Definition of Peasants – Peasant is a poor smallholder or agricultural labourer of low social status (mainly in historical use or with reference to subsistence farming).
| Chapter 6 Peasants and Farmers highlights the lives of peasants and farmers of three locations namely:
➣ The small cottagers in England.
Once 1st June, 1830 a farmer in North-west England found his barn and hay stack reduced to ashes by a fire that started at night.
- 1 Coming of Modern Agriculture in England
- 2 The First Enclosure Movement
- 3 The Second Enclosure Movement
- 4 Innovations in Agriculture
- 5 What Happened to the Poor?
- 6 Introduction of Threshing Machines
- 7 Bread Basket and Dust Bowl – Case Study of United States
- 8 The Westward Move and Wheat Cultivation
- 9 The Wheat Farmers
- 10 Coming of New Technology
- 11 What Happened to the Poor?
- 12 Effects of the Black Blizzards
- 13 The Indian Farmers and Opium Production
- 14 A Taste for Tea -Trade with China
- 15 Where did the Opium Come from?
- 16 How were Unwilling Cultivators Made to Grow Opium?
- 17 Effects of Advances on the Peasants
Coming of Modern Agriculture in England
(i) In the months that followed, cases of such fire were reported from numerous districts.
(ii) Then on the night of 28th August, 1830 a threshing machine of a farmer was destroyed by labourers in Kent in England.
(iii) In the next two years in Southern England about 387 threshing machines, were broken.
(iv) Farmers received threatening letters urging them to stop using machines which deprived workmen of using their livelihood.
(v) Most of these letters were signed in the name of Captain Swing.
(vi) Alarmed by this, many farmers themselves destroyed the machines.
(vii) Government took strong action those suspected of rioting and they were rounded up. 1976 prisoners were tried and nine were hanged.
(viii) Before the late 18th century in large parts of England, the countryside was open and not enclosed by landlords.
(ix) Peasants cultivated strips of land around the villages.
(x) All villagers had access to the commons. Here they pastured their cows and grazed their sheep, collected fuelwood for fire and bees and fruit for food.
(xi) They fished in the rivers and ponds and hunted rabbits in common forests.
(xii) For the poor, the common land was essential for survival.
(xiii) It supplemented their meagre income, sustained their cattle and helped them tide over bad times when crops failed.
The First Enclosure Movement
(i) In some parts of England, the economy of open fields and commons started changing from about the 16th century.
(ii) When the price of wool went up in the international market in the 16th century, farmers wanted to expand wool production to earn profits.
(iii) They wanted to control large areas of land in compact blocks to allow improved breeding.
(iv) So, they began dividing and enclosing common land and building hedges around their holdings to separate their property from that of others.
(v) They drove out small villagers who had small cottages on the commons and they prevented the poor from entering the enclosed fields.
(vi) After the 18th century, the enclosure movement swept the countryside, changing the English landscape forever.
(vii) The British Parliament passed laws legalising these enclosures.
The Second Enclosure Movement
(i) The new enclosures were different from the old.
(ii) Unlike the 16th century enclosures that promoted sheep farming, the land being enclosed in the late eighteenth century was for grain production.
(iii) The English population expanded rapidly between 1750 to 1900. Thus, there was an increased demand for food grains to feed the population.
(iv) Because of industrialisation, urban population grew and the market for food grains expanded and food grain prices rose.
(v) The war with France disrupted trade and import of food grains to England from Europe.
(vi) Prices in England skyrocketed, encouraging landowners to enclose lands and enlarge the area under grain cultivation.
(vii) Profits increased and landowners pressurised the government to pass the Enclosure Acts.
Innovations in Agriculture
(i) The increase in food grain production was not made by innovations in agricultural technology but by bringing new lands under cultivation.
(ii) Landlords sliced up pasturelands, carved up open fields, cut up forests, took over marshes and turned larger and larger areas into agricultural fields.
(iii) Farmers used simple innovations in agriculture. In the 1660s, the farmers in many parts of England began growing turnip and clover. They discovered that planting of these crops increased the fertility of the soil.
(iv) Turnip was also good fodder crop. Later findings showed that these crops had the capacity to increase the nitrogen content of the soil which was important for plant growth and increasing the fertility of the soil.
What Happened to the Poor?
(i) After the enclosure of common land the poor could no longer collect firewood from the forests or graze their cattle on the commons or hunt small animals for meat.
(ii) They could not gather stalks that lay on the fields after crops were cut.
(iii) Everything belonged to the landlords, everything had a price which the poor could not afford to pay.
(iv) Therefore the poor were displaced from the land.
(v) They were deprived of their customary rights and moved around in search of jobs in the southern counties where there was a demand for agricultural labourers.
(vi) However they were paid very low wages.
(vii) Workers became insecure, employment was uncertain and income unstable.
(viii) For a large part of the year, the poor had no work.
(ix) Introduction of threshing machines added to their problems.
Introduction of Threshing Machines
(i) During the Napoleonic wars, prices of food grains were high and farmers expanded production vigorously.
(ii) Fearing a shortage of labour due to the Napoleonic wars ,they began buying new threshing machines hoping to reduce dependence on labourers.
(iii) After the Napoleonic wars, thousands of soldiers returned who needed alternative jobs to survive.
(iv) At this time, grain started flowing in from Europe and prices declined so the landowners began reducing the area under grain cultivation.
(v) They tried to cut the wages and the number of workmen employed. The unemployed moved from village to village looking for work. At this time, Captain wing riots spread in
the countryside. The coming of the machines was a sign of bad times for the poor.
Bread Basket and Dust Bowl – Case Study of United States
(i) Initially, forests covered over 800 million acres and grasslands 600 million acres of land in USA.
(ii) Till the 1780s, white American settlements were confined to a small narrow strip of coastal land in the East.
(iii) Many native American groups lived by hunting, gathering and fishing; others cultivated corn, beans, tobacco and pumpkin.
(iv) Some were expert trappers who traded with European traders.
(v) In the early 19th century, the landscape changed and the white Americans moved westwards and established their control up to the west coast, displacing local tribes and carving the entire area into agricultural belts.
The Westward Move and Wheat Cultivation
(i) After the American war of Independence and the formation of United States of America, the white Americans began to move westward.
(ii) In 1800, over 70,000 white settlers had moved to the Appalachian plateau through the passes.
(iii) America was full of resources for the settlers.
(iv) Numerous wars were fought with the native American Indians in which the natives were massacred and their villages burnt. They were forced to give up their lands and live in reservations.
(v) The settlers cut and burnt the forests and cleared land for cultivation.
The Wheat Farmers
(i) In the 19th century, there was a dramatic expansion of wheat production in USA.
(ii) Urban population was growing and the export market was becoming bigger.
(iii) The demand for grain increased, prices also increased, encouraging farmers to produces wheat.
(iv) Spread of railways made it easier to transport grain from wheat growing area to the east coast for export.
(v) The demand increased further during the First World War when Russian supply of wheat was cut off.
(vi) President Wilson called upon the farmers to plant more wheat. Wheat will win the war, he said.
Coming of New Technology
(i) The dramatic expansion of wheat production was made possible by new technology.
(ii) To break the sod and turn the soil over, a variety of new ploughs were devised locally.
(iii) By the early 20th century, farmers in the great plains were breaking the ground with tractors and disc ploughs, clearing vast stretches for wheat cultivation.
(iv) In 1831, Cyrus McCormic invented the first mechanical reaper which could cut in one day as much as five men could cut with cradles and 16 men with sickles.
(v) By the early 20th century, most farmers were using combined harvesters to cut grain.
(vi) These machines helped the farmers to do work rapidly and with minimal number of hands.
What Happened to the Poor?
(i) For the poor farmers, machines brought misory.
(ii) Many had bought these machines hoping that prices would remain high and profits would flow in.
(iii) Many had taken loans from banks to buy these machines.Those who had borrowed money found it difficult to pay back the debts.
(iv) Many of the farmers therefore deserted their farms and looked for jobs elsewhere.
(v) Production boomed, there was a large surplus and storehouses overflowed with grain. Wheat prices feel and exports collapsed. There was an agrarion crisis which ruined the farmers and the labourers.
(i) Causes : When wheat cultivation expanded, the zealous farmers had recklessly uprooted all vegetation and tractors had turned the soil over and broken the sod into dust.
(ii) The whole region had become a dust bowl.
(iii) The early 1930’s were years of persistent drought. The rains failed year after year.
(iv) Temperatures soared, winds blew with very high speed and dust storms began to blew.
(v) The ordinary dust storms became black blizzards only because the entire landscape had been ploughed over and stripped of all the grass that had held it together.
Effects of the Black Blizzards
(i) The dust storms darkened the skies and the people were blinded and choked. Cattle suffocated to death, their lungs caked with dust and mud.
(ii) Sand buried fences, covered fields, and coated the surfaces of rivers till the fish died.
(iii) Dead bodies of birds and animals were strewn all over the landscape.
(iv) Tractors and machines that ploughed the Earth and harvested the wheat in the 1920s were how clogged with dust, damaged beyond repair.
(v) After the 1930s, the settlers realised that they had to respect the ecological conditions of each regiọn.
The Indian Farmers and Opium Production
(i) British rule was established in India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
(ii) The British saw land revenue as an important source of government income and brought more and more land under cultivation.
(iii) Forests and pasture lands were converted into agricultural fields.
A Taste for Tea -Trade with China
(i) The British East India Company was buying tea and silk from China for sale in England. In 1785, 15 million pounds of tea was imported into England as tea had become popular in England.
(ii) England at this time produced nothing that could be easily sold in China. So, payment for tea had in be made in silver or bullion.
(iii) This was seen as a loss of national wealth by the British. So, they started an illegal trade in opium with China and used the profit from opium trade to buy tea.
Where did the Opium Come from?
(i) When the British conquered Bengal, they made efforts to produce opium there. By 1870, the government was exporting about 50,000 chests annually from Bengal to China.
(ii) Indian farmers reluctant to grow opium.
(iii) First the crop had to be grown on the best land that lay near the village and was well manured.
(iv) On this land farmers grew pulses. If they grew opium they could not grow pulses or they would have to grow them on inferior land.
(v) Many cultivators had no land and had to take land on rent or lease from landlords. The rent charged by landlords was very high.
(vi) The cultivation of opium was a difficult process. The plant was delicate and needed a long period of nurturing.Therefore, farmers had no time to care for other crops.
(vii) Finally, the price the government paid to the cultivators for the opium they produced was very low. It was unprofitable for the cultivators to grow opium at that price.
How were Unwilling Cultivators Made to Grow Opium?
(i) Unwilling cultivators were made to grow opium through a system of advances.
(ii) In Bengal and Bihar, there were a large number of poor peasants, who found it difficult to survive.
(iii) When the village headman (Mahato) offered loans to produce opium, they took it hoping to repay it later.
Effects of Advances on the Peasants
(i) The loan tied the peasant to the headman and through him to the government.
(ii) The government opium agents gave the money to the headman who gave it as loan to the peasants.
(iii) By taking the loan they were forced to grow opium on a specified area of land and hand over the produce to the agents once the crop had been harvested.
(iv) The farmer could not sell the produce to anyone except the government agent.
(v) The peasant had to accept the low price offered for the produce.
(vi) The prices were so low that the peasants began agitating for higher prices and refused to take advances.
(vii) Peasants around Benares stopped cultivating opium and started glowing potatoes.
(viii) Many cultivators sold their crop to travelling traders (pykars) who offered higher prices.
(ix) But the government established a monopoly on opium trade and did not allow the peasants to sell opium to anybody else.
(x) The conflict between the British Government and the peasants and local traders continued as long as the opium production lasted.