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 13
  • 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
    Carbon Markets, Institutions, Policies, and Research
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2008-10) Larson, Donald F.; Dinar, Ariel; Rahman, Shaikh Mahfuzur; Entler, Rebecca
    The scale of investment needed to slow greenhouse gas emissions is larger than governments can manage through transfers. Therefore, climate change policies rely heavily on markets and private capital. This is especially true in the case of the Kyoto Protocol with its provisions for trade and investment in joint projects. This paper describes institutions and policies important for new carbon markets and explains their origins. Research efforts that explore conceptual aspects of current policy are surveyed along with empirical studies that make predictions about how carbon markets will work and perform. The authors summarize early investment and price outcomes from newly formed markets and point out areas where markets have preformed as predicted and areas where markets remain incomplete. Overall the scale of carbon-market investment planned exceeds earlier expectations, but the geographic dispersion of investment is uneven and important opportunities for abatement remain untapped in some sectors, indicating a need for additional research on how investment markets work. How best to promote the development and deployment of new technologies is another promising area for study identified in the paper.
  • 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
    Can Africa Replicate Asia's Green Revolution in Rice?
    (2010-11-01) Larson, Donald F.; Kajisa, Kei; Estudillo, Jonna; Diagne, Aliou
    Asia'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
    A Conceptual Model of Incomplete Markets and the Consequences for Technology Adoption Policies in Ethiopia
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2013-10) Larson, Donald F.
    In 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.
  • Publication
    Agriculture and the Clean Development Mechanism
    (2011-04-01) Larson, Donald F.; Frisbie, J. Aapris
    Many 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.
  • Publication
    The Cost Structure of the Clean Development Mechanism
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2012-11) Rahman, Shaikh M.; Larson, Donald F.; Dinar, Ariel
    This paper examines the cost of producing emission reduction credits under the Clean Development Mechanism. Using project-specific data, cost functions are estimated using alternative functional forms. The results show that, in general, the distribution of projects in the pipeline does not correspond exclusively to the cost of generating anticipated credits. Rather, investment choices appear to be influenced by location and project type considerations in a way that is consistent with variable transaction costs and investor preferences among hosts and classes of projects. This implies that comparative advantage based on the marginal cost of abatement is only one of several factors driving Clean Development Mechanism investments. This is significant since much of the conceptual and applied numerical literature concerning greenhouse gas mitigation policies relies on presumptions about relative abatement costs. The authors also find that Clean Development Mechanism projects generally exhibit constant or increasing returns to scale. In contrast, they find variations among classes of projects concerning economies of time.