Page images
PDF
EPUB

causes, such as pressure of population, a greater foreign demand, briskness of trade, and increased facilities of communication. These causes have enhanced prices in the past, and the lessened value in the purchasing power of the rupee will tend to render prices still higher in the future.

But again it has been urged as another argument~though, indeed, the facts of the case and its refutation lie in considerations that have been already placed before the reader—that the increasing area of land devoted to the cultivation of non-edible crops, such as oilseeds and jute, has impoverished the country in regard to its food supply, and therefore made famines more frequent in their occurrence, and more intense when they do occur. This statement is also untrue. It is not consistent with the fact that the food supply of India is still far more than sufficient for the support of the people. It is disproved by the fact that the wealth of the country has augmented in consequence of the cultivation of non-edible crops, and that the people are thereby better enabled to pay for food in periods of scarcity. For it is evident that motives of self-interest, and no other, have conduced to the greater cultivation of seeds and fibres; that is to say, that it is the high profit derived from the sale of the jute fibre, for instance, that has diverted lands from rice to jute, and thrown into the market a commodity more valuable to the world at large, and more remunerative to the producers. Those provinces of the country where the cultivation of commercial staples has been most extended are proportionately the most prosperous. The cultivation of oil-seeds, for example, has largely increased in Eastern Bengal, and the districts of this tract of country are the almost exclusive home of the jute-plant. But in no part of India has the material progress of the people been more conspicuous than it has been in this province. The testimony of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal is thus expressed on the subject in a recent speech at Calcutta. “I have,” he said, addressing an audience mostly composed of native gentlemen,

“I have just returned from visiting the eastern districts, and I may say on this occasion, when my administration is only at the commencement, what I could not well say at a later period, without seeming to seek credit for the Government of which I am the head. Great as was the progress which I knew had been made in the position of the cultivating classes, I was quite unprepared to find them occupying a position so different from that which I remembered them to occupy when I first came to the country (in 1852). They were then poor

and oppressed, with little incentive to increase the productive powers of the soil. I find them now as prosperous, as independent, and as comfortable as the peasantry, I believe, of any country in the world; well fed, well clothed, free to enjoy the full benefit of their own labours, and able to hold their own and obtain prompt redress for any wrong."

It would be difficult to cite any stronger evidence; but the present writer may, perhaps, be permitted to corroborate, from his own know

ledge, this testimony to the well-being of a peasantry who have of late years sacrificed to some extent the cultivation of food grains to that of non-edible crops, and who by so

and who by so doing, far from impoverishing the country and inviting famine, bave done much to render the occurrence of famine within their own province impossible.

The vast empire of India is thus a country sufficient within itself for its food supply. That it is self-sufficient and able to support its teeming population from its own resources is owing to the almost exclusively agricultural employment of its inhabitants. The principal source of the revenue of Government, and the principal means of subsistence of the people, are derived from the land. The most important occupation throughout the whole of India is the cultivation of land ; and of all kinds of cultivation the production of food grains assumes the foremost place. The common belief that identities India above all things with the cultivation of the rice-plant is correct. In many parts of India other food grains, such as maize or Indian corn, wheat, barley, millets, the jowar, ragee, and chumboo of Central and Southern India, gram, pease, and various pulses may supplant rice as the food grain locally consumed in the greatest quantity by the people; but rice is singular in this respect, that it is an article of universal consumption, both in the north and south, east and west, and among high and low, and it is actually cultivated far more widely and consumed far more generally than any other staple. In most places rice is the principal article of diet ; in some places it is the only food eaten, and pulse, fish, vegetables, oil, salt, and spices are only occasionally added to give the rice a relish. The rice continent of the world is Asia, and in Asia British India is preeminent as the territory where rice cultivation most widely prospers, and where rice occupies a more important place even than wheat, and oats, and rye in Europe.

At least three-fourths of the rice that finds its way into the export trade of the world are exported from British India. The following statement has been prepared to illustrate the average exports and imports of the principal producing and consuming countries of the world :

a

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

a

These figures are of course only approximate, but it is believed that they fairly represent the extent and dimensions of the rice trade in an ordinary year. The export from British India to foreign countries is estimated at more than a million tons annually. Almost the whole of the English and European supply is derived from India, as well as all the rice sent to Ceylon, the Mauritius, the West Indies, and the Gulfs. The enormous importation into China is principally derived from the ports of the Indian Archipelago.

The most important Indian export is from Calcutta. The whole of Bengal proper, or the great alluvial and deltaic plain between the IIimalayas and the Bay of Bengal, and the province of Orissa, or the alluvial territory between the hills and the sea connecting Bengal with Madras—a level area of nearly one hundred thousand square miles, uninterrupted by a single hill, rich in black mould and of boundless reproductive fertility, subject to recurrent inundation, and enjoying natural facilities such as no other country in the world possesses for internal commerce and irrigation--constitute the great rice-producing area of Northern India. Bengal is one vast rice-field. In the autumn months the whole country seems sown with rice; the early crop stands thick and yellow on the high lands, while the lower grounds are waving with a wide and unbroken sea of green. The surplus produce of this area finds its way, generally speaking, to Calcutta. In a period of unique pressure such as the present the railway is used as a means of conveyance, but ordinarily it may be said that the whole of the supply of rice is brought down along river routes. These natural communications afford every facility for transport, and nowhere in all India is internal traffic more active than it is in Bengal when the rivers are full of water, when every river is turned into a highway for the country craft, every stream into a pathway, and every creek into a harbour for boats.

From Burmah, too, there is a prodigious export of rice, exceeding even the surplus of Bengal in bulk. The amount of land under rice cultivation is increasing, and vast tracts have lately been reclaimed from waste by the Government embankments of the Irawaddy; the population is augmenting rapidly, and the demand for rice for export is of progressive growth. The consumption is extending in England, on the Continent, and in America, and as long as Burmah can manage to supply rice at a profit at rates not much above those now existing, there seems little ground for apprehending any falling-off in the demand. Almost the whole of the Burmah rice goes to Europe.

The quantity of rice that leaves Bengal for ports within British India is enormous, and forms in this respect a remarkable contrast to British Burmah. Nearly 150,000 tons go to Bombay, and some 30,000 or 40,000 tons go to Madras. Similarly Calcutta exports largely to the Persian and Arabian Gulfs, to the Mauritius, Bourbon, and the West Indies. Bengal rice finds its way wherever Bengal Coolies emigrate, and no other rice seems able to compete with it in the market. The English and European exports, on the contrary, are small, not exceeding 50,000 tons in the year, as against 400,000 or 500,000 tons from Burmah. The reason that Burmah does not supply the rice-eating countries of the world is a simple one. Although the Burmese rice is consumed in great quantities, it is not largely in demand as an article of food. Burmese rice ordinarily sells in the London markets at from 8s. to 11s. per cwt. The highest

. prices reached do not exceed 12s. Good Bengal rice, however, commands 14s. to 18s. in the market, and good Carolina, which is the finest quality of rice, has sold at 35s. to 40s. per cwt. The quality of good Burmese rice is much inferior to the quality of good Bengal rice, and in comparison' is usually considered unpalatable and rejected as food by rice-eating communities. Burmese rice is, in fact, comparatively a soft-grained rice of bad colour, and deteriorates in quality during a long sea journey. Even the best quality of rice exported to Europe from Burmah is softgrained when compared with Bengal rice, and is less in demand for the table in England. The ordinary qualities will not, apparently, stand shipment to the Gulfs, or to the Mauritius or the West Indies. Ceylon can procure Burmah rice for its own consumption as easily as it can Bengal rice, but it invariably imports Bengal rice in prefer

From their geographical vicinity, the Straits Settlements are naturally dependent on Burmah, Java, Siam, or Cochin China, and do not draw on Bengal. From similar considerations China draws on the more eastern ports of the Archipelago. But, excluding China and the Straits, it may be safely said that, as a general rule, the riceeating communities of the world are dependent on the rice exports from Bengal for their sustenance, and that the enormous supplies of British Burmah are usually converted to other uses than food. The European imports from Burmah are consumed for the most part in the manufacture of spirits and starch, and in the numerous other manufactures in the composition of which rice forms an ingredient.

Rice is, in regard to India, the most important source of the country's food supply. It is rice, and rice almost exclusively, that during the past twelve months has been imported into Madras to feed the population of the famine tracts. Statistics are not available to show what the exact import has been, but it is no exaggeration to say that the supply cannot be less than five or six hundred thousand tons sent from Bengal alone. Besides this, the total exportation of rice from British India to foreign ports during the same period has amounted to as much as 950,000 tons. The trade with foreign

ence.

ports has thus been fully equal to the average, and the fact of the margin of reserve within Bengal being sufficient to meet the heavy and extraordinary demand from Madras and Bombay, shows in a conclusive manner the immense resources that India has to fall back upon in time of need.

Of far inferior importance as a source of food in India, but comparatively of even more importance as regards the contribution it may afford to the food supply of Great Britain, is the cultivation of Indian wheat. The consumption of rice in England as an article of food is never likely to be very much larger than it is at present. But it is otherwise in the case of wheat. Wheat is the staple of food in England, and not only does the number of consumers steadily increase, but the individual consumption increases also. Under the operation of the principles of free trade, the price of wheat has fallen, and the cultivation has diminished in England by one-fifth. Great Britain is therefore more and more dependent on foreign countries for its supply of bread, and especially for the supply necessary to meet the increased demand. This subject was ably discussed by Mr. James Caird in his recent address to the Social Science Congress at Aberdeen. It was stated that in a period of sixteen years before 1868 the average rate of consumption of wheat increased, each person having, during the first eight years, used 311 lbs. of wheat, and during the last eight years 355 lbs., or in the first period five bushels and one-tenth annually, and in the last five bushels and nine-tenths. In the first of these periods, from 1852 to 1860, 232 lbs. of this were home-grown wheat, and 79 lbs. foreign. It was pointed out that these proportions had, during the last five years, undergone a great change and some increase. The home-grown wheat annually consumed by each person is now 158 lbs., and the foreign 183 lbs. This proportion has been affected by indifferent crops in England, but the tendency is plainly to an increase of imports.

The cultivation of wheat is inconsiderable in Bengal proper. The bulk of the large traffic comes not from Bengal, but from the North-Western Provinces and Behar, and although the facts are registered in Calcutta, the consequences affect Northern India generally, and not Bengal particularly. Cawnpore is the principal exporting place, and it sends entirely by rail to Calcutta. In the Behar province, however, wheat is also an important food staple, and there is a large surplus production. Bhagulpore and Monghyr are the principal wheat-producing districts in the Lower Provinces, and then come Nuddea, Moorshedabad, and Maldah, where the lands are high and the cold-weather crops of more importance than is ordinarily the case in Bengal districts. The exportable produce of the Central Provinces is large, and capable of immense expansion :

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »