Modern agriculture in England
Swing Rioters: between 1930 and 1932, many farmers in England were attacked by rioters. The rioters destroyed threshing machines, burnt barns and haystack and sometimes burnt the entire farmhouse. Farmers used to receive threatening letters which were signed by ‘Captain Swing’. This was a mythical name used in the letters and the rioters came to be known as Swing Rioters. The letters urged the farmers to stop using the new machines because the new machines were depriving the poor peasants of job. The government took stern action and people were rounded up on suspicion. 1,976 prisoners were tried, nine men were hanged, 505 men were transported and 644 were put in jails.
The Time of Open fields and Commons
Before the late eighteenth century, large parts of English countryside were open. There was no partition of land to mark the ownership. Peasants cultivated on strips of land around the village. At the beginning of each year, each villager was allotted a number of strips to cultivate for which the decision was taken at a public meeting. Usually a farmer was given strips of varying quality to ensure equitable distribution of good and bad land to the farmers.
The land beyond these strips was called the common land. All villagers had access to the commons. The commons were used as pasture and for collecting firewood and fruits. Rivers and ponds were used by all for fishing and the common forests were used for rabbit hunting. The common land was essential for the survival of poor.
But things began to change from about the sixteenth century. The price of wool went up in the world market in the sixteenth century. Due to this, the rich farmers wanted to expand wool production in order to earn profits. For improving their sheep breeds and to ensure good feed for them, the rich farmers started taking the control of large areas of land in compact blocks. They began to divide and enclose common land and built hedges around to demarcate their property. The poor peasants were driven out from the enclosed fields. The enclosure movement proceeded very slowly till the mid of the eighteenth century.
But after the mid-eighteenth century, the enclosure movement caught momentum. Between 1750 and 1850, about 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British Parliament passed 4,000 acts to legalise these enclosures.
New Demands for Grain
The enclosures which were made in the sixteenth century were meant for sheep farming. But those made in the late eighteenth century were for grain production. The English population increased rapidly from the mid-eighteenth century. The population of England multiplied over four times between 1750 and 1900. From 7 million in 1750 the population of England became 30 million in 1900. Increased population meant increased demand for foodgrains.
This was also the time when Britain was industrializing. More and more people began to migrate to the urban areas. With an increase in urban population, the demand for foodgrain increased and so did the prices.
At the end of the eighteenth century, England was at war with France. This war disrupted trade and import of foodgrains from Europe. This further aggravated the price rise of foodgrain in England. The higher prices encouraged the landowners to enlarge their enclosures for grain cultivation. The landowners also pressurized the Parliament to pass the Enclosure Acts.
The Age of Enclosures
Before 1780s, rapid population growth was usually followed by a period of food shortages in England. But after that, the food production matched with population growth. In 1868, England was producing about 80% of the food it consumed and the rest was imported.
This growth in food-grain production could be possible because of bringing new lands under cultivation. Pasturelands, open fields, forest commons, marshes, etc. were taken over by landlords and turned into agricultural fields.
The simple innovation used by farmers in this period was growing turnip and clover. These crops helped in improving soil fertility; by replenishing the nitrogen in soil. Moreover, turnip was a good fodder crop also.
Enclosures were now seen as important for making long-term investments on land and for planning crop rotations to improve the soil. Enclosures also helped rich landowners to expand the land under their control and produce more for the market.
What Happened To the Poor?
With the expansion of enclosures, the poor could no longer have access to the commons. They could not collect firewood or graze their cattle, or collect apples or hunt small animals for meat. The poor were displaced from the land. Most of the poor from the Midlands were forced to move to southern counties in search of livelihood. The southern part was most intensely cultivated and hence there was a great demand for agricultural labourers.
During earlier period, the labourers usually lived the landowners. They used to eat at the master’s table and helped him through the year. But this practice was disappearing by 1800. Labourers were now being paid wages and employed only during harvest season. The landowners also cut the wages in order to increase profitability. Thus the poor suffered from job insecurity and unstable income.
The Introduction of Threshing Machines
During the Napoleonic Wars, prices of foodgrains were high and farmers vigorously expanded production to grab the opportunity. This was the time, new threshing machines had come into the market. The farmers began buying those machines, as they feared a shortage in labour.
Once the Napoleonic Wars ended, thousands of soldiers returned to the villages. They were looking for work to survive. This was also the time when grain from Europe began coming into England. Prices declined as a result and an Agricultural Depression set in. The landowners reduced the cultivated area and demanded a ban on imports. They also tried to cut the workforce and wages. The unemployed poor moved from village to village in search of job. This was the situation which gave rise to the Swinging Riots.
Changes in the Lives of Pastoralists
The availability of pastureland decreased drastically. This resulted in continuous intensive grazing of the remaining pasture. Unlike in the past, the lack of seasonal movement of pastoralists did not allow time for the natural restoration of vegetation growth. This created shortage of forage for animals and the animal stock deteriorated. Most of the cattle died due to shortage of fodder.
How Did the Pastoralists Cope with these Changes?
Some of the pastoralists reduced the number of cattle in their herds. Some others discovered new pastures. For example; when the Raikas could no longer move into Sindh after the partition of 1947; they began to migrate to Haryana in search of new pastures.
Some rich pastoralists began to buy land to settle down and gave up their nomadic life. While some of them became peasants, some others took to more extensive trading.
But the poor pastoralists had to borrow from moneylenders in order to survive. Most of them finally lost their cattle and sheep and became labourers. They began to work in fields or in small towns.
Pastoralism in Africa
Over half of the world’s pastoral population lives in Africa. Even today, more than 22 million Africans depend on some form of pastoral activity. Bedouins, Berbers, Maasai, Somali, Boran and Turkana are some of the pastoral communities of Africa. Most of them live in the semi-arid grasslands or arid deserts. They raise cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys; and they sell milk, meat, animal skin and wool. Some also earn through trade and transport. Some others combine pastoral activity with agriculture. Many others do a variety of odd jobs to supplement their earnings.
Maasai: The Maasai are cattle herders and they mainly live in east Africa. 300,000 Maasai live in Kenya and about 150,000 live in Tanzania.
Where have the Grazing Lands Gone?
Before the colonial rule, the Maasailand stretched over a vast area from north Kenya to the steppes of northern Tanzania. The European colonial powers began the slicing up of Africa in order to get control of the African continent during the late nineteenth century. The Maasailand was cut into half in 1885. An international boundary separated the British Kenya and German Tanganyika. During the First World War, the British took the control of Tanganyika.
Due to these developments, the Maasai lost more than 60% of their pastureland from the pre-colonial period. They were now confined to an arid zone with poor pastures and uncertain rainfall.
From the late nineteenth century, the local peasant communities were encouraged by the British government to expand cultivation. While the Maasai used to dominate their agricultural neighbours before the colonial rule, the situation had changed now.
Large areas of grazing land were also turned into game reserves, e.g. the Maasai Mara and Samburu National Park in Kenya and Serengeti Park in Tanzania. The Maasai could no longer hunt nor graze their animals in these areas.
Kokoland Herders: The Kokoland herders traditionally moved between Kokoland and Ovamboland in Namibia. They sold skin, meat and other items in neighbouring markets. The new system of territorial boundaries restricted their movements and stopped their activities.
The Borders are Closed
With the redrawing of borders, the movement of all the pastoralist communities was severely restricted. They were required to get special permits in order to move. Getting a permit was often difficult. People were severely punished for violating the rules. They were also not allowed to enter the markets in white areas. They were viewed as savage and dangerous by the Europeans and hence every effort was taken to minimize the contact with them.
When Pastures Dry
Before the colonial rule, seasonal movement was a time-tested way to tide over the periods of drought in a particular area. Since the movement was restricted, so a large number of Maasai cattle died because of starvation and disease in the years of drought. In 1930, the Maasai in Kenya possessed 720,000 cattle, 820,000 sheep and 171,000 donkeys. Within just two years of severe drought (1933 and 1934) more than half of the cattle in Maasai Reserve died.
Not All were Equally Affected
During pre-colonial period; the Maasai society was divided into two social groups, viz. elders and warriors. The elders formed the ruling group. They met in periodic councils to decide on the affairs of the community and settle disputes. The warriors consisted of younger people who were mainly responsible for the protection of the tribe. They also organized cattle raids. Since cattle were the wealth hence raiding was an important aspect of their life.
The British introduced a series of measures to administer the affairs of the Maasai. Chiefs were appointed for different sub-groups of Maasai. The chiefs were made responsible for the affairs of the tribe. Several restrictions were imposed on raiding and warfare. This led to erosion of authority for both elders and warriors.
A chief appointed by the colonial government often accumulated wealth over time. They could now buy animals, goods and land. They also lent money to the needy. Many of them began living in towns and involved themselves in trade. Thus the chiefs became more powerful.
The poor pastoralists did not have resource to tide over the bad times. Many of them had to migrate to towns in search of livelihood. Most of them continued to do odd jobs. Some lucky ones could get regular work in road or building construction.
Thus, a new distinction between the wealthy and the poor developed in the Maasai community.