The transformation of agriculture

The transformation of agriculture over the past 200 years has involved the interrelated processes of intensification and commercialization. The intensification of agriculture refers to the increase in output per unit of land used in production, or land productivity. Population densities explain much about where and under which conditions this process has occurred (Boserup, 1981). The transition from low-yield, land-extensive cultivation systems to land-intensive, double- and triple-crop systems is only profitable in societies in which the supply of uncultivated land has been exhausted. It is no accident that the modern seed-fertilizer revolution has been most successful in densely populated areas of the world whether traditional mechanisms for enhancing yields have been exhausted (Hayami and Ruttan, 1985).

Intensification could also occur in the less densely populated areas for two reasons: (i) in areas that are well-connected to markets, higher prices and elastic demand for output imply that the marginal utility of effort increases, hence farmers in the region will begin cultivating larger areas, and (ii) higher returns to labor encourage migration into well-connected areas from neighboring regions with higher transport costs. Intensification of land use and the adoption of yield-enhancing technologies have occurred in both traditional and modern agricultural systems.

Economic growth, urbanization, and the withdrawal of labor from the agricultural sector lead to the increasing commercialization of agricultural systems. Commercialization, in turn, leads to greater market orientation of farm production, progressive substitution of nontraded inputs in favor of purchased inputs, and the gradual decline of integrated farming systems and their replacement by specialized enterprises for crop, livestock, poultry, and aquaculture products (Pingali, 1997). Agricultural output and input use decisions are increasingly guided by the market and are based on the principles of profit maximization. This, in turn, influences patterns of crop genetic diversity through changes in land-use patterns and through crop choice changes.

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