Tuesday 2011-11-01

Feeding the World by Giovanni Federico

Lots of data, not so much data analysis to disambiguate concerns.

Furthermore, undernourishment and famine are caused much more by the skewed distribution of income and by political events, than by sheer lack of food. Actually, many OECD countries have, since the 1950s, been struggling with an overproduction of food...
Agriculture employed more than 75 percent of the total workforce in traditional agrarian societies, and, as late as 1950, about two-thirds throughout the world. Nowadays, in the advanced countries, the share is about 2.5 percent -- eleven million out of 430. In the rest of the world, agricultural workers still account for almost half the labor force, with a world total fo some 1.3 billion workers (775 million in China and India alone).
-- Introduction
Primack estimates that in the period 1850-1910 the settlement of the United States absorbed some 30 million man-hours (20 million for improvements and the rest for building) -- that is, about 5 percent of the adult male work force over the whole period -- and over 10 percent in the 1850s...
Traditional tools were simple and inexpensive, and the total stock was roughly proportional to the number of workers and/or to the land to be worked, as long as there was no technical progress. This was the case for China: most scholars, following Perkins, rule out any major improvements in tools from the end of fifteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth...
Agriculture in the nineteenth century resorted to nonagricultural workers during seasonal peaks of labor. For instance, in Canada, harvesters were recruited in eastern cities, while in Argentina, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, the brazeros came from Italy (the so-called golandrinas or swallows). Marchand and Thelot venture to put forward a figure for nineteenth century France: people not permanently employed in agriculture supplied between 7.5 and 11 percent of total agricultural labor in 1862-66 and less than 2 percent in the 1890s.
-- Patterns of Growth
Summing up, agriculture does not, by and large, deserve its reputation of having been stagnant and backward. The statistical evidence, albeit imperfect and incomplete, shows that Total Factor Productivity grew throughout the period (at an accelerating pace) in nowadays "advanced" countries and has grown, albeit more slowly, in the LDCs after World War II. Furthermore, in the past fifty years, TFP has grown faster in agriculture than in the rest of the economy.
-- Causes of Growth
In the past few centuries, there has been no domestication of any species of animals, and only one discovery of an entirely new plant, the sugar-beet. Its sugar content had been first noticed in 1747, but it remained a scientific curiosity until the Napoleonic Wars, which cut Continental Europe off from the supply of sugar cane from the Western Indies...
There were countless failures, some of which very expensive: the pioneer of Californian wine industry, A. Haraszthy, changed five locations (investing huge sums in each of them), before finding the ideal environment in the Sonoma Valley.
-- Technical Progress
Two-thirds of credit co-operatives in Imperial Russia failed because peasants took the (subsidized) loans but refused to pay them, nor could officials force them to with the threat of foreclosure, because land was collectively owned.
-- Microeconomics of Institutions