Population pressure, the environment and agricultural intensification: variations on the Boserup hypothesis

The interaction between population growth, the environment, and agricultural intensification raises the most compelling and most controversial issues currently facing developing countries. Given the low initial population densities, the benefits of increasing population on agricultural development have been widely documented by Boserup in 1961 and Ruthenberg in 1982. These authors argued that slowly increasing population densities have desirable effects on technical change, land and labor productivity, and rural per capita incomes through changes in relative factor prices. Others have pointed out that while high population densities may be desirable in stimulating rural markets and technological adaptation, rapid population growth is very costly to countries at early stages of development. This report shows that the environmental damage from the reduction of bush fallow, the more intensive use of land without supplementary biological and chemical inputs, and the depletion of forestry resources complicates the transition from low to more densely populated areas as originally envisaged in the Boserup hypothesis. The paper also demonstrates that the most pragmatic means of achieving rapid growth in agriculture production, employment and incomes in rapid population growth and declining extensive margin is to focus resources and policy attention on areas responsive to chemical fertilizers and improved seed.


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Lele, Uma; Stone, Steven W.. 1989. Population pressure, the environment and agricultural intensification : variations on the Boserup hypothesis. Managing Agricultural Development in Africa (MADIA) discussion paper ; no. 4. Washington, D.C. : The World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/1989/11/440521/population-pressure-environment-agricultural-intensification-variations-boserup-hypothesis