Agriculture and Development – Biology Essay

Agriculture and Development – Biology Essay
Agriculture is in many parts of the world the main source of food and income of households. The role that agriculture plays in development has been debated during the last decades and the views about it are very diverse.

Today, many authors consider agriculture as an essential factor for development and an important instrument for poverty alleviation. In my opinion access to land and water is an indispensable condition to ensure the livelihood of the poor. The current market conditions and the economic liberalisation process make it difficult for small farmers to compete with the international sphere, which led many people to move out of agriculture. Also, the market-driven economy has serious environmental consequences, which leads to the investment in the research of more sustainable agriculture methods. The question is if poor farmers will be able to acquire the new technologies and to adapt themselves to the new market conditions. In this essay larger participation of the rural poor, particularly of women, in the research of new agriculture technologies appears as a necessary condition for development.

The case of Ghana is chosen in this essay to provide examples of how the main learning points of Chris Garforth’s presentation can be applied to real situations in the developing world.

1. Different views about Agriculture and Development.

The theory about the role of agriculture in development presents currently different versions, as it was seen in Chris Garforth’s POD presentation. For some authors agriculture is a provider of raw material for the rest of the economic sectors and it is seen as a mere contributor to fuel economic development. This simplistic vision contrast with that of those who see agriculture as a essential instrument for industrialisation, allowing the transfer of capital to urban areas, stimulating the market and, thus, resulting in economic development.

According to Norton (2004), most of economic theories of the last 50 years support industrialisation as the basis of economic development. Many governments supporting this theory saw liberalisation of agricultural goods as the key for economic growth, without taking into account the effect of dependency that the new system would create. Imports from foreign countries and long-term subsides, which stopped the development of some industrial sectors, created in developing countries strong links of dependency on others more powerful countries. Norton (2004) presents the case of Argentina as an example of this, whose imports substitution become one of the main important reason for the economic crisis that it is suffering today.

One of the hottest topics related to the study of the agriculture’s role in development is if agriculture growth contributes or not to poverty reduction. Doward (2004) stresses two different views between those who think that it is necessary to find new alternative routes to poverty alleviation, due to the risks and constraints associated to agriculture, and those who think that agriculture should play a crucial role in economic growth and poverty reduction. For Kydd (2002) smallholder agriculture has a strategic importance, even though if economic development will result in a decline of the agriculture GDP and employment. In other words, when economic development occurs and poverty is reduced a decline of the agricultural sector can be seen, especially reflected through a fall in the labour. In Ghana for example, one of the main problems of agriculture is labour shortages, that have been exacerbated in the past few years by the migration of people trying to overcome poverty by moving out from agriculture (Duncan and Howell, 1992).

The current literature about agriculture and development considers agriculture as an essential mean of poverty alleviation in the Third World, where about 720 millions of poor people live in rural areas (World Bank, in Norton, 2004). Norton (2004) argues that agriculture policies are important for governments since agriculture is the main source of food and income for many households in developing countries while also being connected with other sectors of the economy. The government of Ghana for example, within its development program ‘Vision 2020’, considers agriculture as the basis for rural development and poverty alleviation. Its Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) recognises the importance that some crops, like cassava, have currently for the livelihood of smallholder farmers and calls for the identification of the most agricultural deprived areas, especially in Northern Ghana, to receive priority for resources allocation and development (FAO, 2004).

In spite of it, and according to the IFAD (2001), the development assistance to agriculture has declined from 20 percent in the late 80s to 12 percent in the early 2000s. This, also, had negative consequences on the research of new agricultural techniques for development and poverty alleviation. This situation has been worsened by the present global trade relations and by the market-driven agricultural research.

2. The effects of the market on rural agriculture. The case of Ghana.

The global economy and liberalisation has deep effects on agriculture, and especially on the economy of smallholders farmers in the Third World. New market arrangements have brought opportunities for some farmers, but also had negative impact on others, who can not compete with the low prices established by a liberalised trade. An example of this is the case of Ghana, which as many countries in Africa, suffered from a strong economic crisis during the 80s. The new international terms of trade and the increase of the world interest rates, together with internal causes (such as one of the worst drought periods of its history and political mismanagement) led to disastrous consequences on its agriculture. Ghana used to produce 37 percent of the world cocoa, which enormously decreased due to the imposition of high tax and to the fall of the cocoa world prices. This reduced the exports earning, which had strong effects on public expenditure and on investment in new infrastructures. The most affected by the crisis were small cocoa producers, who could not compete with the prices established by the international market (Duncan and Howell, 1992). Poor farmers not only have to compete with risks associated to natural phenomena (as drought, floods, etc.), but also with the high transaction costs derived from liberalisation which make them more vulnerable in the economic context (Omano and Farrington, 2004).

International market arrangements greatly influence the rural poor livelihoods as it establishes the rules that may not allow them to play in the market. These rules are designed to benefit exclusively large commercial farmers, instead of rural smallholders farmers who have experienced a reduction in their incomes. Food prices are intimately connected to the world market in areas where the poor live.

3. Agriculture research for development.

Smallholder farmers produce food which will be consumed by the poor, so rural agriculture is a key for the livelihoods of the majority of the world’s poorest people (Kydd, 2002). Therefore, agriculture is a central question of development and it needs the adoption of convenient technologies for the different rural population’s needs. The idea is that smallholder farmers will be able to increase their capacities to improve their living standard through their own efforts. Thus, rather than addressing the symptoms should be better to address the causes of poverty through the application of more appropriate agriculture methods to rural farmers.

The commercialisation of agriculture has also led to a set of agriculture practices completely different from those of the last century. These changes are basically imposed by the new market demands and by the producers’ attempts to answer it. The new agricultural patterns involved a change in the research methods carried out by private organisations searching for more efficient production practices. In this context, advances in biothecnology in the last decades have focused on profitable markets, especially orientated to large commercial agriculture.

According to Norton, (2004), irrigation alone cannot be the only basis to supply food to an increasing world population. Important advances have been made in GMO as a new alternative to food production in order to feed future generations. But the questions is to which extent GMO technologies developed for large farmers will be adopted by small farmers at low cost (Kydd, 2002).

Poor farmers in the developing world have been offered little possibilities to adopt new technologies on time because they did not have the right market conditions. This is the reason why in the last years most rural farmers did not enjoy the benefits of the advances in agricultural technology. This situation has led to think about new systems more relevant to smallholder farmers and guided by their demands. The present trend is that farmers and researchers work together in the development of new agriculture technologies. Norton (2004) calls it as “participatory technology development”, where the farmers acquire the control and play a crucial role on agricultural development. Like in the years before industrialisation, small farmers have again in his hands the tools for technological change in agriculture, although this new participatory process is still in its development stage.

In Ghana some programs – such as the Agriculture Services Sector Investment Programme (AGSSIP) – are designed to empower and strengthen grassroots organisations, such as co-operatives and farmer groups, in order to provide better services to their members and to facilitate technology adoption, by improving access to inputs and facilitating marketing. The objective of AGSSIP is that rural people earn their own livelihoods through agriculture as a way of poverty alleviation (FAO, 2004).

4. Gender considerations.

Due to the essential role that women are playing today on the economy of the household in developing countries, agriculture development research cannot ignore gender issues when designing new programs. Women in many countries produce a large part of the food crops of the households and they are essential for the family’s food security (IFAD, 2001). In the case of South of Ghana for example, with the advance of commercial farming, particularly of cocoa, the production of food crop became women’s sole responsibility, which was seen before as an exclusive men’s task. Also, with the migration of men, the number of household headed by women increased. By contrast, in the North where crop farming possibilities were more limited and most of families were influenced by the Islam culture, the role of women remained confined to household tasks (Duncan and Howell, 1991).

Development workers in the last decades used to consult only male farmers in their development research, leaving a gap in the research programs as they did not take into consideration women’s knowledge, in spite of their contribution on agriculture. However, today it is said that poverty alleviation and hunger will significantly depend on the extent to which women have access to natural resources (land and water) and to the decision-making process (Norton, 2004).

5. Land and water management. Sustainable Agriculture.

The access to land and water has been a historical source of conflicts. For the rural poor the access to these natural resources have been key for their subsistence and still it is in many areas of the developing world. In a global social context with a growing population, new systems to improve the access to arable land and pure water are continuously being studied.

According to Norton (2004), about 2.4 billion people depend on irrigated agriculture for jobs, food and income. In the past, water was used as an infinite resource, but today the main aquifers in the world are being over-exploited putting in danger the livelihoods of millions of people. Many irrigation programs have not being efficient and in some cases have contributed to the depletion of the water resources and the degradation of some systems. Today the water development efforts are focused on three areas: efficiency, equity and sustainability. Involving farmers in the design of water management policies become a necessary requisite for successful development (Norton, 2004).

Land tenure is another key factor for the wellbeing of the rural household, especially since –according to the World Bank (World Development Report 1998-99, Chris Garforth’s POD Outline for Session 3)- the world’s percentages of arable land per head is currently falling. The extent to which an individual or family can access to land will determine their living standard. People who have access to land have more opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, so in this context, customary forms of holding and managing land strongly influence policy. An efficient land management would obtain maximum productivity of land while respecting the traditional and ecologically sound indigenous knowledge about land management, pest and diseases.

In the last few decades, land management has not been sustainable due to the attempts to increase production at expense of the environment. Intensive agriculture compromises the interests of future generations in many ways: polluting soil, water and atmosphere, salinity and irrigation, loss of biodiversity and putting in danger people’s health trough the abuse of fertilisers and pesticides (Shepherd, 1998). Although the use of pesticides has a minimal impact on people from developed countries, it emerges as a problem in developing nations, where its consumption is at low levels but highly concentrated. Children are particularly sensitive to the use of toxic products. According to Norton, (2004) there are 10.000 deaths per year related to use of pesticides.

Due to this situation, research in agriculture are focused in developing new ways of feeding the world without damaging the environment and people’s health. The recommendations about more sustainable practices reject the use of industrial production methods, the involvement of farmers in the research and the incorporation of active resource conservation methods (Sepherd, 1998). But the reality is that still the global market arrangements represent important constraints to sustainable agriculture. Even when have been attempts toward more ecological practices, such as organic farms, the question is whether rural people will be able to adopt new methods to compete in the market. It will need the provision of subsidies to the rural smallholders, and particularly in those areas where the use of fertilisers is very high. Also, it will be necessary to transfer to the poor knowledge and infrastructure, and providing them with the right conditions in the market (Shepherd, 1998).


Agriculture is still the main source of income of many rural areas in the Third World, so it should be the centre of programs for development. The extent to people have access to land and water sources will determine the wellbeing of rural families. Agriculture, therefore is still an essential factor to poverty alleviation and development. When a country can be self-reliant in its own raw materials for export and industrialisation it is ensured part of its own development. The dependency links that developing countries have with more powerful nations, since their colonial era, it is one of the deep-rooted causes of its underdevelopment.

The current international market arrangements and the liberalisation process have a strong impact on the rural farmer. They cannot compete with the cheap prices imposed by large commercial farmers. New alternatives for the poor, like fair-trade, should be supported by national governments and international organisations, as WTO and the IMF. Prices of production should be real according to the production cost for small farmers.

The new advances in technologies for sustainable agriculture will not be effective if they cannot be adopted by rural farmers in the Third World. Its adoption requires to provide them with the right market conditions, knowledge and infrastructures, otherwise rural people will keep exploiting in unsustainable ways the local natural resources, as the only way of survival.

Sustainable agriculture only will be possible if it takes into account rural farmers’ knowledge about land management. Therefore, their participation is a necessary requisite in the research of new agriculture technologies. Moreover, women’s role in agriculture is an essential factor which has to be taken into consideration when designing new development programs for agriculture development.



Duncan, A. & Howell, J. (1992). Structural Adjustment and the African Farmer. London and Portsmouth: ODI, James Currey Ltd. & Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Garforth, C. (2004). POD Outline for Session 3: Agriculture, Economic Growth and Rural Development. Perspective on Development. International and Rural Development Department. Reading University.

Norton, R. D. (2004). Agricultural Development Policy. Concepts and Experiences. Chichester: FAO & John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Sepherd, A. (1998). Sustainable Rural Development. London & New York: MacMillann Press Ltd. & St. Martin’s Press, Inc.


Doward, A. (2004). Agricultural growth, poverty and institutions: rethinking policy.
(Viewed in April 2004)

FAO (2004). Ghana. Case Study.
(Viewed in April 2004)

IFAD (2001). Rural Poverty Report 2001: The Challenge of Ending Rural Poverty.
(Viewed in April 2004)

Kydd, J. (2002). ODI. Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods: Is Globalisation opening or blocking path out or Rural Poverty? Network Paper No. 121.
(Viewed in April 2004)

Omano, S. W. & Farrington, J. (2004). ODI. Policy Research and African Agriculture: Time for a Dose of Reality? No. 90.
(Viewed in April 2004)