Friday, May 16, 2014

Mussolini's Battles: The Battle for Grain

A propaganda poster where Mussolini stands
in a tractor
In 1925, Benito Mussolini, a World War I veteran and a socialist turned conservative, declared himself the sole ruler of Italy. Il Duce, as he was called, became the most powerful man in the Italian Peninsula. His vision for the Italian nation was to turn it into a powerful and self-reliant states. And so, Mussolini waged series of economic battles to make Italy economically strong for his future conquest. Among the first battle had a goal to secure the supply of grain of Italy. In order to achieve self-sufficiency in grain, Mussolini announced the Battle for Grain.

Under Mussolini's rule, Italy began a policy known as autarky. With autarky, the main goal of the state was to make the nation completely independent in economic aspect. The main target was few, if not, no importation of any products from abroad. Autarky also was a preparation of Mussolini for his future ambitions. Il Duce's dream was to revive a lost glory of the Roman Empire by expanding the territories to the African continent. War would eventually become inevitable. And once the war began, trade blockades and embargoes would be imposed. Thus, it was very important for Mussolini to make Italy less dependent or independent of trade all together.

In the early 1920's, Italy had been facing terrible harvest seasons. Grain productions decreased. The decrease of supply meant the soaring of grain prices for the financially trouble Italian people. For the public image of Mussolini's government, higher prices of food meant the higher chances of dissent. As a need to answer the challenge, Mussolini announced the start of the Battle for Grains.

Under the Battle for Grain program, the government would provide several incentives for the increase of grain production. Among the first actions were to discouraged importation of grain by imposing import controls. Tariffs and quotas were made in order to prevent the enter of foreign grain products. The establishing of  controls allowed local farmers to dominated the local market. this give them the boost to produce more grain and sell more to the market. Mussolini also provided other services, such as marketing and teaching of new agricultural techniques to farmers. Mechanization was also encourage. New storage facilities, like warehouses, granaries, and mills, were built to support farmers. 

Another far reaching  action was the expansion of agricultural land made available for cultivation. The expansion of agricultural lands also involved the draining and reclamation of swamps, which was known as the Battle for Lands. For an example, the Pontine Marches near Rome was drained, reclaimed, and made open for agricultural use. Above the newly reclaimed swamps, new agricultural towns were established. For the whole of 1930's 5 new towns were founded in the area of Pontine Marches: Littoria, 1932; Pontinia, 1933; Sabaudia, 1934; Aprilia, 1937; Pomezia, 1939. In the island of Sardinia, Mussolini built a new model agricultural town for all to emulate - the town of Mussolinia (present day Arborea).

The result of the Battle of Grain were mixed. By the end of the 1930's, grain production was up by 40%. The increase was thanks to the newly founded 5,000 farms. Besides grain production, sales of tractor manufacturers increased as well. Fiat, the world renown Italian automobile manufacturer, saw an increase to sale of its Model 702. Fertilizer producers also saw soaring profits. Companies like Montecatini benefited from the Battle for Grain.

The increase of grain production, however, did not came without a price. Production of well known food stuffs of Italy decreased. It was mainly caused by the conversion of pastures and orchards into grain fields. Mostly affected were orchards of fruits, vineyards, and pastures of cows and cattle. Because of the conversion, fruit production, wine, cheese and other dairy products dropped. Thus, exports of this famous Italian products also decreased. In addition, to farmers, most particularly, those in the south, became over dependent to the import controls. it allowed them to continued their old traditional methods without needing to mechanize. This would made them vulnerable once the controls were removed.

For conclusion, the Battle of Grain allowed the Mussolini government achieve some gains and also losses. With the increase of grain production, massive dissent was prevented. When Italy attacked Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), any trade sanctions on food would be futile. The Battle of Grain also had a downside. Some farmers took advantage of the system and made them stationary and found no need to modernize and become competitive. Also, popular and high demand exports, like the Italian wine and cheeses faced a decline due to the Battle for Grain. Battle for Grain was truly a mixed blessings for Italy.
Bibliography:
Caprotti, F. Mussolini's Cities: Internal Colonialism in Italy, 1930 - 1939. New York: Cambria Press, 2007. 

Macdonald, H. Mussolini and Italian Fascism. United Kingdom: Stanley Thornes, Ltd., 1999. 

das Neves Rodrigues, A. The Worst People in History. Townley, E. Mussolini and Italy. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2002.

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