Agriculture and Economic Development

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The role of agriculture in economic development has undergone an important evolution. In the past, agriculture was often viewed as the passive partner in the development process, however, it is now typically regarded as an active and co-equal partner with the industrial sector. This essay addresses the question of how the agriculture sector can contribute to sustainable economic development of developing countries with the case examples of Zambia. In the same work, the essay suggests what the government can consider in an attempt to solve the problems that small scale farmers are faced with as well as review of the performance of the agriculture sector from the post independence era to the present times. The relationship between agriculture and poverty is also discussed. Improved social and economic well being of a country’s citizenry with equitable access to all basic necessities of life defines economic development. Economic development becomes sustainable when the needs of the current generations are met continuously over a period of at least two decades without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their social economic needs. This entails using efficient production processes that provide the needs of the current generations without putting at risk the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Meier (2008) defines economic development as the process where the real per capita income of a country increases over a long period of time subject to stipulations that the number of people below an absolute poverty line does not increase and that income distribution does not become more unequal. Three elements pertinent to economic development are; poverty, unemployment and inequality. Dudley Seers argues that economic growth which does lead to reduction in all these three does not lead to economic development. Economic growth generally measures the amount of production from a country or region over a period of time. What then are the key elements to economic development? I suggest economic growth and positive changes which implies taking a leap forward from past structures to embrace industrialization, sustainable agriculture practices, increasing output from industrial sectors and value addition in agriculture. The agricultural sector is broadly defined here to include both crop and livestock production where as small holder farmers refer to those cultivating between 0.5 – 20 hectares. The agricultural sector has received a lot more attention in recent years, much of it looking for ways in which the productivity of agricultural development may be increased. But development implies changes in economic structure, a change in relation among the several sectors of the overall economy. In the past years there was a resurgence of interest in analyzing the determinants of economic growth. The economics profession turned its attention to the study of economic development to better understand the anatomy and physiology of the growth process and to formulate prescriptions for appropriate development policies and strategies.

Mellor (1961) identified what are today considered the fundamental economic contributions of agriculture to development. However, economists focused on how agriculture could best contribute to overall growth and modernization. Many of these analysts ( Rodan, 1943; Lewis, 1954; Scitovsky, 1954; Hirschman, 1958; Jorgenson, 1961; and Fei 1961) highlighted agriculture for its many resource abundances and its ability to transfer surpluses to the more important industrial sector. By serving as the ‘handmaiden’ to the industrial sector, agriculture’s primary role in the transformation of a developing economy was seen as subordinate in the central strategy of accelerating the pace of industrialization.

Consequently, a traditional approach to development emerged that concentrated on agriculture’s important market-mediated linkages. Several core economic roles for agriculture formed this...
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