recent publications

A List of Recent Publications:


1. Ethiopia: An African Land Productivity Success Story



This paper documents Ethiopia’s rapid growth in agricultural productivity over the past twenty years, and sets it as an example for Africa—showing that rapid rates in agricultural growth have significant effects on reducing poverty. By doing so, it inherently counters arguments held by some scholars and influential foreign aid circles that Ethiopia’s agricultural growth rate has been exaggerated due to questionable data, analysis, or bias due to a period of overall good weather conditions over the last several years.

Ethiopia achieved its rapid agricultural growth rate largely through increased land productivity. At first, arable land already being farmed realized large increases in productivity, then providing secondary incentives to bring substantial areas of additional land area into cultivation. Changes in relative prices are shown to not have been significant determinants of the growth rate.

This paper’s multi-faceted approach to data analysis first reviews the institutions that have collected the data, the processes they use to do so, and assesses the likelihood of bias due to weather through applying the Sen method as a supplement to standard regressions.


Secondly, it analyzes considerable differences in growth rates for several dominantly grown cereals, and compares those divergences with productivity influencing events. Divergent trends are associated with commodity specific differences in relative price trends, disease incidence, research results, and hybrid seed production. 

Third, the paper examines components of major efforts to increase production and their correlation with the rapid growth rate. Ethiopia is the only African country to have the goal of rapid agricultural growth central both to its long-term vision for the country as well as its strategy: Agricultural Development Led Industrialization. Ethiopia is also the only African country to consistently meet or exceed the African Union’s CAADP target of 10 percent of total government expenditure allocated to agriculture. Expenditure on rural education and physical infrastructure continues to be massive by the standards of other African countries. Specifically, expenditures on improved seed production and fertilizer adoption have resulted in extraordinarily high growth rates due to these inputs.

The paper concludes with recommendations for how other African countries could emulate the Ethiopian experience. 

“Ethiopia achieved its rapid agricultural growth rate largely through increased land productivity. ”


2. The Impact of Growth in Small Commercial Farm Productivity on Rural Poverty Reduction

(with Sohail Malik), World Development, March, 2017



Our core thesis is that in both low- and middle-income countries, rapid growth in agricultural production and income among small commercial farmers is the dominant means of reducing rural poverty. This effect is generated from increased expenditures from smaller commercial farmers on the poor, labor-intensive, non-tradable, rural non-farm sector, thereby increasing incomes for the rural non-farm population and reducing poverty levels. We illustrate the relationship between small commercial farmers, rural non-farm households, large commercial farmers, and urban households in three contrasting situations.

First, we analyze Punjab, Pakistan, a middle-income province with a large urban sector, dominance of small commercial farms in the local economy and significant land area managed by large commercial farms. Second, we analyze Sindh, Pakistan, a middle-income province with a large urban population and dominated in rural areas by large feudal holdings, but with a significant small commercial farm component. Third, we analyze data from Ethiopia, a low-income country with a relatively small urban sector and dominated by small commercial farms.

In the two middle-income provinces of Pakistan, the role that agriculture plays in income determination is much less than the urban sector, but it maintains a dominant role in rural poverty determination. In Ethiopia, the low-income country, agricultural growth is a dominant variable both in income growth and poverty reduction—accounting for 73% of employment growth in the fast agricultural growth case. Large-scale commercial farms show little impact of agricultural growth on poverty reduction as compared to areas dominated by small commercial farms, partly because of their small...


3. High Rural Population Density Africa –
What are the Growth Requirements
and Who Participates?

Food Policy, Special Issue on High Population Density Africa, Spring 2014



A large and increasing proportion of agricultural growth in Africa must come from continuous gains in land productivity in areas of high population density and hence with already relatively high yields. What that requires is analogous to the green revolution in Asia. Several features differentiate the African situation. Those include greater diversity in cropping pattern including a historically larger and more widespread tropical commodity export sector. The physical infrastructure in rural Africa is far inferior to that of most Asian countries. 

While the greater diversity of agriculture calls for a larger and more diverse institutional structure the reality is that the research systems, the ancillary education systems to spread innovation and the rural financial systems are generally greatly inferior to those of Asia at the beginning of the green revolution.

Ethiopia’s record of a steady six to seven percent growth for agriculture and nearly halving of rural poverty demonstrates that with the right policies and investments a very poor country starting with poor physical and institutional infrastructure can bring a major contribution from agriculture growth to increased GDP and reduced poverty. As in Asia, the bulk of accelerated agricultural growth will come from small commercial farmers. They have sufficient farm income to reach or exceed the poverty level. Those are farms with, depending on the country, as little as 0.75 hectares to a few tens of hectares of land. They comprise up to half the rural population and produce on the order of 70–80 percent of agricultural output. They are in general not poor. The poor have inadequate land to reach the poverty level, initially with much underemployment, and with substantial non-farm...

As in Asia, the bulk of accelerated agricultural growth will come from small commercial farmers.

4. Why Agriculture Remains a Viable Means of Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa:
The Case of Ethiopia

(with Paul Dorosh) Development Policy Review, July 2013



Although there is much empirical evidence of the importance of agriculture led economic growth, there is a renewed emphasis in development circles on the industrial sector as the main driver of growth, even for the low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa. This paper from Ethiopia applies a simplified model of agricultural growth linkages to illustrate the importance of agricultural growth for increasing employment and accelerating poverty reduction in Ethiopia. Achieving rapid agricultural growth, however, will require engagement of the small commercial farmer -- farmers large enough to adopt new technologies and produce significant marketed surplus, but small and numerous enough to have spending patterns that drive a large, vibrant rural non-farm sector. 


There is a long history in development economics emphasizing industrial growth (Lewis, 1954; Hirschman, 1958) rather than agricultural growth as the major driver of economic development.1 Historically, this view has been associated with a deep pessimism about the potential for gains in agricultural productivity and adequate demand for agricultural products. Gains in industrial productivity and output, in contrast, could be achieved by increased capital investment and technical change.

Subsequently, arguments developed in favour of agriculture led development. Johnston and Mellor (1961) elucidated key channels by which the agricultural sector in developing countries... 


5. Why Does Agricultural Growth Dominate Poverty Reduction in Low and Middle Income Countries?

(with Chandrasekhar Ranade) The Pakistan Development Review, Summer, 2006



This paper provides an explanation of the relation between agricultural growth and poverty reduction for open economies with full employment. The analysis also shows that the poverty-reducing impact of agricultural growth in an open economy is far greater if there is unemployed labour or if the supply of labour is highly elastic— conditions often thought to prevail even in open economies.

The model draws attention to the critical role of the rural non-tradable sector in poverty reduction. While ample data are available to show that sector to have a large share of employment, even relative to agriculture itself, data for other variables for the sector such as the share of GDP, labour intensity, price, and income elasticities of demand are not available. Thus, an important contribution of the paper is to establish the need for such data if the processes of poverty reduction are to be understood.

The analysis also shows that the poverty-reducing impact of agricultural growth in an open economy is far greater if there is unemployed labour or if the supply of labour is highly elastic— conditions often thought to prevail even in open economies.