Agriculture was the main stay of Indian economy. Nearly eighty percent people adopted cultivation either as principal or as secondary occupation. About seventy percent of national income came from agricultural sector. Agricultural productions constituted mainly food-grains and such other crops like oilseeds, fiber crops, sugar cane required for domestic consumption. Moreover, agriculture had special importance in self-sufficient village economy. However, the British Rule changed the nature and structure of Indian economy.
Land was heavily assessed for revenue; a new class of landlords emerged; deindustrialization led to overcrowding of land; increasing rural indebtedness put the peasants in poverty; a large number of intermediaries caused low productivity and finally the impoverishment of the peasantry was accelerated.
Under these circumstances Indian agriculture could not sustain the pressure from the growing dependence on land, the increasing Government dues and the exploitation of unscrupulous landlords. The consequence was inevitable. Agriculture became stagnant and personality acre yields declined.
There were various factors contributing for stagnation of agriculture. It began with the land revenue policy of the Company. Ownership of land was vested with non-cultivators where as the actual cultivators had no claim over land. The Government became the rent receiver; the Zamindars were rent-collectors; and the peasants were mere rent payers.
The Government did nothing for agricultural development. The rent-collecting Zamindars had no interest in agriculture. Finally, the cultivators had no resources for investment to improve agriculture. Moreover, the cultivators lost interest to bring about improvement in the land which they did not possess.
The land cultivated by him was not his property and the benefit coming out of agricultural improvement would be reaped by the absentee landlords and moneylenders. To them, agricultural improvement meant payment of more rent and no cultivator came forward to invest in fear of extra payment. Thus, agriculture declined steadily.
India handicraft industries were closed down and local markets were no more profitable for the Indian traders. Within short-time, agriculture was left as the lone source of employment and thus got overcrowded due to migration of working persons from non -agricultural sectors. Further, uncontrolled population growth added extra pressure on land.
Thus, people competed among themselves for a plot of land and were exploited by rack-renting of the landlords. The system of subletting the right to collect revenue created a chain of intermediaries and led to subdivision and the fragmentation of land into small holdings. As a result per capita land was very low and income from land could not meet the livelihood of the cultivators. All apart, every one wanted to be a rent collector instead of being a cultivator for which subletting and subleasers increased. Thus, fragmentation of land into small holdings and excessive overcrowding reduced yields per acre.
Indian cultivators adopted primitive techniques in agricultural production. They hardly used better cattle and seeds, more manure and fertilizer and improved techniques of production. As discussed earlier, the cultivators had little or no resource for improvement of agriculture. The Government deliberately neglected agriculture.
Though the peasants shouldered main burden of taxation, very small part of their tax was paid for improvement and modernization of agriculture. The Government spent millions of rupees on the railways to protect and promote the British trade interests. On the other hand, very little was spent on irrigation and that was the only field of Government investment.
The landlords took no personal interest beyond collection of rent. They exploited the cultivators by rack-renting to enhance their income and were unwilling to make any investment to increase income by increasing productivity of land. Thus, agriculture continued to be neglected grossly and stagnation of agriculture was inevitable.
No less harmful were the effects of the natural calamities like floods, droughts and famines. Repeated occurrence of those calamities forced the peasants to give upon cultivation. There was no attempt to bring about any preventive measures against the natural calamities.
During early years of the British Rule nothing was done to check or to regulate the flood water. No initiative was taken for providing irrigation that could have insured agricultural production against droughts or scanty rainfall. Failure of crops for two or more consecutive years took the dreadful shape of famine.
Neither the Government nor the landlords paid any attention to prevent the devastation of the natural calamities. In India a good harvest depended on a better monsoon with adequate was uncertain, rainfall was irregular and natural calamities were inherent. The Government was apathetic, the landlords were oppressive and the cultivators were hopeless. Therefore, agriculture was left at the mercy of nature.
Similarly, no improvement came in the agricultural technology. Agricultural implements were ordinary and old. Wooden ploughs were primarily used and cattle wastes constituted the manure. Use of iron ploughs was rare and an inorganic fertilizer was unknown.
There was very little effort for creating educational awareness among technological advancement would have been an effective measure to increase productivity. But the technological stagnation fastened the decline in agriculture and ultimately poverty was perpetuated for rural masses more specifically for the peasants.