Agriculture, the main source of wealth to the country, is still in an extremely primitive condition. The ignorance and conservatism of the peasantry, the habits engendered by widespread insecurity and the fear of official rapacity under Turkish rule, insufficiency of communications, want of capital, and in some districts sparsity of population, have all tended to retard the development of this most important industry. The peasants cling to traditional usage, and look with suspicion on modern implements and new-fangled modes of production. The plough is of a primeval type, rotation of crops is only partially practised, and the use of manure is almost unknown. The government has sedulously endeavoured to introduce more enlightened methods and ideas by the establishment of agricultural schools, the appointment of itinerant professors and inspectors, the distribution of better kinds of seeds, improved implements, etc. Efforts have been made to improve the breeds of native cattle and horses, and stallions have been introduced from Hungary and distributed throughout the country.
Oxen and buffaloes are the principal animals of draught; the buffalo, which was apparently introduced from Asia in remote times, is much prized by the peasants for its patience and strength; it is, however, somewhat delicate and requires much care. In the eastern districts camels are also employed. The Bulgarian horses are small, but remarkably hardy, wiry and intelligent; they are as a rule unfitted for draught and cavalry purposes. The best sheep are found in the district of Karnobat in Eastern Rumelia. The number of goats in the country tends to decline, a relatively high tax being imposed on these animals owing to the injury they inflict on young trees. The average price of oxen is £5 each, draught oxen £12 the pair, buffaloes £14 the pair, cows £2, horses £6, sheep, 7s., goats 5s., each. The principal cereals are wheat, maize, rye, barley, oats and millet. The cultivation of maize is increasing in the Danubian and eastern districts. Rice-fields are found in the neighbourhood of Philippopolis. Cereals represent about 80% of the total exports. Besides grain, Bulgaria produces wine, tobacco, attar of roses, silk and cotton.
The quality of the grape is excellent, and could the peasants be induced to abandon their highly primitive mode of wine-making the Bulgarian vintages would rank among the best European growths. The tobacco, which is not of the highest quality, is grown in considerable quantities for home consumption and only an insignificant amount is exported. The best tobacco-fields in Bulgaria are on the northern slopes of Rhodope, but the southern declivity, which produces the famous Kavala growth, is more adapted to the cultivation of the plant. The rose-fields of Kazanlyk and Karlovo lie in the sheltered valleys between the Balkans and the parallel chains of the Sredna Gora and Karaja Dagh. About 6000 lb of the rose-essence is annually exported, being valued from £12 to £14 per lb. Beetroot is cultivated in the neighbourhood of Sofia. Sericulture, formerly an important industry, has declined owing to disease among the silkworms, but efforts are being made to revive it with promise of success. Cotton is grown in the southern districts of Eastern Rumelia.
Peasant proprietorship is universal, the small freeholds averaging about 18 acres each. There are scarcely any large estates owned by individuals, but some of the monasteries possess considerable domains. The large tchifliks, or farms, formerly belonging to Turkish landowners, have been divided among the peasants. The rural proprietors enjoy the right of pasturing their cattle on the common lands belonging to each village, and of cutting wood in the state forests. They live in a condition of rude comfort, and poverty is practically unknown, except in the towns. A peculiarly interesting feature in Bulgarian agricultural life is the zadruga, or house-community, a patriarchal institution apparently dating from prehistoric times. Family groups, sometimes numbering several dozen persons, dwell together on a farm in the observance of strictly communistic principles. The association is ruled by a house-father (domakin, stareïshina), and a house-mother (domakinia), who assign to the members their respective tasks. In addition to the farm work the members often practise various trades, the proceeds of which are paid into the general treasury. The community sometimes includes a priest, whose fees for baptisms, etc., augment the common fund.
The national aptitude for combination is also displayed in the associations of market gardeners (gradinarski druzhini, taifi), who in the spring leave their native districts for the purpose of cultivating gardens in the neighbourhood of some town, either in Bulgaria or abroad, returning in the autumn, when they divide the profits of the enterprise; the number of persons annually thus engaged probably exceeds 10,000. Associations for various agricultural, mining and industrial undertakings and provident societies are numerous: the handicraftsmen in the towns are organized in esnafs or gilds.