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Frontiers and sustainable economic development


  • Edward Barbier



Exploiting new resource “frontiers,” such as agricultural land and mineral reserves, is a fundamental feature of economic development in poor economies. Yet frontier-based development is symptomatic of a pattern of economy-wide resource exploitation in developing economies that: (a) generates little additional economic rents, and (b) what rents are generated are not being reinvested in other sectors. Such development is inherently unsustainable. The following paper explains this phenomenon, and provides evidence that long-run expansion of agricultural land and oil and natural gas proved reserves across poor economies is associated with lower levels of real income per capita. The paper proposes a frontier expansion hypothesis to explain why the structural economic dependence of these economies on frontier land expansion and resource exploitation is not conducive to sustained long-run growth. The key to sustainable economic development in poor economies will be improving the economic integration between frontier and other sectors of the economy, targeting policies to improved resource management in frontier areas and overcoming problems of corruption and rent-seeking in resource sectors. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Suggested Citation

  • Edward Barbier, 2007. "Frontiers and sustainable economic development," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 37(1), pages 271-295, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:enreec:v:37:y:2007:i:1:p:271-295
    DOI: 10.1007/s10640-007-9120-9

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Krystof Obidzinski & Ahmad Dermawan & Adi Hadianto, 2014. "Oil palm plantation investments in Indonesia’s forest frontiers: limited economic multipliers and uncertain benefits for local communities," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 16(6), pages 1177-1196, December.
    2. Frankel, Jeffrey A., 2010. "The Natural Resource Curse: A Survey," Scholarly Articles 4454156, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
    3. Edward B. Barbier, 2008. "Trade, Natural Resources and Developing Countries," Chapters,in: Handbook on Trade and the Environment, chapter 5 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Frankel, Jeffrey A., 2012. "The Natural Resource Curse: A Survey of Diagnoses and Some Prescriptions," Scholarly Articles 8694932, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
    5. Jović, Srđan & Maksimović, Goran & Jovović, David, 2016. "Appraisal of natural resources rents and economic development," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 289-291.
    6. Sali, Guido, 2012. "Agricultural Land Consumption in Developed Countries," 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 126431, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    7. Frank Convery, 2007. "Making a difference — how environmental economists can influence the policy process — a case study of David W Pearce," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 37(1), pages 7-32, May.

    More about this item


    Economic development; Frontier; Natural capital; Natural resources; Resource-abundant economies; Sustainable development; O13; O41; Q32; Q33;

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models
    • Q32 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Exhaustible Resources and Economic Development
    • Q33 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Resource Booms (Dutch Disease)


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