2012 Leontief Award Recipients:
Michael Lipton & C. Peter Timmer
"The Global Food Crisis and the Future of Agriculture"
On April 3, the Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) awarded the 2012 Leontief Prize to two of the world's leading agricultural economists. Peter Timmer has held faculty positions at Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell Universities and served as a Dean at the University of Californian at San Diego and an advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Michael Lipton of Sussex University, UK specializes in agricultural research, nutrition, land reform, demographic change, and poverty and inequality and has served as an advisor to the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.
Dr. William Moomaw, Dr. Peter Timmer, Dr. Michael Lipton, Dr. Neva Goodwin, Dean Patrick Webb Photo by Brian Roach
GDAE co-director William Moomaw offered background on the Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought, which GDAE first awarded in 2000 to Amartya Sen and John Kenneth Galbraith. The Leontief Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to economic theory that address contemporary realities and support just and sustainable societies. In concluding his remarks, Dr. Moomaw thanked the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Tufts Institute of the Environment for cosponsoring the event. Watch Dr. Moomaw's remarks.
Before introducing the 2012 award recipients, Neva Goodwin, GDAE co-director, made note of GDAE’s work on topics related to the awardees areas of expertise, specifically mentioning Tim Wise's report, "Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007." She remarked that the field of agricultural economics is needed more now than ever, for a number of reasons. Global warming has brought the idea of sustainability into prominence. The recent financial crises have brought back into the limelight the importance of economic justice. Further, the accompanying food crises have reminded us that the first job of any economy should be to provide sufficient, nutritious food to everyone.
Lectures on The Global Food Crisis and the Future of Agriculture
In his Leontief lecture, Peter Timmer spoke from his “deep conviction that raising agricultural productivity was the essential first step” in economic development. Provocatively, he offered six key examples based on his work that “all end up with results that are contrary to those produced by the standard neoclassical model.” First on his list was: “economic history matters,” and he drew on three centuries of economic development and seven countries – England, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia – to illustrate his point that in each case, in very different ways, agriculture served as an engine for later economic growth and structural transformation.
His other examples were equally persuasive. “Food price stability is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he noted, stressing that apparent “gains to trade from highly unstable food prices … are illusory.” He added his third point, that “day-to-day prices in world commodity markets are a bad guide to long-run decisions.” Markets often send the wrong signals, leaving research, investment, and infrastructure underfunded. His fourth example, that “economic structure matters to the rate and distribution of economic growth,” stressed the presence of imperfect markets in developing countries and the importance of recognizing the implications of having a large agricultural economy dominated by small-scale farmers.
Dr. Timmer’s fifth example evoked a theme Michael Lipton would touch on in detail: “Pro-poor growth is feasible and comes with low opportunity costs in the long run.” Noting that “markets fail in important social tasks,” he called for careful regulation and appropriate social programs to address market failures and to ensure that all benefit from economic growth. He closed with a final example, a call to broaden the frontiers of economic thought to recognize that “political economy is a behavioral field, not a field of positive economics.”
Michael Lipton titled his lecture, “Income from Work: The Food-Population-Resource Crisis in the ‘Short Africa.’” Pointing out that by “short Africa” he means Sub-Saharan Africa minus South Africa and the countries of northern Africa, he argued that Africa could have “a good crisis” if governments could find a way to take advantage of the demographic transition on the continent:
“Between 1950 and 2012, population in the 'short Africa' rose fivefold. It will more than double again in 2012-50 to 11.3 times its 1950 level. Workforces - people aged 15-65 - are rising faster still, thanks to better child survival and some fall in fertility. In 1985 sub-Saharan Africa had 106 people of prime working age for every 100 dependants. By 2012 there were 120; in 2050 there will be 196. That's a 63% rise in workers-per-dependant from now to 2050 - and a 3.5% rise each year in the number of people aged 15-64.”
Today, economic development policies see such demographic shifts as the sources of political and social unrest as economies fail to provide meaningful employment to so many people. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “In South and East Asia, a similar rise in workers-per-dependant proved a demographic window of opportunity, contributing about a third of the 'miracle' of growth and poverty reduction- because those extra workers found productive employment: first, in smallholdings, gaining from a green revolution and usually land redistribution; later, in industry and services, as farm transformation released workers..”
Dr. Lipton spent the remainder of his talk answering the question: “In 'the short Africa', will the swelling ranks of young workers produce Asian miracles - or worsening poverty, unemployment and violent unrest?”