The contention that modernization of the agrarian sector is a precondition for economic growth and development is not a mere claim. It is an irrefutable fact which the economic history of the present day advanced countries has admittedly established. But the current process of development in most of the developing countries is just the opposite where massive industrialization has been initiated alongside traditional agriculture. However justifiable such an effort, it engenders a dualism in the economic structure which seriously impedes rapid development. How to remove this bottleneck and thereby make the agricultural sector propitious to the process of industrialization, is a critical question confronted by policy-makers of most developing countries. Added to this functional role that agriculture has to play in the developing countries, the global scenario of agriculture also warrants speedy trans- formation of agriculture.
For, the Malthusian problem viz., the ever-widening gap between the rates of growth of population and food production, has assumed far more serious proportion today than ever. Because of its implications for the international economic system, the transformation of the Third World agriculture is a problem equally concerned with that of the developed countries.
In an effort to seek durable solution to the Third World agriculture, two approaches have often been suggested. While one suggests radical institutional reforms in the present agrarian structure, the other, mostly arising from the industrially developed countries, advances technological solution to the modernization of the agrarian sector. These two, seemingly contradictory suggestions having different time dimensions in their impact could however, be unified into what the United Nations calls an ‘Integrated Approach’. However, technological application, particularly, mechanization continues to be advocated by specialists as it could provide a quick solution to the food, problem of the world.
Addressing this fundamental issue, many scholarly works mostly concerned with the intra-country impact of technological progress have recently been published. The book under review has the distinction of analysing the pattern of technological progress and its impact on the productivities of land and labour as well as, on the macro-economic variables like the sectoral distribution of GDP and labour force at the world level and that too, over a long period of time. To probe into this question 21 major agricultural countries of the world which together account for more than 3/4 of the world’s population, agricultural production and food grain production, are selected and studied for the period of 1960- 77. The countries and the time period are so selected as to provide a continuous picture of technological progress. Both the sectoral and temporal analysis have been employed to take stock of the differences in soil, climate, etc. and also, the stages of economic development.
After giving a general introduction to the special features of the agricultural sector, the author analyses the nature and type of technological progress. Conceptually, technical progress is meant as ‘those changes in the production process which reduce the marginal cost’. There are two categories of technological progress viz. labour-augmenting (mechanization) and land-augmenting (fertilizers, pesticides irrigation etc.). These are nothing but the labour-saving and labour absorbing techniques if one focuses on the .employment aspect of technological progress in agriculture.
There are strong economic and social justifications for the adoption of technical progress in agriculture of the developing countries where large labour force subsists. They are the need to counteract the declining land per capita, the imperfection in the labour market with its regional and temporal dimensions and more importantly, the relative lack of farm power. Above all, although mechanization will initially replace labour, it will however, demand more labour than the initial displacement, if mechanization is partial and coupled with land-augmenting inputs.
Using the rank correlation matrix as well as the changes of it over time, the author has established that there is a strong association between the elasticity of yield rate and technological progress and particularly mechanization. This sympathetic movement which is so strong in the developed countries has strengthened over a period of time. This is the reason why the share of the developed countries in the global food production is high despite their declining proportion of the world’s agricultural land. Nevertheless, it is also found that the yield response to technological adoption is much higher in the developing countries, indicating a strong economic justification for massive diffusion of technology.
Attempt is also made to analyse the labour force and productivity in the agricultural sector. Despite the high rural participation rate in almost all the developing countries, labour productivity is increasing essentially because of higher output growth than the growth of labour force in agriculture. Labour productivity being determined by agriculture’s share of GDP as well as total labour force, sectoral distribution of GDP is an important element to be considered. With the help of mathematical recursive system, the author has specified the elasticity of agricultural share in GDP as well as total labour force per I per cent rise in the per capita GDP. The elasticity varies considerably both within the developed as well as developing countries depending upon the type of technology adopted and the rate of industrialization.
In the subsequent chapter devoted to· an analysis of agricultural productivity across countries, equations are specified for each of the most important determinants of agricultural productivity like tractorization (as a surrogate measure of mechanization), fertilization and farm profitability ,determined by the ratio of prices paid to prices received by the farmers. But of these equations a recursive system has been developed to analyse the yield variations across countries.
After these exercises the author has come out with certain interesting conclusions and policy suggestions. The comparison of yield variations across countries has revealed that in the developed countries yield varies mostly with the rate of tractorization and fertilization. It is also found that there is a strong positive relationship between the rate of tractorization and fertilizer consumption. Irrigation (man-made) is not so germane as an explanatory variable, as almost all developed countries have sufficient and timely rainfall. But, however, it is a significant factor in the countries of tropical and sub-tropical areas such as India and Japan. The recursive system of per capita GDP suggests that the negative relation between the rate of growth of per capita GDP and the rate of elasticity of agriculture’s share in both GDP and total labour force is highest in countries with medium growth rates, irrespective of whether they are developed or developing. However, the rate of all in the agriculture’s share of GDP is higher than that of labour force which indicates the type of technology that prevails in these countries. So far as India is concerned, notwithstanding the progress being made in the field of agricultural technology especially after 1960, India is. lagging behind even some of the developing countries in the realm of technological progress and productivity. The farm power availability in India is not its optimum and that explains the low productivities of both land and labour. So, the policy suggestion is to mechanize the agrarian sector rapidly which leads to increasing consumption of, other land augmenting inputs and thereby raise both production and productivity.
The study, being treated at the macro-economic plane, inevitably leads to omitting certain fundamental factors associated with the question of the adaptability of technological progress and more importantly, that of mechanization. For,it is a delicate issue entailing so many implications in the present context of developing countries like, India. Naturally, the advisability and plausibility of mechanization cast serious doubts. This is particularly so given the current rate of industrialization and its ability to absorb the huge magnitude of rural exodus which; mechanization engenders. In the case of developed countries, initial transformation of the agricultural sector has been more due to the dynamism generated by the industrial sector rather than mechanization as such. It became an important factor only at a later stage when agriculture lacked labour force as a result of fast moving industrialization.
It is true that in some of the developing countries like Brazil, mechanization is growing at a rapid pace. In Brazil mechanization is being applied mostly in the export-oriented coffee sector and with the primary objective of reducing the dependence on labour which has assumed militancy in recent years. This process, not only in Latin America but also in other parts, has generated a heavy rural-urban migration with its multifarious socio-political implications.
In the agricultural sector of developing countries, increasing production and productivity alone are not the basic issues. While technology could undoubtedly accomplish the objectives, it may, however, spell disaster if it entails massive mechanization. It is so because the impact of mechanization on the different classes of the rural areas varies widely. While the large and medium farmers will be benefited, the small and marginal farmers as well as the rural labour force will be negatively affected. In the case of India official statistics indicate that after the ‘Green Revolution’, the number of small holdings has declined. It means, among other things, that there has been a process of marginalization by which many small and marginal farmers have been turned out to be farm workers. This effect coupled with the attendant unemployment will reduce the demand for agricultural goods, not to say about their implications to the process of industrialization. For, how else one could explain the paradox of increasing food surplus while starvation and poverty exist side by side?
This is now to suggest any cynicism over the application of technology in agriculture but to demonstrate the pernicious effects which mechanization could produce in the absence of rapid industrialization. There is no reason why mechanization should be the determinant of even the land-augmenting inputs in the developing countries. In India, as well as in other developing countries, irrigation and farm profitability are very important factors which determine not only the yield rate but also fertilization and mechanization. To find an amicable solution which will .raise productivity and at the same time maintain the present level of rural employment, many writers have suggested what is known as ‘intermediate technology’. It emphasizes mainly on land-augmenting technological progress and improving farm practices. It could also provide for the time gap necessary for the industrialization process to catch with its needs.
Be that as it may, the positive side of the book under review could hardly be ignored. This relatively un-ambitious study is highly informative as it sheds light on the world agricultural situation on a comparative basis. The wealth of data assimilated for this study is commendable. Although some econometric exercises are made, it is not too technical for all those interested in the subject. Analytically, the study depends upon the statistical results and to be sure, the subject is treated with deftness and diligence.
Maria Saleth is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.