The other global crisis : combating the food and humanitarian crisis

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

International Journal

Publication Date

Spring 1-1-2009





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[Theodore W Schultz]'s analysis of the development potential of agriculture was based on the so-called "disequilibrium approach." Specifically, he argued that it was the gap between, on the one hand, traditional production methods, and on the other, more effective modern methods, that creates the conditions necessary for dynamic development. Using this approach, Schultz not only presented a sharp critique of developing countries' pro-industrialization or "urban-biased" policies and their neglect of agriculture, but also challenged the prevailing view (notably that of W. Arthur Lewis) in arguing that labour in traditional agriculture is, in fact, efficient. That is, peasants in poor countries are rational decision-makers who make the best of the resources at hand. They remain poor because most developing countries provide them with only limited technical and economic opportunities to which they can respond. Schultz saw the peasants as both "poor but efficient" and "efficient but poor." Fortunately, he believed, a "high-payoff" growth in agriculture could be achieved if the capacity of the agricultural research system to provide new "location-specific" technical knowledge was enhanced; the capacity of the industrial system to develop, produce, and market "green-revolution" technical inputs (which included a "package" of improved - high-yielding seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides) employed in agriculture were developed; the government removed market imperfections in the supply of agricultural research and development and in the diffusion of technologies; and investment was made in education to enhance the capacity of farmers to use modern inputs effectively and to adjust to market forces. The green-revolution not only averted a major food crisis and a potential Malthusian-type famine, but it contributed much to alleviating hunger and reducing poverty. Inflation-adjusted prices of rice and wheat fell by 30-40 percent between 1970 and 1997. In Asia, real per capita incomes almost doubled between 1970 and 1995, and poverty declined from nearly three out of every five Asians in 1975 to less than one in three by 1995.16 Overall, higher crop yields reduced both the number of the rural poor and the severity of rural poverty in many parts of south Asia. On the other hand, a vast body of research has attributed the pervasive agricultural stagnation in sub-Saharan Africa to the region's failure to reap the bounty of green-revolution technology and modern farming methods. That is, unlike much of Asia and parts of Latin America, growth-accounting exercises show that the adoption of green-revolution technologies in sub-Saharan Africa was not accompanied by increased investment in infrastructure (especially roads and irrigation networks) and fertilizer use. This suggests high levels of market imperfections and associated transaction costs as a major factor. Others have highlighted the "land frontier" hypothesis, implying that as long as low-cost OO JL ' JT / O O cropland expansion is feasible, African countries do not make the necessary investment in agricultural modernization. Still others, most notably Jeffrey Sachs and his co-authors, have argued that green-revolution technology has not been easily transferable to conditions in Africa.17 Most Africans south of the Sahara live and work in the interior of the continent, where the few natural waterways, unpredictable and erratic rainfall, and lack of infrastructure to manage the available water resources make it extremely difficult to adopt the modern technologies successfully. They note that the share of Africa's agricultural land that is irrigated is one-twentieth that of other developing countries and African farmers use only six percent as much fertilizer per acre. Furthermore, the region's relative isolation from global markets, poor infrastructure, and very high transport costs make the use of the green -re volution technologies uneconomic. The near collapse of agriculture in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the results - periodic famine, perennial food shortages, higher prices of what is available, and tragic toll on human lives - underscore the importance of investment in agricultural and rural development.



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Recommended Citation

Sharma, S. D. (2009). The other global crisis: Combating the food and humanitarian crisis. International Journal, 64(2), 501-520. doi: 10.1177/002070200906400210