Agriculture and Rural Development
This is the fifth in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year
Something dramatic happened in Brazilian agriculture between 2007 and 2013: the previously-steady labor intensity of a major crop, sugarcane, fell by 70 percent (see Figure). This drop was the result of the rapid, widespread adoption of mechanical harvesting. My job market paper, “Why Did Sugarcane Growers Suddenly Adopt Existing Technology,” studies how mechanization was achieved.
This is the second in our series of posts by Ph.D. students on the job market this year
Setting food-price policy is hard. Smallholder farmers are better off with higher crop prices, but consumers want lower prices. So what is a policymaker to do?
Well-integrated agricultural markets can tackle both sides of this food-price policy dilemma, by pulling crops out of surplus areas (to boost prices received by farmers) and pushing food into deficit areas (to reduce prices faced by consumers).
But, alas, agricultural markets in sub-Saharan Africa are not well-integrated. Wide variation in prices across regions and seasons is common, and large gaps between farmer and consumer prices are the norm. There are many possible causes. One issue is that trade is expensive to conduct in the region. To move crops from surplus to deficit areas, agricultural traders must pay high transport costs, spend time and money searching for sellers and buyers, and battle institutional failures like poor credit availability and contact enforcement. Yet, there may be another important driver of the gap between farmer and consumer prices – one that has been voiced by policymakers but is much less well-documented empirically: agricultural traders may be engaging in imperfect competition and extracting rents.
Effective property rights matter for development. And heck, they even got a couple of shout outs in the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals. And we know from earlier work that weaker rights can lead to reduced agricultural productivity. So what happens when folks move to better property rights?
This is the sixth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year.
The productivity of workers in agriculture is generally much lower than in other sectors of the economy (Gollin, Lagakos and Waugh, 2014). This is particularly true in low-income countries, yet these countries generally have the highest shares of the population living in rural areas and working in agriculture (McMillan et al, 2014). So why don’t workers switch jobs into higher productivity (and better paid) occupations? Development economists as far back as Lewis (1954) and Sen (1966) have studied the labor market imperfections that may keep workers in low productivity agriculture despite higher wages elsewhere.