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When do Agricultural Exports Help the Rural Poor? A Political-Economy Approach

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  • R. Albert Berry

Abstract

Agricultural exports have been touted by a number of economists as having important potential to alleviate rural poverty, and poverty more generally since much of it is rural, in developing countries. The logic of this view lies in the ideas that (a) many agricultural export products are relatively labour intensive in production and that in many countries the until-recently-prevailing import substitution strategies have penalized agriculture. Moving to a freer trade regime removes the implicit tax on the sector and should loose its growth potential with resulting benefits for workers and small holders. This view, plausible enough from one perspective, flies in the face of much historical evidence that as new agricultural exports become an option, peasant groups are pushed off the lands they previously operated so that large-scale farmers can dedicate it to export use. This process has yielded much conflict and violence, and rather than helping the rural poor has often made them worse off. Predicting whether agricultural exports will help the rural poor thus involves judging whether the reality in a given situation is closer to the first cited model or to the second one. At present fruit and vegetable exports offer hope of strong employment creation in a number of developing countries, though total trade figures suggest that these products cannot by themselves pull up the rural poor in larger developing countries.

Suggested Citation

  • R. Albert Berry, 1998. "When do Agricultural Exports Help the Rural Poor? A Political-Economy Approach," Working Papers berry-98-02, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:berry-98-02
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Prebisch, Raúl, 1950. "The economic development of Latin America and its principal problems," Sede de la CEPAL en Santiago (Estudios e Investigaciones) 29973, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    2. Maizels, Alfred, 1994. "The continuing commodity crisis of developing countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 22(11), pages 1685-1695, November.
    3. Williamson, Jeffrey G, 1997. "Globalization and Inequality, Past and Present," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 12(2), pages 117-135, August.
    4. Glover, David J., 1987. "Increasing the benefits to smallholders from contract farming: Problems for farmers' organizations and policy makers," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 441-448, April.
    5. Altimir, Oscar, 1994. "Income distribution and poverty through crisis and adjustment," Revista CEPAL, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), April.
    6. Maxwell, Simon & Fernando, Adrian, 1989. "Cash crops in developing countries: The issues, the facts, the policies," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 17(11), pages 1677-1708, November.
    7. R. Albert Berry, 1998. "Agrarian Reform, Land Distribution, and Small-Farm Policy as Preventive of Humanitarian Emergencies," Working Papers berry-98-03, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    8. von Braun, Joachim & Hotchkiss, David & Immink, Maarten D. C., 1989. "Nontraditional export crops in Guatemala: effects on production, consumption, and nutrition," Research reports 73, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    9. Goldsmith, Arthur, 1985. "The private sector and rural development: Can agribusiness help the small farmer?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 13(10-11), pages 1125-1138.
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    JEL classification:

    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General

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