Do health investments improve agricultural productivity?

Lessons from agricultural household and health research

The link between good health and economic prosperity is well established and can be detected in numerous measures, such as increased income, wages, efficiency, and productivity. While the link can readily be seen in descriptive statistics, however, it is another matter to disentangle the precise nature of the connection. It is likely that causality runs in both directions, and both health and prosperity clearly are affected by numerous other variables.

A similar observation can be made for the link between health and increases in agricultural productivity. This brief seeks to address a fundamental question: Does better health lead to higher rates of agricultural growth? Likely, yes, as a healthier farmer and farm household can devote more resources to farming. It is also likely that the household’s greater productivity leads to higher levels of health because, among other things, the healthy farm family may achieve greater income and therefore be able to purchase more and better healthcare, which would lead to even higher productivity and so on, in a virtuous circle that also includes many other inputs and effects.

Despite the number of studies focusing on the links between health status and economic outcomes, very few focus on the contribution of improvements in health to agricultural growth. Given the need for long-term research and the paucity of high-quality data on the agricultural sector for most countries, this is largely unavoidable. This brief reviews the literature related to health, healthcare, and agricultural productivity in an effort to identify such gaps. At both micro- and macro-levels, the literature does not provide a clear-cut answer to the brief’s fundamental question: Do health investments improve agricultural productivity? Filling in the knowledge gaps could lead to more effective policy and interventions.

McNamara, Paul E.
Ulimwengu, John M.
Leonard, Kenneth L.
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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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