Larson, Donald F.
Development Research Group, World Bank
Author Name Variants
Fields of Specialization
Rural Development Policy; Natural Resource Policy; Agricultural Productivity and Growth; Climate Change Policy and Markets; Commodity Markets and Risk
Development Research Group, World Bank
Externally Hosted Work
Last updated January 31, 2023
Donald F. Larson is a Senior Economist with the World Bank’s Development Research Group. He holds a B.A in economics from the College of William and Mary, an M.A. in economics from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Maryland. With colleagues, he has authored or edited five books, including An African Green Revolution: Finding Ways to Boost Productivity on Small Farms, a forthcoming volume from Springer, and The Clean Development Mechanism: An Early History of Unanticipated Outcomes, a forthcoming volume from World Scientific. He has published numerous book chapters and journal articles, with an emphasis on agricultural productivity and growth; food and rural development policies; natural resource policies; the institutions and markets related to climate change; and the performance of commodity futures and risk markets. During his time with the World Bank, Don has participated in policy discussion in Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. He was a member of the team that launched the World Bank’s Prototype Carbon Fund.
Publication Search Results
Now showing 1 - 7 of 7
Publication( 2010-03-01) Zerfu, Daniel ; Larson, Donald F.While the economic returns to using chemical fertilizer in Africa can be large, application rates are low. This study explores whether this is due to missing and imperfect markets. Results based on a panel survey of Ethiopian farmers suggest that while fertilizer markets are not altogether missing in rural Ethiopia, high transport costs, unfavorable climate, price risk, and illiteracy present formidable hurdles to farmer participation. Moreover, the combination of factors that promote or impede effective fertilizer markets differs among locations, making it difficult to find a single production technology that is uniformly profitable -- perhaps explaining the inconsistency between field studies finding large returns to fertilizer use in Ethiopia and survey-based studies finding fertilizer use to be uneconomic. The results suggest that households with greater stores of wealth, human capital and authority can overcome these hurdles. The finding offers some encouragement, but also implies a self-enforcing link between low agricultural productivity and poverty, since low-asset households are less able to overcome these problems. The study suggests that the provision of extension services can be effective and that lowering transport costs can raise the intensity of fertilizer use by lowering the cost of fertilizer and boosting the farmgate value of output.
Are Women Less Productive Farmers?: How Markets and Risk Affect Fertilizer Use, Productivity, and Measured Gender Effects in Uganda(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2015-04) Larson, Donald F. ; Savastano, Sara ; Murray, Siobhan ; Palacios-Lopez, AmparoAfrican governments and international development groups see boosting productivity on smallholder farms as key to reducing rural poverty and safeguarding the food security of farming and non-farming households. Prompting smallholder farmers to use more fertilizer has been a key tactic. Closing the productivity gap between male and female farmers has been another avenue toward achieving the same goal. The results in this paper suggest the two are related. Fertilizer use and maize yields among smallholder farmers in Uganda are increased by improved access to markets and extension services, and reduced by ex ante risk-mitigating production decisions. Standard ordinary least squares regression results indicate that gender matters as well; however, the measured productivity gap between male and female farmers disappears when gender is included in a list of determinants meant to capture the indirect effects of market and extension access.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2003-03) Akiyama, Takamasa ; Baffes, John ; Larson, Donald F. ; Varangis, PanosSince the early 1980s, dramatic changes in export commodity markets, shocks associated with resulting price declines, and changing views on the role of the state have ushered in widespread reforms to agricultural commodity markets in Africa. The reforms significantly reduced government participation in the marketing and pricing of commodities. Akiyama, Baffes, Larson, and Varangis examine the background, causes, process, and consequences of these reforms and derive lessons for successful reforms from experiences in markets for four commodities important to Africa-cocoa, coffee, cotton, and sugar. The authors' commodity focus highlights the special features associated with these markets that affect the reform process. They complement the current literature on market reforms in Africa, where grain-market studies are more common. The authors suggest that the types of market interventions prior to reform are more easily classified by crop than by country. Consequently, there are significant commodity-specific differences in the initial conditions and in the outcomes of reforms related to these markets. But there are general lessons as well. The authors find that the key consequences of reform have been significant changes in or emergence of marketing institutions and a significant shift of political and economic power from the public to the private sector. In cases where interventions were greatest and reforms most complete, producers have benefited from receiving a larger share of export prices. Additionally, the authors conclude that the adjustment costs of reform can be reduced in most cases by better understanding the detailed and idiosyncratic relationships between the commodity subsector, private markets, and public services. Finally, while there are significant costs to market-dependent reforms, experiences suggest that they are a necessary step toward a dynamic commodity sector based on private initiative. This is particularly true in countries and sectors where interventions were greatest and market-supporting institutions the weakest.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2016-06) Larson, Donald F. ; Muraoka, Rie ; Otsuka, KeijiroImproving the productivity of smallholder farms in Sub-Saharan Africa offers the best chance to reduce poverty among this generation of rural poor, by building on the limited resources farming households already possess. It is also the best and shortest path to meet rising food needs. Using examples from farmers' maize and rice fields, and comparisons with Asia, this paper examines why the set of technologies promoted to date have produced localized successes rather than transformational change. The paper explains the limitations of alternative policies that are not centered on small farms. It provides indicative examples of how resource-management technologies can supplement seed-fertilizer technologies to speed an African Green Revolution.
A Conceptual Model of Incomplete Markets and the Consequences for Technology Adoption Policies in Ethiopia(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2013-10) Larson, Donald F. ; Gurara, Daniel ZerfuIn Africa, farmers have been reluctant to take up new varieties of staple crops developed to boost smallholder yields and rural incomes. Low fertilizer use is often mentioned as a proximate cause, but some believe the problem originates with incomplete input markets. As a remedy, African governments have introduced technology adoption programs with fertilizer subsidies as a core component. Still, the links between market performance and choices about using fertilizer are poorly articulated in empirical studies and policy discussions, making it difficult to judge whether the programs are expected to generate lasting benefits or to simply offset high fertilizer prices. This paper develops a conceptual model to show how choices made by agents supplying input services combine with household livelihood settings to generate heterogeneous decisions about fertilizer use. An applied model is estimated with data from a panel survey in rural Ethiopia. The results suggest that adverse market conditions limit the adoption of fertilizer-based technologies, especially among resource-poor households. Farmers appear to respond to market signals in the aggregate and this provides a pathway for subsidies to stimulate demand. However, the research suggests that lowering transaction costs, through investments in infrastructure and market institutions, can generate deeper effects by expanding the technologies available to farmers across all pricing outcomes.
Should African Rural Development Strategies Depend on Smallholder Farms? An Exploration of the Inverse Productivity Hypothesis(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2012-09) Larson, Donald F. ; Otsuka, Keijiro ; Matsumoto, Tomoya ; Kilic, TalipIn Africa, most development strategies include efforts to improve the productivity of staple crops grown on smallholder farms. An underlying premise is that small farms are productive in the African context and that smallholders do not forgo economies of scale -- a premise supported by the often observed phenomenon that staple cereal yields decline as the scale of production increases. This paper explores a research design conundrum that encourages researchers who study the relationship between productivity and scale to use surveys with a narrow geographic reach, when policy would be better served with studies based on wide and heterogeneous settings. Using a model of endogenous technology choice, the authors explore the relationship between maize yields and scale using alternative data. Since rich descriptions of the decision environments that farmers face are needed to identify the applied technologies that generate the data, improvements in the location specificity of the data should reduce the likelihood of identification errors and biased estimates. However, the analysis finds that the inverse productivity hypothesis holds up well across a broad platform of data, despite obvious shortcomings with some components. It also finds surprising consistency in the estimated scale elasticities.
Publication( 2010-11-01) Larson, Donald F. ; Otsuka, Keijiro ; Kajisa, Kei ; Estudillo, Jonna ; Diagne, AliouAsia's green revolution in rice was transformational and improved the lives of millions of poor households. Rice has become an increasingly important part of African diets and imports of rice have grown. Agronomists point out that large areas in Africa are well suited for rice and are encouraged by the field tests of new rice varieties. So is Africa poised for its own green revolution in rice? This study reviews the recent literature on rice technologies and their impact on productivity, incomes, and poverty, and compares current conditions in Africa with the conditions that prevailed in Asia as its rice revolution got under way. An important conclusion is that, to a degree, a rice revolution has already begun in Africa. Moreover, many of the same practices that have proved successful in Asia and in Africa can be applied where yields are currently low. At the same time, for many reasons, Africa's rice revolution has been, and will continue to be, characterized by a mosaic of successes, situated where the conditions are right for new technologies to take hold. This can have profound effects in some places. But because diets, markets, and geography are heterogeneous in Africa, the successful transformation of the Africa's rice sector must be matched by productivity gains in other crops to fully launch Africa's Green Revolution.