the cultivator was forced to grow opium on a specified area of land hand over the produce to the agents once the crop had been harvested.
(iii)The problem could have been partly solved by increasing the price of opium. The prices given to the peasants were so low that by the early eighteenth century angry peasants began agitating for higher prices and refused to take advances.