Agrarian Revolution refers to radical changes and improvements in agriculture and animal domestication
Describe the characteristics of agriculture in Western Europe before the 18th century.
Agrarian revolution started with invention and use of machines from mid 18th century, when food production increased as the number of workers on the farm reduced. By the Neolithic period, agriculture had reached Europe, particularly Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Turkey, where rice and barley were mainly grown.
The following were the characteristics of agriculture in Western Europe before the 18th century:
- Land belonged to the feudal lords, the church and the royal family
- Land was rented out to peasants, who paid by their labour
- Paths and cart tracks crisscrossed the land
- Farmers used the Broadcasting methods of planting
- Small scale farming and intercropping (growing of more than one crop on a piece of land at the same time) was practised
- Farmers practised the Open Field system
THE OPEN FIELD SYSTEM
- A piece of land was divided into three portions: one for growing corn and wheat, the second for beans, peas, barley, oats and bush wheat, while the third was left fallow to regain fertility. Sometimes, this third piece was left for grazing and homes.
- Each portion of land was divided into several strips, depending on the number of peasants in a village.
- Each peasant had his own strip, on which he was meant to cultivate just enough for the needs of his family since agriculture had not yet been commercialized.
- It did not allow efficient farming as land was not fully utilized.
- Division of land into small strips discouraged use of farm machinery.
- The existence of fallow pieces of land, cart tracks and paths that went through the unfenced fields wasted land.
- It was difficult to control diseases or to practise selective breeding since livestock grazed together.
- The broadcasting method of planting led to wastage of seeds as some were eaten by birds and rodents.
- Families had to travel long distances to reach their fields as pieces of land were scattered all over.
- Agricultural yield was low and could not meet the growing urban population‟s food demand.
AGRARIAN REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN
The changes that marked the Agrarian Revolution in Britain. (What were the characteristics of the agrarian revolution in Britain?)
- The land enclosure system (fencing and hedging of plots), which replaced the Open Field system in 1750.
- Mechanization, i.e. use of new farming methods, which required large farms as opposed to the previous small strips.
- Abolition of fallows. Farmers could no longer leave the land fallow to regain its fertility as was the tradition. Increase in population meant demand for more food, which required most of the land to be put to use.
- Introduction of crop rotation. Lord Viscount Townsend developed a four-course rotation system called the Norfolk, which consisted of barley, clover, turnips and wheat on the same plot of land over a four-year period, by which land retained or gained but would not lose its fertility.
- The introduction of intercropping. It was discovered that growing crops like maize and beans on a given piece of land at the same time enabled land to regain fertility, since such crops did not require the same nutrients from the soil and they gre w well if planted together.
- Use of fertilizer. This was pioneered by Lord Viscount Townsend, who recommended manuring of land to increase yields per hectare.
- Use of machines. This changed agriculture from a small scale subsistence activity to a large scale business for both subsistence and commercial purposes.
- Selective breeding of livestock. This was invented between 1725-1795 by Robert Bakewell.
- Introduction and all-time availability of cattle feed, which helped ensure supply of fresh meat all the year round.
- New improved cattle breeds like Devon, the Shorthorn, Hereford, Ayrshire and Aberdeen Angus
- Sheep breeds such as the Leicester, Shropshire, Suffolk and Oxford.
- Pig breeds like Yorkshire, Berkshire and Tamworth
- Jethro Tull’s invention of the Seed Drill and the horse -drawn hoe in 1791,, with which seeds could be sown in rows, which eased inter row cropping and kept the land between the rows clean.
- Introduction of the Iron plough in place of the wooden plough in 1825.
- Formation of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1838, which publicised new ideas and techniques of farming all over Britain. This encouraged adoption of modern methods of farming.
- Opening of a super phosphates factory in London in 1843 by Sir john Bennet Lawes, following the earlier discovery by scientists that Nitrogen Phosphorus (in phosphates) and Potassium (in Potash) are nutrients for all plants.
- Andrew Meikle's’ invention of the Mechanical Thresher in 1876, which improved Patrick Bell’s earlier invention of the Mechanical Reaper, which replaced the sickle in harvesting corn. A Binder was added to the reaper so that corn was cut and bound at the same time. Other modern machines like tractors and the combined harvester could reap and thresh corn simultaneously.
THE LAND ENCLOSURE SYSTEM
- It was necessitated by use of new farming methods that required large farms as opposed to the previous small strips
- Rich farmers bought up all the land and, through the Enclosure Movement, demanded that land be enclosed by fencing
- Through the Enclosure act of 1750, the British government mandated farmers to fence their land. This enabled the rich to acquire a lot more land and created large farms that were easily managed as farmers could specialize in crop or animal production, which was highly profitable
- The farmers that bought up the land got title deeds, which they could use to borrow money from firms to improve their farms
- Peasants, who could not buy their own estates were evicted from and lost their land, which was sold off to rich landlords
- There was displacement and a lot more hardship for those who lost their land as they had to sell their labour to the rich farmers and to the factories in the urban as others emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
- There were many changes in lifestyle as agriculture was transformed from a simple human occupation to a complex highly profitable business
- Fallow land was cultivated and wasteland reclaimed. Food could now be grown round the year due to increased irrigation
- Cultivation methods and equipment improved, which meant adequate and surplus food production
- By 1800, all farmland in Britain was enclosed, which greatly reduced the risk of animal and crop diseases. Aggressive farmers could now increase production without the hindrance of their neighbours
- Improved farming methods, which led to increased food production.
- Population increase as food was abundant. Life expectancy was higher too.
- A large variety of crops e.g. clover, potatoes, beans, maize, vegetables and citrus fruits.
- New animal breeds such as the Friesian cow as well as Leicester and Suffolk sheep, among others.
- large scale farming in place of subsistence farming.
- Mechanization of farming as cultivation of large farms was adopted.
- Rural-urban migration as peasants were compelled by the Enclosure movement to sell their land to rich farmers.
- Availability of raw materials required in the agro based industries, thus contributing to the industrial revolution.
- Expansion of both local and international trade
- Expansion of the transport network.
- Enhancement of research and scientific innovations.
- Migration of some of the landless to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other places overseas.
- Minimization of pests, diseases and epidemics.
- High standard of life, particularly for farmers due to increased agricultural income.
- Availability of food and feeds round the year.
- British culture was spread and administered overseas.
- Emergence and growth of more and more urban centres due to rise of a non-food producing population
- Land was concentrated in the hands of a few rich people, leaving the wider majority under poverty and insecurity due to forced sales of their land.
- The fact that work, for which those who lost their land had to look, was not easy to find, for the landless outnumbered the landlords by a greater margin.
- Most of those who migrated overseas died due to exposure to strange climates.
- Some of the emergent non-food producing population indulged into permissive and unbecoming behaviour, a lot of which remains to date.
- Some fertilizer and pesticides, such as DDT, became destructive to the environment.
- Urban centres were overcrowded, with poor living conditions due to influx of poor landless peasants into towns.
- The idea of colonization stems from Agrarian revolution since almost all places where British emigrants went to after the Agrarian Revolution, such as the USA, Canada, Australia,, New Zealand, South Africa, etc became British colonies
AGRARIAN REVOLUTION IN CONTINENTAL EUROPE
- The French were affected by frequent wars
- Italy was restricted to Spain, which was prospecting for minerals in South America
- Holland, Denmark and Germany were involved in large scale world trade, which was more profitable at that time
- Continental European farmers went for practical scientific and agricultural research in England
- Continental European countries imported new crops from the Americas
- Agricultural science and research were advanced, leading to a fivefold increase in yields. for instance, soil was fertilized with phosphates -rich Guano from the pacific islands and nitrates from Chile
- More advances were made in medical sciences
- Continental European farmers improved livestock breeding through scientific practices. Today, continental Europe is known for their high quality animals, e.g. the Friesian cow from Holland
- Subtropical citrus fruits
- Louis Pasteur made great advances in the control of plant and animal diseases. He discovered that most diseases are caused by bacteria and therefore sterilization of food such as milk through boiling can help keep it fresh and bacteria free for long periods.
- Justus Von Liebig from Germany, urged for greater reliance on agricultural chemistry.
- Adequate food supply to manufacturing towns and cities.
- Introduction and use of farm machinery, which compelled people to seek employment in industries.
- Rural-urban migration, which provided ample labour for factories and industries.
- Adequate and surplus food production due to improved agricultural methods.
- Improved living standards, with higher life expectancy due to efficiency and better health standards.
- Doubling of the European population due to general peace, stability and medical care.
- Emergence of a non-food producing population, which took up industrial and other jobs.
- Eventual establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC), which always has surplus food and has virtually advanced in export trade due to highly mechanized and scientific farming