Page 17 - Science India August 2022
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           ernment believed that big landlords and zamindars will help in percolation of the knowledge to smaller cultivators and tenants. This percolation of knowledge never happened.
A strong integration of foreign mer- chants with the Indian market ensured a heavy dependence on Indian merchant- middlemen. This further allowed the system of farmer dependence on mer- chant-trader groups. Traditionally, peas- ants had always sold their crops from a position of strength. However, once the commercialisation of crops commenced, peasants took money from merchants as advance before the sowing season resulting in selling their grains at a pre- determined rate. The village dynamics changed with the permanent land settle- ment instituted by Lord Cornwallis in 1793. A class of zamindars with a right to collect tax was created. The village communities split under this new impo- sition, where zamindars became land- lords. Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were most impacted with this change. The peasants became debtors and not ag- ricultural producers. Small cultivators required rural credit for various reasons such as higher investments for more acreage, dependence on food crops for their subsistence, harvest fluctuations, monetisation of rent and tax, etc. The British discouraged any improvement to our indigenous agriculture system. This was not because the system was incapa- ble of improvement but it was perceived as a barrier to modern requirements.
Indian agriculture was dominated by subsistence farming in the pre-colo- nial era. Excess food grains cultivated were stored so that they could be used against any natural calamity. To suit the Imperial agenda, promotion of sci- ence in agriculture was always subjected to restricted growth. The pre-colonial rural structure was broken down, and pushed towards commercialisation. This resulted in a shift from cultivation for home consumption to cultivation for the market. The revenue generated from exports benefitted British business fami- lies, big farmers, some Indian traders
Image Courtesy: Indian Famine Commission, Creative Commons
and money lenders. Food crops were also channelised into various market networks. Rice and wheat began to be produced not just for primary consump- tion but for distant markets too. Unlike plantations, commercial crops such as indigo, opium, silk, sugarcane, cotton, wheat and jute were largely grown by small farmers who depended on mer- chants for their working capital.
The French revolution and con- sumption patterns of Europe saw an increased demand for sugar from India. Between 1884 and 1899, the area un- der sugarcane increased from 282,000 acres to 862,200 acres with Punjab, UP, Bihar and Bengal accounting for
more than half of this surge. Again the Cotton Famine in 1861 increased the demand for cotton cultivation in In- dia. A new cotton strain in South In- dia was developed from local varieties called Karunganni by the agricultural department. This variety with better staple and fibre quality was promoted,
increasing the acreage under cotton in the region. Rangpur, Mymensingh and Dacca in East Bengal accounted for a high percentage of jute acreage to meet the needs of jute mills in the region. George Blyn in his work Agricultural Trends in India, 1891-1947: Output, Availability, and Productivity, revealed that per annum increase in population
 Top: A map of India for the report of the famine commission showing British provinces and native States, 1879; Above: A map of the famine districts in India in 1898
Studies indicate that India’s GDP to world share was about 22% in 1600 AD. This came down to 4% in 1947 Image Courtesy: The British Library/Creative Commons
in 1891-1947 was 0.67%. However, the total food grain production increased by only 0.11% in this period. During this period, the per-acre production of food grains decreased by 0.18% per annum. The prices of highly commercialised non-food crops increased by 0.86% per annum while their total output grew by 1.31% per annum. Similarly, in the
period 1901-41, Madras had an annual average rate of yield increase of 0.35 per- cent of food grains and 1.25 per cent increase of non-food grains. Gradually, Indian agriculture was systematically and scientifically reorganised to suit the needs of the British government.
Studies indicate that India’s GDP to world share was about 22% in 1600 AD. This came down to 4% in 1947. The British successfully destroyed our agrarian market. Today, as part of our goal towards Atmanirbhar Bharat, we must take pride in our indigenous agrarian wisdom, and combine it with modern science to bring about a vibrant agricultural sector.
*The writer is Science Com- municator, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad
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