Agriculture and Industrialisation

The topic of agriculture and its role in industrial and urban development has long been studied by economic theoreticians. According to Nam, Dang and Hainsworth (2000), there are three important theoretical schools that have been particularly influential after World War II, and which differ considerably in the ways by which each presents the relationship between agriculture and industry, in regards to the process of industrialisation.

These are: “the role of agriculture in industrialisation”, “‘big leap’ into industrialisation and urbanisation”, and “harmonious links in the development process” (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

In 1965, John Mellor and Bruce Johnston reported that a successful agricultural sector is an important element in the industrial development and rapid growth rate of a nation’s economy. According to Johnston and Mellor, the five key roles of agriculture are:

·“to supply cheap foodstuffs and raw materials for the urban/industrial sector”;

·“to export farm products to earn foreign exchange which could be used to finance technological and material imports for urban and industrial development”;

·“to release labour to provide the work force for the industrial sector”;

·“to expand the domestic market for industrial products”; and

·“to increase domestic savings to be used to finance industrial expansion” (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

Also in 1965, Simon Kuznets verified the role of agriculture in industrialisation by way of commercial transactions.

According to Kuznets, the agricultural sector supplies other sectors within and outside the country with products such as “foodstuffs, industrial raw materials, labour, capital, and markets” that are necessary for industrialisation (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

But despite the fact that these authors emphasised the importance of agriculture, their hypotheses also highlighted the need for a restructuring of the national economy, decreasing the share of the agricultural sector in the GDP (gross domestic product) and in the work force, and boosting the industrial sectors.

Developmental strategies were usually geared towards the maximum utilisation of agricultural resources to augment industrialisation and urban expansion. In the matter of utilising agriculture to support industrialisation, the existing theories were unable to provide insight into how this can be made possible.

La Grande Encyclopedie Francaise stated in 1986 that “The industrial revolution is accompanied by a general urbanisation and the gradual death of rural civilisation” (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

In 1992, Hainworth observed that the conventional economic theories of the West, as established from the development of the UK and other European nations as well as the rapid industrialisation of North America, often places the agricultural sector in the position of “Cinderella” or slave to the indulgent “ugly stepsister” demands of industrialisation.

In W.W. Rostow’s The Stages of Economic Growth, the author affirms that Western countries have achieved such advanced stages of development that their experience should be emulated by other countries.

According to Rostow, the growth of an agricultural sector in an industrialising setting should be carried out concurrently based on four approaches: “economic, spatial, sociopolitical, and cultural – industrialisation, urbanisation, internationalization, and Westernisation”  (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

Somewhat akin to this viewpoint are the opinions of several Western theorists in A Future for European Agriculture. Their theories tended to downplay the role of agriculture in industrialisation. According to them, the agricultural sector in Europe is primarily geared only towards the production of food.

Thus, on the road to industrialisation, the only way to preserve economic growth is to considerably trim down the agricultural work force. As a rule, an impartial cutback on the agricultural work force and an augmenting of the industrial and urban-services labour force are expected trends in countries undergoing the process of industrialisation.

Nevertheless, it is also important to remember the aforementioned key roles of agriculture. Another vital aspect not to be forgotten is that a country cannot simply make a “big leap” from being primarily agricultural into instantly becoming industrialised.

There are stages between the two that simply cannot be bypassed, as evidenced by the experiences of developing countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Owing to lack of consideration for the agricultural sectors, there have been instances where the negative ramifications of rapid industrialisation have been felt in some countries.

In certain African, Asian, and Latin American nations, the consequences of making a “leap” towards industrialisation have included widespread shortages in foodstuffs, sudden migrations into urban centres that have led to poverty and overpopulation, and abrupt scarcities in the necessary products for industrialisation.

British economist E.F. Schumacher, in his 1973 publication Small is Beautiful, stated that for true economic development to be attained, “an entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods” (Nam, Dang, and Hainsworth, 2000,

He postulated that sufficient attention on the agricultural sector must be paid, especially in developing countries where the majority of the economy is dependent on agriculture and where the bulk of the work force is in the agricultural profession.

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