Economic Development and Agricultural Productivity

International Labour Review, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Economic Development and Agricultural Productivity


Bhaduri, Amit; Skarstein, Rune (eds.). Economic development and agricultural productivity. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 1997. xii + 284 pp. Tables, bibliography, index.

ISBN 1-85898-615-X.

Agricultural productivity is a fundamental factor in economic development. In predominantly agrarian economies the link is obvious and straightforward. In industrializing economies the link becomes more complex: the role of agricultural productivity in maintaining intersectoral balance assumes great importance for understanding the process of industrialization itself - not only through the supply of food, raw materials and labour, but also through the generation of demand for industrial goods and related price/cost interactions.

This book investigates the determinants of agricultural productivity and, in particular, the causes of stagnating and low agricultural productivity in developing countries. It goes beyond the traditional narrow focus on technological factors to address more complex determinants, including environmental degradation, the distribution of political power, socio-economic factors and biotechnology. The book's four main parts are respectively devoted to: (1) historical perspectives, with chapters on European property relations and agricultural productivity growth from late medieval times, and productivity and yields in developed countries from 1800 to 1990; (2) the role of the price mechanism, with two case-studies on India examining, inter alia, the interaction of trade liberalization, terms of trade and agricultural growth; (3) the influence of class relations and the role of the State, with studies on India, Latin America, Egypt and Tanzania; and (4) the ecological sustainability of agricultural productivity growth.

This last part is divided into two particularly interesting chapters. The first, on the measurement of agricultural productivity, concludes with an argument for a far more comprehensive approach than that embodied in neoclassical endeavours to "include a few modifications to conventional economics so that it measures externalities, and ... to establish criteria that allow the optimal intertemporal allocation of renewable and exhaustible resources". The answer, the author claims, lies in ecological economics which assumes, by implication at least, that the elements making up the economy are not commensurable, although they are comparable on different scales of value.

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