Peasants and Farmers

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07 Peasants and Farmers

The Coming of Modern Agriculture in England

  • On the night of 1st June 1830, a farmer in north-western England found his barn and haystack reduced to ashes by a fire.
  • On the night of 28th August 1830, a threshing machine was destroyed by labourers in East Kent, England.
  • Severe government actions took place and suspects of rioting were rounded up.

The Time of Open fields and Commons

  • Before the late 18th century, large parts of countryside were open and weren’t divided into enclosures.
  • The enclosure movement spread through the countryside after the mid-18th century, changing the English landscape permanently.

New Demands for Grain

  • As urban population grew, market for food grains expanded and prices soared.

The Age of Enclosures

  • Rapid population growth was followed by a period of food shortages.
  • Pasturelands and open fields were divided, open fields were enclosed and marshes were taken over and converted into large agricultural lands.

What Happened To the Poor?

  • The landlords exerted exclusive ownership and imposed high pricing that could not be afforded by the poor.
  • Enclosures were extensive in and the poor were displaced from their land.

The Introduction of Threshing Machines

  • Prices of food grains increased during the Napoleonic wars and farmers bought new threshing machines to reduce their dependence on labour.

Bread Basket and Dust Bowl

  • White Americans displaced the local tribes and divided the landscape into agricultural belts.
  • The USA dominated the world market in terms of agricultural produce.

The Westward Move and Wheat Cultivation

  • In the decades after 1800, the US government implemented a policy to remove American Indians from the east.

The Wheat Farmers

  • With increase in demand, wheat prices rose and farmers started producing more wheat.
  • New areas were being ploughed to extend cultivation in the Great Plains.

What Happened to the Poor?

  • Mechanisation had reduced the need for labour and the boom of the late 19th and early 20th century seemed to have ceased in the 1920s after which most farmers faced trouble.

Dust Bowl

  • Terrifying dust storms started blowing over the southern plains in the 1930s.
  • Black blizzards as high as 7000 to 8000 feet rolled in and rose like monstrous waves of muddy water.
  • The whole region had turned into a dust bowl shattering the American dream of a land of plenty.

The India Farmer and Opium Production

  • Indigo and opium were two of the major commercial crops in the early 19th century.
  • By the end of the century, sugarcane, cotton, jute, wheat and several other crops were being produced.

A Taste for Tea: The Trade with China

  • The East India Company bought tea and silk from China and sold it to England, in the late 18th century.
  • However, England did not produce anything that could be sold in China.
  • The Western merchants started trading opium illegally in the mid-18th century.

Where did Opium come from?

  • The cultivators were unwilling to cultivate poppy owing to several reasons:
    • The crop required finest of lands that lay near villages and were well manured.
    • Opium cultivation on those fields would leave inferior land for pulses where harvests were poorer and uncertain.
    • The cultivation of opium was difficult as the plant was delicate and required much time for nurturing, leaving cultivators with less time for other crops.

How Were Unwilling Cultivators Made to Produce Opium?

  • A large number of poor peasants were given money advances for opium production, by their village headmen (mahato), from the 1780s.
  • The British government in Bengal established monopoly trade by 1773 and no one else was allowed to trade in opium legally.
  • The conflict between the British government, peasants and local traders went on as long as opium was produced.

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