Battle for Grain
When Benito Mussolini took over as Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 the economy was in a bad state following World War I. Between 1922 and 1925, the financial and economic situation generally improved dramatically and this helped to increase the power of Italy, who strived to be one of the world's leading countries. But in order to continue their development Mussolini decided that Italy needed to become near enough self-sufficient rather than greatly relying upon foreign imports, particularly of grain. The way that this happened was through the "Battle for Grain".
The policy had a number of aims. These comprised:
- to boost cereal production to make Italy self-sufficient in grain
- to reduce the balance of trade deficit
- to lower the necessity for foreign imports of bread
- to show Italy as a major power
The policy was first put into practice in 1925 when high tariffs were placed on imported bread in a similar way to the Corn Laws in Britain during the 19th century. By doing this they hoped that Italians would need to produce more of their own bread instead of relying on cheap imports. Land which had not been used for years and was infertile was now utilised, however it was very expensive to farm. The government also gave grants to those farmers who were producing crops to buy machinery and fertiliser.
The policy had both positive and negative effects for Italy. On the positive side, cereal production doubled from 1922 to 1939 and by 1940 they had become more or less self-sufficient at cereal production; wheat imports went down by 75% in the years 1925-1935. The increased protection on Italian crops was a benefit to the farmers and grain producers, especially the inefficient landowners in the poor south who were offered a guaranteed price for their crops.
However the rearing of animals and growing of vines (other vital aspects of agriculture) did not happen as much as a result of the focus on grain. The self-sufficiency did not stretch to fertilizers and this was a problem in World War II when imports of natural and chemical fertilizers were cut. The cost of bread to the everyday Italian rose sharply and the quality of their diet was reduced.
- "Fascist Italy" by John Hite
- "Mussolini" by Denis Mack Smith