Feeding the World

Feeding the World: An Economic History of Agriculture, 1800-2000

Giovanni Federico
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rh71
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  • Book Info
    Feeding the World
    Book Description:

    In the last two centuries, agriculture has been an outstanding, if somewhat neglected, success story. Agriculture has fed an ever-growing population with an increasing variety of products at falling prices, even as it has released a growing number of workers to the rest of the economy. This book, a comprehensive history of world agriculture during this period, explains how these feats were accomplished.

    Feeding the Worldsynthesizes two hundred years of agricultural development throughout the world, providing all essential data and extensive references to the literature. It covers, systematically, all the factors that have affected agricultural performance: environment, accumulation of inputs, technical progress, institutional change, commercialization, agricultural policies, and more. The last chapter discusses the contribution of agriculture to modern economic growth. The book is global in its reach and analysis, and represents a grand synthesis of an enormous topic.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3772-4
    Subjects: Economics, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Chapter One INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    Agriculture has always been absolutely necessary for the very survival of humankind. For centuries, it has provided people with food, clothing, and heating, and it has employed most of the total active population. Nowadays, we dress mainly in artificial and synthetic fibers and heat themselves with fossil fuels, but the primary sector still supplies all the food we need. The available projections suggest that the world population will grow further in the next decades, while the nutritional status of the world poor must improve. Thus, agricultural production has to rise, and it has to rise with little or no further...

  7. Chapter Two WHY IS AGRICULTURE DIFFERENT?
    (pp. 5-15)

    The relationship with environment has always been a distinctive feature of agriculture, but its nature has changed deeply in the recent decades.¹ The current worries about the impact of agriculture on the environment would have greatly surprised a nineteenth-century American farmer, and probably an Indian one in the present day, too. The experience led them to consider nature as an enemy: he had to fight for survival against pests, weather, and diseases with inadequate tools and poor knowledge. Agricultural land itself is a product of human ingenuity: generations have toiled to convert marshes, forests, and prairies into fields and meadows....

  8. Chapter Three TRENDS IN THE LONG RUN
    (pp. 16-30)

    The starting point of the analysis must be a review of long-term trends. How much did total and per capita agricultural production grow? Did the composition of output change? Did the prices of agricultural product rise or fall relative to the prices of other goods and services? How much did trade in agricultural product grow in the long run? The key to answering these questions must be provided by national data series. Price data, especially for staples as rice in Asia or wheat in Europe, are fairly abundant from the early modern period, as the political authorities closely monitored the...

  9. Chapter Four PATTERNS OF GROWTH: THE INPUTS
    (pp. 31-68)

    Measuring the growth of inputs is far from easy because the data are incomplete. The available sources refer mostly to stocks (number of workers, acreage, capital, etc.), while one would need data on flows of services. This causes potential biases, which should be considered whenever possible. Furthermore, the coverage varies by country, factor, and period. The data on capital are particularly scarce: there are no aggregate data even for recent years, and thus it is necessary to present data by item. The data on the stock of land and labor are more abundant, since the FAO provides a comprehensive set...

  10. Chapter Five THE CAUSES OF GROWTH: THE INCREASE IN PRODUCTIVITY
    (pp. 69-82)

    Chapter 3 has shown that world agricultural production increased quite considerably, especially after World War II. In contrast, the growth of inputs, although quite fast until 1914, slowed down remarkably afterward. In many countries, the quantity of labor fell. Thus, the overall productivity must have risen. This increase is often proxied with the production per unit of land (or per unit of seed) or per unit of labor.¹ These partial measures are quite popular among historians and economists because they are relatively easy to compute. Furthermore, output per worker has a straightforward economic interpretation: if the activity rate does not...

  11. Chapter Six TECHNICAL PROGRESS IN AGRICULTURE
    (pp. 83-116)

    Technical progress has always attracted the attention of economists and economic historians as the key to sustained economic growth. As a result, theories on its causes abound, but none of them really seems suited to explain the whole process, nor can they take the specificity of agriculture into account. It would be pointless to discuss the economic theory of technical progress here. We will focus on two competing interpretations of technical change in agriculture: a loosely defined “modernization” or “diffusion” approach, and the “neoclassical” models of Boserup (1951) and of Hayami and Ruttan (1985).

    The “modernization” approach was very popular...

  12. Chapter Seven THE MICROECONOMICS OF AGRICULTURAL INSTITUTIONS
    (pp. 117-142)

    In theory, agricultural households could be completely self-sufficient if they were ready to work very hard and to accept a very low living standard. They can obtain much more by interacting with other households, and pooling or exchanging factors of production and goods. These interactions need a set of formal or informal rules to determine the initial ownership of the goods and factors (property rights) and to regulate the exchanges (contracts, markets, and other forms of distribution). This chapter aims at understanding how these rules (“institutions”) work and why they change. Agrarian historians and economists have, or used to have,...

  13. Chapter Eight AGRICULTURAL INSTITUTIONS AND GROWTH
    (pp. 143-186)

    Understanding how agricultural institutions work from a “theoretical” point of view is interesting and important for its own sake, but is it also a preliminary step to tackling the really big issues. How did institutions change in the long run? What caused the change? And, last but surely not least, how much did institutional change affect agricultural performance? Did institutions adjust to the need of agriculture or did they evolve independently, possibly slowing down growth?

    This chapter addresses these basic issues. The first section describes the establishment of “modern” property rights separately on labor (the abolition of slavery and serfdom)...

  14. Chapter Nine THE STATE AND THE MARKET
    (pp. 187-220)

    The nature of agricultural policies has changed dramatically in the past two centuries. Traditional states followed a policy of benign neglect, limiting themselves to extract men and money for their political pursuit, and to arrange the supply of as much food as possible to the urban population. In contrast, nowadays, as G. Libecap (1998, 181) points out at the beginning of his review of long-term changes in American policy, “Agriculture is among the most regulated sectors of the American economy. The production and sale of almost all its commodities are affected by some government policy through a complex mix of...

  15. Chapter Ten CONCLUSIONS: AGRICULTURE AND ECONOMIC GROWTH IN THE LONG RUN
    (pp. 221-232)

    The results of this book can be summarized in fifteen stylized facts:

    1. Output has increased in the long run, enough to provide more food per capita to a population six times greater than that of 1800.

    2. The relative prices of agricultural products rose until the 1850s and remained constant or declined slightly (depending on the series) from then on.

    3. The quantity of all factors grew quite fast until the early twentieth century; after (about) 1950, the growth of capital continued unabated, while those of land and labor slowed down.

    4. The growth in Total Factor Productivity accelerated...

  16. STATISTICAL APPENDIX
    (pp. 233-250)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 251-324)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 325-380)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 381-388)