Topic Guide: Agriculture and growth


This is the first of a series of Topic Guides which provides resources to support professional development of DFID advisers and other development professionals. This Topic Guide provides an overview of agriculture and growth. It presents the issues and arguments relating to the topic, and illustrates these with case studies from Thailand, Ethiopia, Africa, Rwanda and Kenya. Links to the current ‘best reads’ are provided in an annotated reading list and signposts are given to detailed evidence and further information. A glossary of key words and phrases is included.

The purpose of this Topic Guide: Agriculture and Growth is to stimulate thinking about pro-poor growth in which agriculture is expected to play a major role. The Topic Guide outlines the propositions and empirical evidence in support of growth based on small-farm agriculture. This sector has a unique potential to accelerate poverty reduction while also stimulating non-farm economic activity. Eventually these processes result in a transition by which the impetus for growth is taken up by other sectors and the role of agriculture diminishes. The guide also points to the complementary role in poverty reduction that can be played by non-farm activities in the rural economy, and at some point by rural-urban transitions in which a steady shift of labour from agriculture into the urban economy occurs.

The Topic Guide makes essential links between aggregate ideas about pro-poor growth and livelihood concepts applied at more local levels of scale. The power of the livelihoods approach is its recognition of the different assets and skills held by different people in rural society, and the consequent different constraints and opportunities they experience. This indicates opening up multiple pathways for individuals’ more productive participation in the economy – including rising agricultural productivity certainly, but also diverse non-farm activities, and the barriers and prospects represented by urban migration. The guide provides examples of differing experiences with pro-poor growth based on small-farm agriculture. It also summarises arguments about land access, farm size, food markets, supermarkets, gender and post-conflict recovery in relation to both growth and livelihood dimensions.


Ellis, F. Topic Guide: Agriculture and growth. Evidence on Demand, UK (2013) 45 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_tg01.mar2013.ellis]

Topic Guide: Agriculture and growth

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