Working Paper
Agricultural and rural transformations in Asian development

Over the past sixty years, most Asian countries have undergone relatively rapid agricultural transformations that helped jumpstart broader economic development. However, the changes have differed markedly in nature and speed across countries of the region.

In much of East and Southeast Asia, the Green Revolution brought a quantum leap in yields of staple crops. Agricultural productivity growth facilitated labour exit and savings transfers, which helped jumpstart industrial growth and urbanization, which in turn induced deeper agrarian change and food system transformations.

In South Asia, these transformative changes have lagged in part because of structural hurdles to agrarian change signalled by Gunnar Myrdal in his seminal book Asian Drama of 1968. More recently, South Asian economies also managed to overcome most of those obstacles, inducing accelerated growth of both agriculture and non-agricultural sectors.

Vast challenges of still widespread poverty and food insecurity in this part of Asia remain. These challenges remain in a context of relatively advanced urbanization, strongly changed dietary patterns and agri-food systems, and pressing environmental constraints.

Consequently, as this paper argues, moving forward, the role and nature of agricultural transformations and structural change in forging economic growth and poverty reduction in still disadvantaged regions of Asia will need to be different as well.