Monday, June 18, 2012

About agricultural policies in developing economies

Policy advice and intervention in the poorest developing economies are all about agricultural policy. How to increase crop yields, how to select crops, how to empower various players, how to get them onto markets. The results, overall, have been dismal: the poorest countries have grown less than the world average, thus they are getting even poorer in relative terms. The reaction to this? Thinking even harder about agricultural policy and intervention.

A recent example is a paper by Erik Jonasson, Mateusz Filipski, Jonathan Brooks and Edward Taylor that builds an elaborate model that tries to understand why some farmers do not participate in markets, which should help in specialization and reaping gains from it. They then evaluate the impact of various policies, and find some could lead to improvements in welfare, but nothing dramatic.

Yet, the most important change that should be contemplated is completely absent from this paper: getting subsistence farmers away from agriculture altogether. Obviously, they are not living in areas that are good for farming, so why to reinforce their dependence on the wrong trade. Countries with excess of labor supply should rather industrialize and import if necessary food. This is where the gains from specialization (and trade) are.

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