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Agricultural Productivity and Economic Growth


  • Gollin, Douglas


In most poor countries, large majorities of the population live in rural areas and earn their livelihoods primarily from agriculture. Many rural people in the developing world are poor, and conversely, most of the world's poor people inhabit rural areas. Agriculture also accounts for a significant fraction of the economic activity in the developing world, with some 25% of value added in poor countries coming from this sector. The sheer size of the agricultural sector implies that changes affecting agriculture have large aggregate effects. Thus, it seems reasonable that agricultural productivity growth should have significant effects on macro variables, including economic growth. But these effects can be complicated. The large size of the agricultural sector does not necessarily imply that it must be a leading sector for economic growth. In fact, agriculture in most developing countries has very low productivity relative to the rest of the economy. Expanding a low-productivity sector might not be unambiguously good for growth. Moreover, there are issues of reverse causation. Economies that experience growth in aggregate output could be the beneficiaries of good institutions or good fortune that also helps the agricultural sector. Thus, even after 50 years of research on agricultural development, there is abundant evidence for correlations between agricultural productivity increases and economic growth but little definitive evidence for a causal connection. This chapter reviews theoretical arguments and empirical evidence for the hypothesis that agricultural productivity improvements lead to economic growth in developing countries. For countries with large interior populations and limited access to international markets, agricultural development is essential for economic growth. For other countries, the importance of agriculture-led growth will depend on the relative feasibility and cost of importing food.

Suggested Citation

  • Gollin, Douglas, 2010. "Agricultural Productivity and Economic Growth," Handbook of Agricultural Economics, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:hagchp:6-73

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    Cited by:

    1. Federico Droller & Martin Fiszbein, 2019. "Staple Products, Linkages, and Development: Evidence from Argentina," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-326, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    2. Spolador, H. & Roe, T., 2018. "The agriculture TFP growth and labor allocation in the Brazilian economy," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 277483, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    3. Dorosh, Paul & Thurlow, James, 2014. "Can Cities or Towns Drive African Development? Economywide Analysis for Ethiopia and Uganda," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 113-123.
    4. Ronald Ravinesh Kumar & Radika Kumar, 2012. "Exploring sectoral elasticity vis-à-vis per worker income with a focus to agriculture: a study of Sub-Saharan Africa," African Journal of Economic and Sustainable Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 1(1), pages 27-48.
    5. repec:eee:wdevel:v:109:y:2018:i:c:p:483-496 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Bakari, Sayef, 2018. "The Impact Of Citrus Exports On Economic Growth: Empirical Analysis From Tunisia," International Journal of Food and Agricultural Economics (IJFAEC), Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University, Department of Economics and Finance, vol. 6(1), January.
    7. Briones, Roehlano & Felipe, Jesus, 2013. "Agriculture and Structural Transformation in Developing Asia: Review and Outlook," ADB Economics Working Paper Series 363, Asian Development Bank.
    8. Sayef Bakari, 2017. "The Impact of Vegetables Exports on Economic Growth in Tunisia," Economic Research Guardian, Weissberg Publishing, vol. 7(2), pages 72-87, December.
    9. UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa & Ayodele Odusola, "undated". "Agriculture, Rural Poverty and Income Inequality in sub-Saharan Africa," UNDP Africa Policy Notes 2017-05, United Nations Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Africa.
    10. Markus Eberhardt & Francis Teal, 2017. "The Magnitude of the Task Ahead: Macro Implications of Heterogeneous Technology," Discussion Papers 2017-16, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    11. repec:rac:ecchap:2017-05 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Barker, Tom & Üngör, Murat, 2019. "Vietnam: The next asian Tiger?," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 96-118.
    13. Dethier, Jean-Jacques & Effenberger, Alexandra, 2012. "Agriculture and development: A brief review of the literature," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 175-205.
    14. repec:spr:endesu:v:19:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10668-015-9755-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Odusola, Ayodele, 2017. "Agriculture, Rural Poverty and Income Inequality in sub-Saharan Africa," UNDP Africa Economists Working Papers 266998, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
    16. Kibrom A. Abay & Guush Berhane & Garrick Blalock, 2018. "Locus of Control and Technology Adoption in Africa: Evidence from Ethiopia," Working Papers PMMA 2018-04, PEP-PMMA.
    17. Marrazzo, Pasquale Marco & Terzi, Alessio, 2017. "Structural reform waves and economic growth," Working Paper Series 2111, European Central Bank.
    18. Üngör, Murat, 2013. "De-agriculturalization as a result of productivity growth in agriculture," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 119(2), pages 141-145.
    19. Conceição, Pedro & Levine, Sebastian & Lipton, Michael & Warren-Rodríguez, Alex, 2016. "Toward a food secure future: Ensuring food security for sustainable human development in Sub-Saharan Africa," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 1-9.
    20. Andersson, Martin & Rohne Till, Emelie, 2017. "Between the Engine and the Fifth Wheel: An Analytical Survey of the Shifting Roles of Agriculture in Development Theory," Lund Papers in Economic History 163, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    21. Asger Moll Wingender, 2014. "Structural transformation in the 20th century: A new database on agricultural employment around the world," Discussion Papers 14-28, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    22. Martin Fiszbein, 2017. "Agricultural Diversity, Structural Change and Long-run Development: Evidence from the U.S," NBER Working Papers 23183, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. Getahun, Tigabu & Baumüller, Heike & Nigussie, Yalemzewd, 2018. "From agricultural to economic growth: Targeting investments across Africa," Discussion Papers 271153, University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF).

    More about this item


    agricultural productivity; economic growth; economic development; structural transformation; agriculture;

    JEL classification:

    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • 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
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • Q1 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture


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