Agricultural Commercialization, Nutrition, and the Rural Poor

A study of Philippine farm households

Foreword by John W. Mellor

Over the past several years the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has undertaken research on the production, consumption, and nutrition effects of agricultural commercialization in Gambia, Guatemala, Kenya, the Philippines, and Rwanda. While it is widely recognized that the commercialization of agriculture is essential to overall economic development, various rural population groups adapt differently to the process of commercialization, depending on the resources available to them, economic and social conditions, and government policies. Many households benefit in the form of higher incomes; others may suffer a decline in income. A particular concern of policymakers has been the effect of commercialization on nutrition.

The purpose of these five studies has been to analyze the process of commercialization in order to identify key factors that determine nutritional outcomes, with the objective of formulating policies to enhance the beneficial effects of commercialization and to minimize the harmful effects.

As discussed in Chapter 1 of this book, interregional and international trade, which are implied by the process of agricultural commercialization, may have important benefits for overall economic development Government macroeconomic and trade policies may have a decisive influence on how quickly agricultural commercialization proceeds and how the potential benefits from commercialization are distributed. While recognizing the significance of these broader policies (which are addressed by other IFPRI research projects), the five commercialization studies have concentrated instead on microlevel concerns. To do so required collection of detailed household and individual data.

The benefits of commercialization can be very unevenly distributed, as documented in this book, by the increased concentration of landholdings resulting from the introduction of a profitable new crop. Decisionmakers have an obvious need to know how various constituencies are affected by the policies they undertake. The data sets laboriously gathered for this purpose also increase our understanding of the development process. While at an aggregate level we can measure shifts in supply and demand in response to changes in prices and other factors, sound policy formulation ultimately requires a careful understanding of the human behavior that generates particular magnitudes.

To attain such an understanding often requires a substantial investment of time and other resources. Work on this book began in 1982, with a trip to the Philippine island of Mindanao to identify an appropriate research setting and to gather other information for writing a research proposal—after consultation with persons from several less-developed countries had identified the effect of commercialization on nutrition as a high-priority research area, and after a common methodology for studying this issue in several countries had been researched and discussed within IFPRI. As with all the commercialization studies, several months of fieldwork were required to develop survey instruments even before data collection could begin. The considerable task of inputting the survey information into a computer software system, and subsequent review and organization of the variables before analysis can begin, are often underestimated by those unfamiliar with the process.

Howarth Bouis and Lawrence Haddad present the detailed findings from the case study of Mindanao, where a substantial number of households converted lands from corn to sugarcane production after construction of a sugar mill. The main effects of the introduction of export cropping in this area were a significant deterioration in access to land, as smallholder corn tenant farms using primarily family labor were consolidated into larger sugar farms using primarily hired labor, an increase in incomes for households that grew sugarcane; a decline in women’s participation in own-farm production; and very little improvement in nutritional status as a result of increased incomes from sugarcane production, primarily because of the high levels of preschooler sickness in the sugarcane-growing households.

The difficulty of generalizing as to the varied effects of agricultural commercialization is brought out by a comparison with the case study in Kenya, where farmers also switched from maize to sugarcane production. In that African setting, where land is often relatively abundant and labor scarce compared with many places in Asia, women increased their participation in own-farm production as cultivated area expanded; in the Philippines women’s participation in farm production decreased as land planted to sugarcane replaced land previously devoted to corn production. Yet there are important similarities as well. As all of the commercialization studies have confirmed, poor health and sanitation conditions are serious constraints to the improved nutrition that increases in income might otherwise have made possible.

Published date: 
Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
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