How did British colonial rule affect Indian agriculture?

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Like so many other sectors of domestic industry, Indian agriculture was decimated by British colonialism. In order to protect and strengthen colonial rule, the British created an artificial class system in the Indian countryside in the hopes that a new class of landlords would act as a reliable political foundation for the Raj.

The so-called Zamindars did indeed fulfill this function, but unfortunately, they did nothing for the Indian agricultural economy. The Zamindars systematically squeezed every last penny out of the land they owned, impoverishing the local peasantry and turning them into tenants with no rights, who could thus easily be evicted from the land they had worked for generations.

As farmers were increasingly required to grow cash crops to be exported to Great Britain, much domestic agricultural produce was no longer available for use in the village, which was the foundation of Indian rural life. This had the knock-on effect of making villages less self-reliant and more vulnerable to famine in the wake of natural disasters.

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British colonial rule had the effect of commercializing Indian agriculture, but did so in a way that was harmful to Indians.  The British changed the nature and structure of an industry that 80% of Indians considered their livelihood. A new class of landlords emerged that rented the land to farmers.  Farmers began a cycle of debt that led to poverty as they were expected to give a majority of their crops to the landlord.  The landlord, in turn was expected to forward the profits to the British government.  

The British management of the Indian agricultural economy had a crippling effect. Crop yields plummeted in this inefficient system as poverty increased.  Farmers that were in poverty could not invest in better techniques to improve crop yields. Poverty also had the effect of lower energy levels and motivation which affected how farmers performed. 

The commercialization of agriculture also had an adverse effect as far as the commodities being produced.  Cash crops took the place of food production in India.  The British viewed India as a place to secure raw materials for its industries.  Indigo and cotton were big products that British companies acquired from India’s farmers for the textile industry.  After the Indians secured independence from Britain, many of the important fertile areas were partitioned to Pakistan, further crippling Indian agriculture.

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