Urbanization in History: A Process of Dynamic Interactions

By A. M. Van Der Woude; Akira Hayami et al. | Go to book overview

9
The Impact of Crop Yields, Agricultural Productivity, and Transport Costs on Urban Growth between 1800 and 1910

PAUL BAIROCH

Département d'Histoire Économique, Universit de Genève, Gonève, Switzerland

In this chapter I shall attempt to evaluate the impact of three factors on urbanization which, while operating outside the towns, nevertheless exercised considerable influence. There is no doubt that crop yields, agricultural productivity, and transport costs each influenced the process of urbanization, and I shall estimate the relative importance of each of these factors for urbanization, particularly during the period when urbanization in the developed countries underwent the most profound changes, i.e. during the nineteenth century.

I had originally hoped to be able to carry this study further back in time, but scarcity of data on crop yields and agricultural productivity means that we can discuss the situation only in very general terms. For instance, it is likely that during the pre-industrial period the higher yield of rice compared with that of wheat was one (but not the only) factor which helps to explain the higher levels of urbanization in civilizations in which the basic staple was rice.1 The difference is substantial: it has been estimated that before the eighteenth century the yield of (paddy) rice was of the order of 13 to 16 quintals per hectare, compared with only about 6 to 7 quintals per hectare for wheat. In addition, less had to be put aside as seed for the following year: between 5 and 7 per cent of the rice crop, compared with between 18 and 20 per cent of the wheat crop. However, the non-edible fraction of paddy rice is some 33 per cent, compared with some 15 per cent for wheat. Altogether, therefore, one hectare of rice yielded more than twice as much nutritional value as one hectare of wheat, particularly when we take into account that the calorific value of rice exceeds that of wheat by some 10 per cent. One hectare of rice could, therefore, feed a population at least twice as

____________________
1
P. Bairoch, De Jéricho à Mexico. Villes et économie dans l'histoire ( Paris, 1985), esp., 21, 270, and chs. 22 and 23 of part c (451-89). An English trans. has been published, Cities and Economic Development From the Dawn of History to the Present ( Chicago, 988).

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