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 - 10 of 12
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2002-02) Varangis, Panos ; Larson, Donald ; Anderson, Jack R.The authors review the historical relationship between the work of applied economists, and policymakers, and the institutions that came to characterize the commodity, and risk markets of the 1980s. These institutions were a response to the harmful consequences of commodity market volatility, and declining terms of trade. But the chosen policies, and instruments relied on market interventions, to directly affect prices, or the distribution of prices in domestic, and international markets. For practical, and more fundamental reasons, this approach failed. The authors next discuss how a growing body of work, contributed to a change in thinking that moved policy away from stabilization goals, toward policies that emphasized the management of risks. They distinguish between the macroeconomic effects of volatile commodity markets, and the consequences for businesses, and households. The authors argue that both sets of problems remain important development issues, but that appropriate policy instruments are largely separate. Nonetheless, because governments, households, and firms must all respond to a wide range of sources of risk, they emphasize the role for an integrated policy by government. Increasingly, alternative approaches have come to rely on market-based instruments. Such approaches accept the market view of relative prices as immutable, but address directly the negative consequences of volatility. As traditional risk markets (such as futures and insurance markets) expand, and new parametric markets emerge, the practicality of applying market-based instruments to traditional risk, and development problems increases. The authors show the change in approaches to risk, and the reliance on old, and new market instruments, with new, and sometimes experimental programs, with special emphasis on programs at the World Bank.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2002-03) Mundlack, Yair ; Larson, Donald F. ; Butzer, RitaThe introduction of new high-yielding varieties of cereals in the 1960s, known as the green revolution. Changed dramatically the food supply I Asia, as well as in other countries. The authors examine over an extended period, the growth consequences for agriculture in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Despite geographic proximity, similar climate, and other shared characteristics, gains in productivity, and income differed significantly among the countries. The authors quantify these differences, and examine their determinants. They find that the new technology changed the returns to fertilizers, irrigated land, and capital, all of which proved scarce to varying degrees, Complementing technology-related changes in factor use were investments - public and private - driven in part by policy. The authors find that factor accumulation played an important role in output growth, and that accumulations from policy-driven investments in human capital, and public infrastructure, were important sources of productivity gains. They conclude that policies that ease constraints on factor markets, and promote public investment in people, and infrastructure, provide the best opportunities for agricultural growth.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2002-02) Larson, Donald F. ; Plessmann, FrankFarming households that differ in their ability, or willingness to take on risks are likely to make different decisions when allocating resources, and effort among income-producing activities, with consequences for productivity. The authors measure voluntary, and involuntary departures from efficiency for rice-producing households in Bicol, Philippines. They take advantage of a panel of household observations from 1978, 1983, and 1994. The unusually long-time span of the panel provides ample opportunities for the surveyed households to learn, and apply successful available technologies. The authors find evidence that diversification, and technology choices do effect outcomes among farmers, although these effects are not dominant. Accumulated wealth, past decisions to invest in education, favorable market conditions, and propitious weather are also important determinants of efficiency outcomes among Bicol rice farmers.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2002-03) Skees, Jerry ; Varangis, Panos ; Larson, Donald ; Siegel, PaulPoor households in rural areas are particularly vulnerable to risks that reduce incomes and increase expenditures. Most past research has focused on risk-coping strategies for the rural poor, specially on micro-level and household actions. These are risks that can been shared within a community or extended family. These strategies are effective for independent risks, but ineffective for covariate or systemic risks. The authors focus on private and public mechanisms for managing covariate risk for natural disasters. When many households within the same community face risks that create losses for all, traditional coping mechanisms are likely to fail. Such covariate risks are not uncommon in many developing countries, especially where farming remains a major source of income. The authors focus on risks related to weather events (such as excess rain, droughts, freezes, and high winds) that have a severe impact on rural incomes. Weather insurance could cover the covariate risk for a community of poor households through formal and informal risk-sharing arrangements among households that are purchasing these weather contracts. Given recent Mexican innovations targeted at helping the poor cope with catastrophe weather events, the authors use Mexico as a case study. In Mexico, poor households are exposed to systemic risks, such as droughts and floods, that affect the economic livelihood of their region. Catastrophic insurance is useful for small farmers, although commercially oriented small farmers may wish to obtain coverage for less catastrophic events. Weather insurance could meet this need. It pays out according to the frequency and intensity of specific weather events. Because weather insurance depends on the occurrences and objective measure of intensity of a specific event, it does not require individual farm inspection that can be very costly for small farm. The authors argue that a key issue of delivering insurance to small farmers is the existence of producer organizations. In Mexico, the farmer mutual insurance funds provide a good example. These funds provide insurance to their members by pulling together resources to pay for future indemnities and reinsures itself from major systemic risks that could hurt simultaneously all their members.
Publication(World Bank, 2004-09-01) Larson, Donald F. ; Anderson, Jock R. ; Varangis, PanosOver the past dozen years, policymakers have largely abandoned long-standing popular approaches for addressing risk in agriculture without fully resolving the question of how best to manage the negative consequences of volatile agricultural markets. The article reviews the transition from past policies and describes current approaches that distinguish between the trade-related fiscal consequences of commodity market volatility and the consequences of price and production risks for vulnerable rural households and communities. Current policies rely more heavily on markets, even though markets for risk are incomplete in numerous ways. The benefits and limitations of market-based instruments are examined in the context of risk management strategies, and innovative approaches to extend the reach of risk markets are discussed.
How Endowments, Accumulations, and Choice Determine the Geography of Agricultural Productivity in Ecuador(Oxford University Press on behalf of the World Bank, 2006-09-01) Larson, Donald F. ; Leon, MauricioSpatial disparity in incomes and productivity is apparent across and within countries. Most studies of the determinants of such differences focus on cross-country comparisons or location choice among firms. Less studied are the large differences in agricultural productivity within countries related to concentrations of rural poverty. For policy, understanding the determinants of this geography of agricultural productivity is important, because strategies to reduce poverty often feature components designed to boost regional agricultural incomes. Census and endowment data for Ecuador are used to estimate a model of endogenous technology choice to explain large regional differences in agricultural output and factor productivity. A composite-error estimation technique is used to separate systemic determinants from idiosyncratic differences. Simulations are employed to explore policy avenues. The findings suggest a differentiation between the types of policies that promote growth in agriculture generally and those that are more likely to assist the rural poor.
Publication(World Bank, Washington, DC, 2003-01) Butzer, Rita ; Mundlak, Yair ; Larson, Donald F.Using time series data spanning three decades, the authors examine the determinants of sectoral migration in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. They employ a principal components algorithm to address problems associated with trended and inter-correlated explanatory variables. Migration rates in the three countries are low relative to other developing countries with the consequence of persistent inter-sectoral income differentials. Even so, the rate of migration has been responsive to income ratios in each country. The migration rates were also affected by the absorbing capacity of non-agriculture, as indicated by several measures. In contrast to other studies, policy variables consisting of indicators of physical and human capital had little impact on the migration rate separate from that captured by relative incomes.
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.
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.
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.