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Labour productivity: The forgotten yield gap

journal contribution
posted on 2023-12-19, 03:53 authored by James Cock, Steven Prager, Holger MeinkeHolger Meinke, Ruben Echeverria
Crop yields and labour productivity have increased markedly over the past 70 years. In agriculturally advanced countries, increases in labour productivity – that is, increases in the economic output per unit of labour input – have been several-fold greater than corresponding increases in yield. The gap in labour productivity between the Global North and the Global South is now much greater than the yield gap. This large labour productivity gap, unless remedied, will: (i) condemn many farmers in the Global South to live in poverty; and (ii) make them less competitive and force them to follow the well-established trend of exiting farming altogether, which (iii) will contribute to greater dependence on imported food in many countries. Despite this situation, agricultural development agencies tend to emphasise biological yield per unit area to satisfy the increasing demand for more nutritious and varied food products. Policies are skewed towards low-cost food for urbanites, often with benign neglect of the welfare of the rural populace, particularly the women who produce the food. We suggest R&D policies should pay more attention to enhanced labour productivity, while not neglecting increased yield, to meet the dual needs of food for the overall population and prosperity in rural areas. Many technology-based interventions exist to increase labour productivity, nevertheless, single technological fixes are unlikely to bring about major changes. Furthermore, the adoption of new technologies and novel enterprises required to increase labour productivity, particularly those related to high value crops for farmers with limited access to land, depends on an inclusive innovation systems approach. Policies are needed that support the development of new enterprises, soft infrastructure, a stronger industrial base and inclusive partnerships with education providers such as universities, research centres, secondary and tertiary education facilities. This is not to say that producers in the Global South should follow the Global North, rather that policy should focus on interventions that improve labour productivity of both women and men tailored to enhance ongoing development within the local context.



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UN Sustainable Development Goals

8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, 2 Zero Hunger