Larson, Donald F.

Development Research Group, World Bank
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Fields of Specialization
Rural Development Policy; Natural Resource Policy; Agricultural Productivity and Growth; Climate Change Policy and Markets; Commodity Markets and Risk
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Development Research Group, World Bank
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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.  
Citations 168 Scopus

Publication Search Results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 22
  • Publication
    On the Central Role of Small Farms in African Rural Development Strategies
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2016-06) Larson, Donald F.; Otsuka, Keijiro
    Improving 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
    Resource Management and the Effects of Trade on Vulnerable Places and People : Lessons from Six Case Studies
    (2010-03-01) Larson, Donald F.; Nash, John
    Lessons from six case studies illustrate the complex relationships between international trade, vulnerable ecologies and the poor. The studies, taken from Africa, Asia and Latin America and conducted by local researchers, are set in places where the poor live in close proximity to ecologies that are important to global conservation efforts, and focus on the cascading consequences of trade policy for local livelihoods and environmental services. Collectively, the studies show how under-valued common resources are often poorly protected and consequently subject to shifting economic incentives, including those that arise from trade. The studies provide examples where trade works to accelerate the use of natural resources and to exacerbate unsustainable dependencies by the poor, and other examples where trade has the opposite effect. An important conclusion is that local livelihood and technology choices have important consequences for how environmental resources are used and should be taken into account when designing policies to safeguard fragile ecologies.
  • Publication
    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.; Matsumoto, Tomoya; Kilic, Talip
    In 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
    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.; Murray, Siobhan; Palacios-Lopez, Amparo
    African 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
    Incomplete Markets and Fertilizer Use : Evidence from Ethiopia
    (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
    Will the Clean Development Mechanism Mobilize Anticipated Levels of Mitigation?
    (2010-03-01) Rahman, Shaikh M.; Dinar, Ariel; Larson, Donald F.
    Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can only tap mitigation opportunities in developing countries by investing in projects under the Clean Development Mechanism. Yet Clean Development Mechanism investments have so far failed to reach many of the high-potential sectors identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This raises doubts about whether the Clean Development Mechanism can generate an adequate supply of credits from the limited areas where it has proved successful. This paper examines the current trajectory of mitigation projects entering the Clean Development Mechanism pipeline and projects it forward under the assumption that the diffusion of the Clean Development Mechanism will follow a path similar to other innovations. Projections are then compared with pre-Clean Development Mechanism predictions of the mechanism s potential market size to discern whether limits on the types of projects entering the pipeline have limited the expected supply of certified emission reductions. Parameter tests suggest that this is not the case and that currently identified Clean Development Mechanism investments will generate offsets in excess of early model predictions. In particular, under favorable circumstances, the mechanism is on track to deliver an average annual flow of roughly 700 million certified emission reductions by the close of 2012 and nearly to 1,100 million certified emission reductions by 2020.
  • Publication
    Food Security and Storage in the Middle East and North Africa
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2012-04) Larson, Donald F.; Gouel, Christophe; Cafiero, Carlo; Roberts, John
    In times of highly volatile commodity markets, governments often try to protect their populations from rapidly-rising food prices, which can be particularly harsh for the poor. A potential solution for food-deficit countries is to hold strategic reserves, which can be called on when international prices spike. But how large should strategic stockpiles be? This paper develops a dynamic storage model for wheat in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where imported wheat dominates the average diet. The paper uses the model to analyze a strategy that sets aside wheat stockpiles, which can be used when needed to keep domestic prices below a targeted price. This paper shows that if the target is set high and reserves are adequate, the strategy can be effective and robust. Contrary to most interventions, strategic storage policies are counter-cyclical and, when the importing region is sufficiently large, a regional policy can smooth global prices. This paper shows that this is the case for the MENA region. Nevertheless, the policy is more costly than the pro-cyclical policy of a targeted intervention that directly offsets high prices with a subsidy similar to food stamps.
  • Publication
    Aligning Climate Change Mitigation and Agricultural Policies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2012-06) Larson, Donald F.; Blankespoor, Brian
    Greenhouse gas emissions are largely determined by how energy is created and used, and policies designed to encourage mitigation efforts reflect this reality. However, an unintended consequence of an energy-focused strategy is that the set of policy instruments needed to tap mitigation opportunities in agriculture is incomplete. In particular, market-linked incentives to achieve mitigation targets are disconnected from efforts to better manage carbon sequestered in agricultural land. This is especially important for many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where once-productive land has been degraded through poor agricultural practices. Often good agricultural policies and prudent natural resource management can compensate for missing links to mitigation incentives, but only partially. At the same time, two international project-based programs, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism, have been used to finance other types of agricultural mitigation efforts worldwide. Even so, a review of projects suggests that few countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia take full advantage of these financing paths. This paper discusses mitigation opportunities in the region, the reach of current mitigation incentives, and missed mitigation opportunities in agriculture. The paper concludes with a discussion of alternative policies designed to jointly promote mitigation and co-benefits for agriculture and the environment.
  • Publication
    Diffusion of Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism
    (2010) Rahman, Shaikh M.; Dinar, Ariel; Larson, Donald F.
    To date, developed countries can only tap mitigation opportunities in developing countries by investing in projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Yet CDM investments have so far failed to reach all of the high-potential sectors identified in IPCC reports. This raises doubts about whether the CDM will be able to generate an adequate supply of credits from the limited areas where it has proved successful. Our paper examines the current trajectory of potential mitigation entering the CDM pipeline and projects it forward under the assumption that the diffusion of the CDM will follow a path similar to other kinds of innovations. Projections are then compared to pre-CDM predictions of the mechanism's potential market size used to assess Kyoto's cost, in order to discem whether limits on the types of project entering the pipeline will also limit the eventual supply of certified emission reductions (CERs). The main finding of the paper is that the mechanism is on track to deliver an average annual flow of roughly 700 million CERs by the close of 2012 and nearly to 1100 million tons by 2020. Parameter tests suggest that currently identified CDM investments will exceed early model predictions of the potential market for CDM projects. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
  • Publication
    Agricultural Policies and Trade Paths in Turkey
    (World Bank Group, Washington, DC, 2014-10) Larson, Donald F.; Martin, Will
    In 1959, shortly after the European Economic Community was founded under the 1957 Treaty of Rome, Turkey applied for Associate Membership in the then six-member common market. By 1963, a path for integrating the economies of Turkey and the eventual European Union had been mapped. As with many trade agreements, agriculture posed difficult political hurdles, which were never fully cleared, even as trade barriers to other sectors were eventually removed and a Customs Union formed. This essay traces the influences the Turkey-European Union economic institutions have had on agricultural policies and the agriculture sector. An applied general equilibrium framework is used to provide estimates of what including agriculture under the Customs Union would mean for the sector and the economy. The paper also discusses the implications of fully aligning Turkey's agricultural policies with the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, as would be required under full membership.