The lives of peasants and farmers of three locations:
- the small cottagers in England.
- the wheat farmers of the USA.
- the opium producers of Bengal.
The Coming of Modern Agriculture in England
- Before sixteenth century, in large parts of England, the countryside was open.
- The common land was there which is accessible to all villagers where they can graze their animals, collect forest products, catch fish and hunt animals.
- With the rise in population, the demand for food grains also increased.
- Rich farmers began dividing and enclosing common land
- After the mid-eighteenth century, this enclosure process expanded through the countryside.
- British Parliament passed 4000 Acts legalising these enclosures.
New Demands for Grain
After mid-eighteenth century, the demand of foodgrains increased in England because:
- Rise in Population
- People began to live and work in urban areas
- War between France and England
The Age of Enclosures
In the nineteenth century grain production in England grew as quickly as population by
- bringing new land under cultivation
- growing turnip and clover, these crops improved the soil and made it more fertile.
What Happened To the Poor?
- Enclosures found their customary rights gradually disappearing
- Now everything was available on payment basis only
- By 1800, labourers were being paid wages and employed only during harvest time.
The Introduction of Threshing Machines
- During the Napoleonic Wars, farmers began buying the new threshing machines that had come into the market, fearing a shortage of labour.
- After the war, soldiers returned to the villages and needed alternative jobs to survive.
- As their jobs were taken over by the machines, people were not able to find jobs.
- Thus, they started threatening farmers through letters urging them to stop using machines that deprived workmen of their livelihood.
- Most of these letters were signed in the name of Captain Swing.
Bread Basket and Dust Bowl – Case Study of US
- Till the 1780s, white American settlements were confined to a small narrow strip of coastal land in the east.
- White Americans lived in a narrow strip of coastal land in the east.
- Native American groups survived by hunting, gathering, fishing or by doing shifting cultivation.
The Westward move and Wheat Cultivation
- After the formation of USA, white settlers started moving towards west, America seemed to be a land of promise.
- White settlers drove American Indians westwards and settled in the Applachian, than in Mississippi valley, cleared land and sowed corn and wheat.
The Wheat Farmers
- Rise in the urban population increased the demand for wheat and encouraged farmers to produce wheat.
- Spread of Railways and First World War created more demand.
The Coming of New Technology
- Through the nineteenth century, the farmers entered the mid-western prairies and they needed new types of implements to break the sod and the soil.
- Before the 1830s, to harvest crop they initially used cradle or sickle.
- In 1831 Cyrus McCormick invented the first Mechanical reaper.
- By early twentieth century most farmers were using combined harvesters to cut grain.
What Happened to the Poor?
- Many of them bought these machines on loans, however, many were not able to pay back their debts, deserted their farms and looked jobs elsewhere
- Unsold foodgrains stocks piled up.
- Wheat prices fell and export markets collapsed.
- This created the grounds for the Great Agrarian Depression of the 1930s.
- In the 1930s terrifying duststorms rolled in.
- People were blinded and choked, cattle were suffocated to death.
- Sand buried fences, covered fields and coated the surfaces of rivers till the fish died.
- Machines were logged with dust, damaged beyond repair.
- The entire landscape was ploughed, stripped of all grass, tractors had turned the soil over and broken the sod into dust.
- They came because the early 1930s were years of persistent drought.
The Indian Farmer and Opium Production
- The British imposed a regular system of land revenue, increase revenue rates, and expand the area under cultivation.
- By the end of the nineteenth century, India became a major centre for production of sugarcane, cotton, jute, wheat and several other crops for export.
A Taste for Tea: The Trade with China
- The English East India Company was buying tea and silk from China.
- The Confucian rulers of China, the Manchus were not willing to allow the entry of foreign goods.
- English could buy tea only by paying in silver coins or bullion which meant an outflow of treasure from England.
- The English traders wanted a community which could be easily sold in China so that the import of tea could be financed in a profitable way.
- Western merchants began an illegal trade in opium in the mid-eighteenth century.
Where did Opium come from?
- When the British conquered Bengal, they made a ffort to produce opium in the lands under their control.
- With the growth of market for opium in China, export from Bengal ports increased.
- The Indian farmers were not willing to produce opium because:
- They were not willing to divert their best fields for opium cultivation because it would have resulted in poor production cereals and pulses.
- Many cultivators did not own land. For opium cultivation, they had to lease land from landlords and pay rent.
- The cultivation of opium was a difficult process and time consuming.
- The government paid very low price for the opium which made it an unprofitable proposition.
How Were Unwilling Cultivators Made to Produce Opium?
- By giving advance loan, the cultivator was forced to grow opium on a specified area of land and hand over the produce to the agents once the crop had been harvested.
- The cultivator also had to accept the low price offered for the produce.
- British wanted to buy very cheap and sell at high premium to the opium agents in Calcutta.
- Thus, the British wanted to earn huge profit in opium trade.
- By the early eighteenth century, the cultivators began to refuse the advances.
- Many cultivators sold their crop to travelling traders who offered higher prices.
- By 1773, the British government in Bengal had established a monopoly to trade in opium.
- By the 1820s, the British found that there was a drastic fall in opium production in their territories.
- The production of opium was increasing outside the British territories.
- It was produced in Central India and Rajasthan which were not under British control. The local traders in these regions were offering much higher prices to peasants.
- The Government instructed its agents in those princely states to confiscate all opium and destroy the crops.