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Can the world feed itself? Some insights from growth theory


  • Irz, Xavier T.
  • Roe, Terry L.


This paper develops a two-sector growth model incorporating the essential distinguishing features of agriculture, including the reliance of production on a natural resource base as well as on industrially produced inputs, the low income elasticity of demand for food and the life-sustaining function of food consumption. In this framework, the ability of an economy to supply an adequate supply of food to a growing population can be related to the existence of a steady state. This property is used to define a simple analytical criterion upon which to assess the long-term food situation of a closed economy. This sustainability condition relates all the dynamic parameters of the economy: rates of technological change in the two sectors, rate of population growth and rate of land degradation. The condition is used to highlight the technological characteristics in agriculture conducive to sustainability and to assess empirically the food situation of a number of countries. Although no global food crisis appears to be looming ahead, the data suggest that sub-Saharan Africa is likely to increase its food dependence in the future.

Suggested Citation

  • Irz, Xavier T. & Roe, Terry L., 2000. "Can the world feed itself? Some insights from growth theory," Agrekon, Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA), vol. 39(4), December.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:agreko:54213

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Maurice Schiff & Alberto Valdes, 1994. "The Plundering of Agriculture in Developing Countries," Reports _013, World Bank Latin America and the Caribean Region Department.
    2. Pinstrup-Andersen, Per & Pandya-Lorch, Rajul & Rosegrant, Mark W., 1997. "The world food situation," Food policy reports 7, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Martin, Will & Mitra, Devashish, 1999. "Productivity growth and convergence in agriculture and manufacturing," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2171, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Buruchara, Robin & Tukahirwa, J. & Kashaija, Imelda & Farrow, A. & Wanjiku, C. & Rao, KPC & Adekunle, Wale & Kwesiga, Freddie & Majaliwa, MJG & Nyamwaro, SO & Kalibwani, R. & Tenywa, MM & Lunze, L. & , 2013. "Principles, design and processes of integrated agricultural research for development: experiences and lessons from LKPLS under the SSACP," African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, African Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 8(3), September.
    2. Mohammed Mainuddin & Mac Kirby, 2009. "Agricultural productivity in the lower Mekong Basin: trends and future prospects for food security," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 1(1), pages 71-82, February.
    3. Rockstrom, J. & Karlberg, L., 2009. "Zooming in on the global hotspots of rainfed agriculture in water constrained environments," IWMI Books, Reports H041991, International Water Management Institute.
    4. Richard Tiffin & Xavier Irz, 2006. "Is agriculture the engine of growth?," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 35(1), pages 79-89, July.
    5. Dorward, Andrew & Kydd, Jonathan & Morrison, Jamie & Urey, Ian, 2004. "A Policy Agenda for Pro-Poor Agricultural Growth," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 73-89, January.
    6. Wani, S. P. & Sreedevi, T. K. & Rockstrom, J. & Ramakrishna, Y. S., 2009. "Rainfed agriculture: past trends and future prospects," IWMI Books, Reports H041990, International Water Management Institute.
    7. Rockström, Johan & Karlberg, Louise & Wani, Suhas P. & Barron, Jennie & Hatibu, Nuhu & Oweis, Theib & Bruggeman, Adriana & Farahani, Jalali & Qiang, Zhu, 2010. "Managing water in rainfed agriculture--The need for a paradigm shift," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 97(4), pages 543-550, April.

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