Impact of British Policy on Indian Agriculture and Land

The British Era is also known as a period of commercial revolution in the agricultural sector. Commercialization of agriculture was coincident with Industrial revolution and became prominent around 1860 A.D. This brought about a change from cultivation for home consumption to cultivation for the market. Cash transactions become the basis of exchange and largely replaced the barter system. The major reason of commercialization of agriculture was that India was now reduced to the supplier of raw materials and food grains to Britain and importer of British manufactured goods. This era saw the introduction and proliferation of many crops as cash crops such as Indigo, cotton, jute, tea, tobacco. The Land revenue payments were also monetized and India saw emergence of grain merchants. The increasing demand for some of the commercial crops in other foreign countries gave impetus to commercialization of agriculture.

Impact of Commercialization

  • The commercialization of agriculture should have increased productivity but in reality it did not happen because of poor agricultural organization, obsolete technology, and lack of resources among most peasants. Rich farmers benefited and this accelerated the inequalities of income in the rural society.
  • The commercial non-food crops substituted the food grains. This had a devastating effect on the rural economy and showed its impact in famines.
  • one more outcome of the commercialization of agriculture was the crop production got regional specialization based upon the climatic conditions. This was the outcome of the commercial revolution in agriculture. The peasants of Bombay presidency grew cotton, Bengal grew jute and Indigo, Bihar grew opium, Assam grew tea, Punjab grew wheat.
  • The agriculture sector of India was linked to the world market. Price movements and business fluctuations in the world markets began to affect the fortunes of the Indian farmer to a greater degree. The crop selection became dependent upon the market demand and price.

Thus we can conclude that the commercialization of agriculture assisted the industrial revolution in Britain, it broke the economic self-sufficiency of villages in India.

Increased population of Landless Labourers

In ancient India there were no wage earners in agriculture. The situation in British Era was reverse with an ever high population of the landless labours. Landless agricultural labourers were as high as 20 percent of the agricultural population in Dinajpur in 1808. Those who either owned land or had customary rights to cultivate it were not homogeneous in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Further, the impact of the commercialization of agriculture on the peasant classes was complex. It sometimes strengthened small peasants by providing a higher income, but often the growing fluctuation in prices led them to disintegrate into a group of richer peasants, who benefited from the fluctuation, and others who came under the grip of moneylenders and merchants. In general, it contributed to the expansion of landed property by the non-agricultural population, though the extent of such transfer differed by region.

Leave a Reply