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 - 9 of 9
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(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2015-01) Larson, Donald F. ; Khidirov, Dilshod ; Ramniceanu, IrinaWhy produce a policy note on horticulture in Uzbekistan? There are several answers to this existential question, although they are not necessarily obvious ones. Agriculture, taken as a whole, constitutes a small and declining share of Uzbekistan s national income, and horticulture is a small share of agricultural income. Even so, it is an important source of income for the 4.7 million households that operate dehkan farms in rural and disproportionally poor communities. Horticultural products are grown on an additional 21 thousand larger private farms as well. Evidence in this note suggests that growing fruit and vegetables is among the most profitable activities on both dehkan and private farms and, over the last ten years, the incomes those activities generate comprised a growing share of national GDP. Horticultural export earnings have also surged in recent years, growing from USD 373 million in 2006 to USD 1.16 billion in 2010. Uzbekistan has special agro-ecological conditions that set it apart from most countries and provides the basis for its horticulture subsector. Like agriculture as a whole, the subsector benefits greatly from policies that support basic research in agronomy and post-harvest technologies, from policies that support private investment and efficient markets, and from policies that promote the good stewardship of natural resources. The policy note is centered on the horticultural subsector. However, because an effort is made to draw comparisons between the policy environment that prevails for dehkan farmers and private farmers growing horticultural crops and that which is relevant for private farmers growing wheat and cotton, the note touches on many sector-wide issues. Still, it is important to emphasize that this policy note should not be viewed as a general review of agricultural policies. Finding ways to adapt policy lessons from horticulture to improve agricultural productivity as a whole is a more ambitious task and one that requires broader analysis and discussion.
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, 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.
Publication( 2010-11-01) Butzer, Rita ; Mundlak, Yair ; Larson, Donald F.Capital is a fundamental component of agricultural production, and the accumulation of capital is key to growth in agriculture and the process of development. Unfortunately, cross-country data sets on agricultural fixed capital are rare. Using a common methodology that allows comparisons across countries, as well as over time, this paper introduces a data series on fixed capital in agriculture, based on national accounts data. The fixed capital measure differs remarkably from the Food and Agriculture Organization's data series on tractors, which has been widely utilized as a proxy for agricultural fixed capital. The authors construct comparable measures of capital in livestock and tree stock. They examine the evolution of the capital stocks from 1970 to 2000, paying particular attention to the changing composition of agricultural capital, as well as differences in the accumulation of capital for high-income and middle and lower-income countries. Using the capital measures in agricultural productivity analyses, the data yield estimated input elasticities substantially different from those found previously in the literature. The authors show explicitly that this is due to the improved data set on agricultural capital stocks, as well as the methodology used in the study.
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.
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.
Publication( 2011-04-01) Larson, Donald F. ; Dinar, Ariel ; Frisbie, J. AaprisMany experts believe that low-cost mitigation opportunities in agriculture are abundant and comparable in scale to those found in the energy sector. They are mostly located in developing countries and have to do with how land is used. By investing in projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), countries can tap these opportunities to meet their own Kyoto Protocol obligations. The CDM has been successful in financing some types of agricultural projects, including projects that capture methane or use agricultural by-products as an energy source. But agricultural land-use projects are scarce under the CDM. This represents a missed opportunity to promote sustainable rural development since land-use projects that sequester carbon in soils can help reverse declining soil fertility, a root cause of stagnant agricultural productivity. This paper reviews the process leading to current CDM implementation rules and describes how the rules, in combination with challenging features of land-use projects, raise transaction costs and lower demand for land-use credits. Procedures by which developed countries assess their own mitigation performance are discussed as a way of redressing current constraints on CDM investments. Nevertheless, even with improvements to the CDM, an under-investment in agricultural land-use projects is likely, since there are hurdles to capturing associated ancillary benefits privately. Alternative approaches outside the CDM are discussed, including those that build on recent decisions taken by governments in Copenhagen and Cancun.