The issue of population and development has increasingly evolved into the ‘population, environment, and development nexus. In the face of this mandate for research on population and environment dynamics, different theoretical frameworks are brought on board. Ester Boserup was one of the scholars who have contributed to these theoretical frameworks hence this essay will attempt to expound Ester her theory of population growth and demonstrate how applicable the theory is to Africa. Later on, the weaknesses of the theory will be brought in with reference to the African context.
Lastly a conclusion will summarize the whole essay. A theory is defined as a set of facts, propositions, or principles analyzed in their relation to one another to explain phenomena. (Chambers dictionary, 2005) Population growth is defined as the total number of people who inhabit an area, region, or country, or the number of people in a particular group who inhabit an area. Ester Boserup (May 18, 910 – September 24, 1999) was a Danish economist, writer. She studied economical and agricultural development, worked at the United Nations as well as other international organizations, and she wrote several books.
Her most notable book is The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure. (Aldine, 1965) This book presents a “dynamic analysis embracing all types of primitive agriculture. The work undoes the assumption dating back to Malthus’s time (and still held in many quarters) that agricultural methods determine population (via food supply). Instead, Boserup argued that population determines agricultural methods. A major point of her book is that “necessity is the mother of invention”.
It was her great belief that humanity would always find a way and was quoted in saying “The power of ingenuity would always outmatch that of demand” in a letter to Northern Irish philosopher T S Hueston. She also influenced debate on the role of women in workforce and human development, and the possibility of better opportunities of work and education for women. (Jain, 2005) According to Malthusian theory, the size and growth of the population depends on the food supply and agricultural methods. In Boserup’s theory agricultural methods depend on the size of the population.
In the Malthusian view, in times when food is not sufficient for everyone, the excess population will die. However, Boserup argued that in those times of pressure, people will find ways to increase the production of food by increasing workforce, machinery, fertilizers, (Jain, 2005) Bosarupian theory focuses on the relationship between population, environment, and technology. Her concept of ‘population,’ encompasses population density as well as absolute size and growth. Her concept of environment refers mainly to land resources and related factors such as climate and soil quality.
Since her focus is historical civilizations or developing countries, ‘technology’ for Boserup refers mainly to the tools and inputs used in agriculture, the primary productive activity in these societies. In arraying relationships between population, environment, and technology, Boserup proposes that it is generally agreed that successive change in technology has an important influence on the population size. The opposite side of the interrelationship, the influence of population size on technology, has attracted less attention (Boserup, 1981, p. ). In response, Boserup focus her attention on exploring the role of population as an independent variable that influences both the development of agricultural technology which, in turn, shape the productive capacity of resources. Boserup argues that in the short-term a period of sustained population growth would lower output per man hour. This occurs more intensive methods mean more hours of work on the part of the agriculture laborer. The ratio of output to labour cost, thus, deteriorates in the short run.
In the long run, however, workers would become more efficient at the tasks required by the new intensive regime. More importantly, the growing population would stimulate more efficient production by allowing division of labor. Therefore, a growing population or increased population density leads ultimately to long run increase in output that outweigh short run declines (Boserup, 1965, p. 39-42). Boserup also states that for small populations with low density it is not worthwhile switching to more intensive regimes that require more labor inputs and that entail short-term productivity losses.
She asserts that density must increase to a certain level before it is worthwhile accepting short term declines in labor output and the “hard toil of intensive agriculture” (Boserup, 1965, p. 51). Once higher densities occur, however, it becomes imperative for the population to undertake the increase labor investment of more intensive systems for the sake of the long term advantage of increased output. Boserup asserts that reliance on food imports to meet the gap between the growing populations food needs and production has undercut the ressure for domestic intensification of agriculture. By offering food aid and subsidized and concessionary food imports, the developed world has made it more attractive for many sub-Saharan African countries to import food rather than increase domestic production. She asserts that food imports also play a role in the continued lack of investment in rural areas. Dependence on food production lessens the need for investment in the domestic food production. This allows all resources to flow into the production of crops for export or urban industrial sector.
This type of flow correspond with the major development models of export-led growth promoted by international organizations, such as world bank, in sub-Saharan Africa (Boserup, 1981, p. 202) The theory has been instrumental in understanding agricultural patterns in developing countries, although it is highly simplified and generalized. The theory can be applied in Africa in the following ways; Boserup sees sub-Saharan Africa as historically a sparsely populated continent relative to other regions. As a result, subsistence agriculture and low-technology predominate in the region.
Boserup states that “because past rates of population growth were much lower in Africa than in other parts of the world, extensive land-using subsistence systems, that is, long-fallow agriculture continue to be much more prevalent than elsewhere. In large parts of Africa, there is more land than the sparse population needs for growing crops” (Boserup, 1990, p. 258). Boserup’s theory can also be demonstrated in the Case study of Mauritius. Mauritius is an island country of 1860 km2 in area, located off the east coast of Africa.
Farming and fishing are its main ventures, with agriculture accounting for 4. 6% of its GDP. This is comprehensible since it has fertile soils and a tropical climate. Its exports are divided into four main categories: sugar (32%), garments (31%), plastics (32%) and others (5%). (Jain, 2005) Its population in 1992 was 1,094,000 people. For 2025, the estimated population is 1,365,000. This would mean a growth rate of 1. 45%, with a doubling time of 47 years. Its fertility rate was of 2. 17 children per woman. Jain, 2005) It is possible to notice how uneven population growth has been in Mauritius. At first it was a maintained at a more or less constant level, because there were almost equal values of birth and death rates. Around the 1950s, the birth rate increased significantly (from 35 per thousand to more than 45 per thousand). The death rate declined from 30 to 15 per thousand shortly afterwards. (Jain, 2005) The rate of natural increase was very great, and there was a great pressure on the country for resources because of this increasing population.
It was then that the government had to intervene. It promoted family planning, restricted early marriage, provided improved health care and looked to improve the status of women. The government also worked on diversifying agriculture, invested in industry and improved trading links. With time, there were changes in general attitude toward family size and people were getting married later. As well, there was an improvement in educational and work opportunities for women (in 1975 employment of women was 22. 3%, by 1990 it had increased to 35. 5%). Many transnational companies came to Mauritius because of tax incentives, the Freeport at Port Luis, the large number of educated residents, a considerable amount of cheap labour and the good transport. This would assert to us Boserup’s theory that “necessity is the mother of invention. ” Because the population had risen, the government had to take measures to adapt to this growth. It had to improve and diversify agriculture, so proving agricultural intensification and that “population growth cause’s agricultural growth. (This idea is presented in The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure; 1965. ) It also suggests that a country must improve its technology to be able to support the growing population, and that many technologies will not be taken advantage of if the population is not large enough. Mauritius had to build a Freeport and improve transportation to be able to maintain its population. (Jain, 2005) Chitemene system in Zambia is also one example of how Buserup’s theory is applicable to Africa.
Chitemene system is a method of farming practiced in the Northern Province of Zambia in which fields are cleared by cutting down trees in order to make the soil fertile. This system was introduced as a result of population increase in Northern Province of Zambia. As population density increased, there was need for more food production, this led discovery of an agriculture system which could make land more fertile hence increasing food production for the growing population. Despite Boserup’s theory being considered as the optimum population theory it as some weaknesses in the African context.
Some of these weaknesses are explained in this part of the text. Boserup did not put the law of diminishing returns into consideration when formulating her theory. Increasing labor at a fixed potion of land (increasing population density) would lead to an extent where each addition unit of labor would be adding less to output than what the previous unit added, this would reach a point where output starts decreasing. Most African countries have limited technology and hence increasing population density would lead to diminishing returns in agriculture. (Obadan. 004. P. 99) Another weakness in Boserup’s theory is lack of consideration of ecological factors that arise as a result of increase in population density which affect agriculture negatively. For example in Africa, Nigeria in particular, agriculture contributed more than 75 percent of export earnings before 1970. Since then, due to population growth, however, agriculture has stagnated, mostly due to ecological factors such as drought, disease, and reduction in soil fertility. By the mid-1990s, agriculture’s share of exports had declined to less than 5 percent.
Once an exporter of food to nearby countries, Nigeria now must import food to meet domestic demand (keet, 1994: p. 55). It is clear that certain types of fragile environments cannot support excessive numbers of people in Africa for example the Barotse flood plains in Zambia. In such cases, population pressure may not lead to technological innovations as Boserup suggested. Boserup’s theory does not adequately account for lack of the impact of subsidization of agriculture production by developed countries on African.
Subsidization of agricultural products by developed countries leads to African agriculture products fetching low prices at the international market which in turn discourages farming in Africa despite an increase in population density. Fontanel and Touatam (2004, p. 31) gave an example of trade in cotton. Without financial subsides from the government, the price of cotton production in the United States would be three times higher than the cotton production in most sub-Saharan Africa.
Because of subsides to cotton producers in the United States and European union in 2001/2002, Africa had lost in that period US $920 million (Miroudot, 2004: 47). Boserup’s theory does not also account for the comflicts in some African states which hinder agricultural activities such as farming hence making them depend on foreign aid rather than domestically produced products. Ayttey (1998, p. 193) writes that in 1996, more than 20 million of Africans were refugees. These people, who have lost their homes, jobs, and possessions, should be the ones to go to school, grow food, or work in factories and government and business administration.
This has greatly contributed to the low food output levels in these countries. Boserup’s idea is based upon field studies in south east Asia and she developed her idea based on the number of assumptions, her ideas are not much applicable in Africa which the population is sparse since her field work was conducted in places with very high population densities like india. In conclusion, Boserup’s population theory may not alone fully explain the relationship between population growth, environment and technology but most importantly it has offered a complementary perspective to other theories.
The theory has offered applicable solutions on the relationship between population growth and resources especially in Africa. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ayittey, G. 1998. Africa In Chaos, St. Martin’s press. New York Boserup, E. 1965. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth. Allen and Unwin, London. Boserup, E. 1981. Population and Technological Change. Chicago press, Chicago. Boserup, E. 1990. Economic and Demographic Relationships in Development. The John Hopkins University press. London. Ehrlich, P. 1968. The Population Bomb: Ballantine. New York. Fontanel, J. and Touatam, A. 2004. The Rift. African Geopolitics. No. 13. Paris. OR. IMA INTERNATIONAL.
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