World Population Trends and Their Impact on Economic Development

By Dominick Salvatore | Go to book overview

11
Population Density and Farming Systems: The Changing Locus of Innovations and Technical Change

PRABHU L. PINGALI and HANS P. BINSWANGER

Rapid population growth since the turn of the century has led to an exhaustion of the land frontier in most countries across the world, causing a decline in arable land per capita. Traditional societies across the world have devised remarkably similar means of coping with reductions in per capita land availability. This chapter highlights the farmer-based and modern technological options available to societies for achieving growth in agricultural output through increases in land and labor productivity.

The farmer's means of coping with increasing population densities or increased demand for agricultural output is usually an expansion of the area under cultivation. Additional land is brought under cultivation either through a reduction in fallow periods or through the cultivation of virgin land. With the exhaustion of the land frontier, intensive cultivation of permanent fields becomes the norm. Permanent cultivation systems are characterized by land investments for terracing, drainage, and irrigation; intensive manuring systems; and a change from hand cultivation to the use of animal draft power. All of Europe and East Asia and most of South Asia made this transition to permanent cultivation of land before this century, while most of Sub-Saharan Africa is still under fallow systems today. By comparing Sub-Saharan Africa with Asia, we are able to illustrate the process of agricultural intensification and the associated changes in agricultural technology.

Farmer-generated technical change is capable of sustaining slow and steadily growing populations with modest increases in agricultural output. It appears, however, to be incapable of supporting rapidly rising agricultural populations or rapidly rising nonagricultural demand for food. It is at this stage that large- scale irrigation systems and science- and industry-based technical changes must become major sources of the rate of growth in agricultural output. State-supported large-scale irrigation systems have been in existence for centuries in China and Egypt and have become prominent in India in the late nineteenth and early

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