As was indicated above, Banaras is situated in a zone that Bayly has termed agriculturally "stable." During Akbar's time the region was known to be productive, and records indicated that urbanization induced substantial increases in cultivated area during the seventeenth century. In the 1820s Hamilton and Heber noted continued extension of cultivation, increased demand and high prices of cropland, and shortage of grazing land. By 1848 Shakespear reported in his statistical survey that 71 percent of the district's area (181,000 hectare) was culti-
vated (Shakespear 1848: 154; Heber 1828:255; Bayly 1983:76; Sinha 1974). Although Hamilton's and Shakespear's figures can hardly be considered accurate, it is probable that cultivation did increase throughout the region during this period.
Given the high proportion of sown acreage, further extension was limited. A survey in 1878–1882 showed a mere 2.4 percent increase in sown area. In the district gazetteer Nevill considered even this small gain illusory, attributing it to previous underreporting of terrains in the Ganges floodplain. The reported total remained essentially stable through the rest of the century, prompting speculation that the limits of cultivation had been attained. As late as 1931 cultivated area stood officially at 74.7 percent of total area (Nevill 1909a:31–32; Ganguli 1938:6).
From the beginning of British rule, then, agriculture seemingly occupied most of the arable terrain. Cultivation, as was shown, was being extended to its limits. Two additional developments may be noted; irrigated area was increasing, and more and more land was being double-cropped. Heber, on his approach to Banaras, observed that the country was "imperfectly" irrigated. Certainly he saw no canals, for there were none. The topography of this portion of the Gangetic plain has not been conducive to canal irrigation. First, the large rivers lay too far below their adjoining banks. And in some places outlying water-deficient areas were at higher elevations than the rivers. In the absence of canals, growers employed floodwater, jhil s[*] , tanks, and wells to irrigate their crops. The earliest semireliable estimates of irrigated area are from the late 1880s. From then to the end of the century, one-quarter to two-fifths of cultivated land (40,000 to 64,000 hectares) reportedly was irrigated, depending on annual rainfall—the less rain, the more irrigation (Nevill 1909a:42–43; Administration Report 1896–97:6).
In contrast to the early extension of cultivation and irrigation, double-cropping remained uncommon until the latter part of the century. Shakespear fails to mention this mode of farming. Nevill, without indicating the source for his estimates, lists the 1840 double-cropped area as a mere 2,700 hectares (1.7 percent of cultivated area). By 1886, according to his data, the acreage had risen twelvefold, to 34,000 hectares (21.3 percent of cultivated area). If subsequent figures are indicative of general trends, this area fluctuated widely each year. In the four growing years beginning in 1896–97, 31,000, 24,000, 37,000 and 35,000 hectares were reported to be double-cropped. Like irrigated areas,
these areas varied in proportion to annual rainfall, and observers have noted a close correspondence between irrigation and double-cropping (Nevill 1909a:32–33; Administration Reports 1896–1900:6; Ganguli 1938:45). Since both practices were associated with improved yields, exaggerated reported increases may have served to illustrate progress under British rule.
The crops grown in Banaras were typical for the region. Fertile soil, good drainage, and adequate rainfall enabled rice cultivation. Rice remained the leading crop throughout the century, covering as much as two-fifths of the terrain sown in the autumn (kharif[*] ). Barley was the next most common superior grain, followed by inferior grains and pulses (jowar[*], bajra[*] , peas, gram , and arhar ). In addition to grains and pulses, major crops were sugarcane, which decreased in importance, opium, fodder, fruits, and vegetables (Nevill 1909a:34–41; Administration Reports 1896–1900:6).
Livestock, an important component of the agricultural system, were not generally bred locally, but were imported and purchased at fairs. Although pastureland was limited, the numbers were nevertheless great. Cattle were not enumerated until the end of the century; by then the census listed some quarter million bulls, bullocks, cows, buffalos, and calves. Another 100,000 sheep, goats, mules, donkeys, and horses made up the remaining livestock population. Changes in this population are difficult to estimate, but Nevill believed that the number of goats and sheep had declined, mostly because of extended cultivation (Nevill 1909a: 19–21; Administration Report 1896–1900:6).