UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Derek Headey, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC

Adaptation to Land Constraints: Is Africa Different?

Date and Location

Tuesday, October 15, 2013, 12:10 PM - 1:30 PM
ARE Conference Room, 2102 Social Sciences and Humanities


Since the seminal works of Malthus and Boserup, scientists have long debated the impact of population growth and land constraints on the wellbeing of rural people. Today these concerns are particularly relevant to Africa, with its rapid population growth, very small farms, and chronic food insecurity. In this paper we therefore explore adaptation to falling land-labor ratios using a simple but comprehensive theoretical framework in which households faced with binding land constraints can respond in one of three ways: intensifying agricultural production, diversifying out of agriculture, and reducing fertility rates. We then explore the magnitude of these three responses usinga rich cross-country data set. On the first of these responses we find that land constraints are strongly associated with agricultural intensification, although shrinking farm sizes are still predicted to have large adverse impacts on agricultural incomes. With respect to fertility rates, we find evidence that African households desire fewer children in land constrained settings, though they do not achieve these desired fertility rates because of inadequate access to family planning services. Finally, we find relatively weak evidence of successful non-farm diversification in response to land pressures, particularly in Africa. Our concluding section discusses the implications of these findings for Africa's development strategies.

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