In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Boserup Theory of Agricultural Development 2. Stages of Agricultural Development 3. Growing Population and Other Changes 4. Boserup’s Theory and Modern Times under Developed Economies 5. Criticisms.

Introduction to Boserup Theory of Agricultural Development:

Boserup occupies the place of pride in the task of discussing the problems and processes of agricultural development. It is so not because she attributed agricultural development to the factor which so far has been described as irrelevant but as she has demolished a theory propounded by classical economist. i.e. Malthus.

Boserup in her attempt tried to probe into the causes of agricultural development. She maintained the view that agricultural development is due to some kind of compulsion. This compulsion relates to rising trend of population.

It means the basic force behind agricultural development is the pressure of population. The development of patterns and techniques of cultivation is governed by the population growth. She supported this contention through an examination of agricultural development of some African and Latin American countries.


According to Malthusian theory of population if at any time food supply increases population will increase and new equilibrium will be established between population and food supply.

In a sense, if population is less than the existing food supply, population will increase and wipe out the excess food supply. But, if population is already beyond the means of subsistence, it itself will come down to reach an equilibrium through the positive checks.

Boserup has tried to refute both these aspects of Malthusian theory. She criticised first part of the theory on the ground that few observers would like to suggest that the tremendous increase in the rates of population growth witnessed throughout the under developed world in the two post­war decades could be explained as a result of changes in the conditions for food production.

It is reasonably clear that the population explosion is a change in basic conditions which must be regarded as autonomous in the sense that the explanation is to be sought not in the improved conditions of food production but in medical inventions and some other factors which the student of agricultural development would regard as independent variables.


As regards the second part of Malthusian theory, the refutation is more direct and emphatic. Thus her theory of agricultural development cannot be sustained so long as Malthusian contention holds. According to Prof. Boserup, “whenever, there is a population pressure, population does not go down. It rather leads to various technical and other changes which result in agricultural growth and increase in food supply.”

Stages of Agricultural Development:

1. Forest Fallow:

According Prof. Boserup, agriculture in the initial stages is called forest fallow which is based on very simple operations. It needed small capital in the form of a seed or axes for felling of trees. It also requires least amount of labour to produce agricultural product.

In this stage, matured forests are burnt. The soil itself becomes loose due to burning of the forests. This type of land can be dug up with a simple stick. No hoes or ploughs are needed for sowing. In short, this stage needs the least amount of capital and labour per unit of food production.


2. Bush Fallow:

Now let us examine, according to Prof. Boserup what happens when population grows and its, requirements for food are not met by burning of matured forests. Allowing a forest to mature fully, requires a long gestation period.

Obviously, for having more crops, the community will resort to the burning of forests with less mature growth. When repeated burning of less matured forests takes place, we find ourselves in the bush fallow stage. In this stage bushes rather than forests are burnt.

The soil in this stage is compact instead of becoming loose. Now, for producing a crop on such a soil, an implement stronger than a mere stick accompanied by more labour is required.

It is so because burning of grass and weeds is very difficult as the hoe cannot remove all the weeds, more labour will be required even for weeding purposes. The period for a land to be follow declines from 25 to 6 years. In short, we can say that growing population need more food and necessitate bush burning.

3. Short Fallow:

The short fallow stage is accompanied by growth of population and accordingly increased need of food grains in the society. The society cannot afford to grow bushes. Thus, the land under grass and weeds has to be used in its existing form.

A hoe having been an important implement during the bush fallow stage, cannot kill grass roots and weeds. Therefore, there arises the need for plough. It is so because burning of grass and weeds is not an easy task and the hoe cannot remove all the weeds.

Moreover, there is only a little of fertilizing ashes because the burning of bushes, too, has become less frequent. During this period, pond mud, refuse, litter from surrounding land etc. is now needed as manure. This needs more labour and capital.


4. Annual Cropping:

In annual cropping, there is no fallow: No doubt, sometime lapses between the harvesting of one crop in one year and the sowing of other in the following year. In fact, it is called an annual rotation system in which the time intervening two crops is utilized for sowing grass or fodder.

5. Multiple Cropping:

According to Prof. E. Boserup, multiple cropping is the most crucial and intensive system of land use pattern. Under this system, two and more successive crops can be sown in a year. It means, there is sufficient scope to grow a variety of crops during rabi and kharif seasons.


The fallow period is almost negligible. As a result of growing population both the fourth and fifth stages of agricultural development will again come into existence. These require not only more capital but as well as more of labour.

In fact, in support of her view, Boserup quotes Parain to suggest that there is another stage of agricultural development after the short fallow stage. It was the introduction of three cause of rotation in Northern Europe in 800 AD. Again, it is brought about by the growing density of population.

These stages require more labour per unit of food produced. As more food is needed and agriculture enters the short fallow stage, draught animals have to be kept one could afford to pay less attention to their upkeep when population density was low and population requires less intensive agricultural operation. But the increase in the density of population, agricultural operations will assume wider dimensions and draught cattle will have to be kept more busy.

This, in turn, requires greater stress on the production of food grains and fodder. All these stages require more labour per unit of cultivation of food. In order to prove her arguments that per unit of food output requires more labour input as we move from the forest culture to short fallow. The nature of food crops produced changes when the community heads towards the short fallow stage.


Therefore, this stage encourages production of cereals rather than root crops. The production of cereals requires protection from weeds, undoubtedly production of cereals needs less labour, but in terms of calories, their per acre output is very low as compared with the root crops. Thus, wider area will have to be brought under cultivation resulting overall utilization of labour will tend to increase.

In a net shell, it is concluded that Prof Boserup’s analysis focuses that the development of agriculture in the early stages was greatly influenced by growing population.

Hence, supporting from European, African and North and South American history where agriculture was developed either by additional population of enslaving weaker section or through natural processes. In such countries, production was almost in a deteriorated state of affairs. Consequently, in many countries, efforts were made to encourage the people to shift from the towns to villages.

Growing Population and Other Changes:

Prof. Boserup has referred to another change in which agriculture develops as a consequence of growing population. It is with regard to change in the make of tools. In agricultural development along with different tools employed in different stages, there also exist the change in their source.

The agricultural communities prefer to use tools by artisans or factories in towns. Apart from all this, it has also been noticed that some rural communities like that of Indonesia have changed to better tools without changing the kind of tools.

Apart from all this, development of towns cannot take place smoothly, if population density was not reached a critical minimum. The towns are to be connected with the villages for the supply of food. Many economic historians have pointed out chat famines in medieval times occurred due to sparse population rather than due to over-population in the rural areas.


The premature growth of towns accompanied by all inefficient transport system resulted in poor availability of food grains to urban areas. According to Prof. Gadgil. “The local scarcities were turned into general famines due to poor transport system”.

Boserup tries to establish that trend in agricultural development in the pre-industrial stage is greatly influenced by the trend in population growth.

At the same time she pointed out that even that social structure in pre- industrial economies is moulded by population growth. In a sense, growth of population affects the system of cultivation which in turn affects the social life of the people.

For instance, forest fallow explains the tribal way of life prevalent in this period. The cultivators moved from one forest to another for burning it. In the bush fallow period, life is more settled. Pedod of cultivating a piece of land is longer.

Further, Boserup has attempted to show that the system of ownership of land is connected with the system of cultivation. In this context, she asserted that the attachment of individual farm ties to particular plots becomes more and more important with the gradual shortening of the period of fallow and the reduction of the part of the territory which is not used in rotation.

Finally, Boserup tried to emphasise the point that in the pre-industrial stage, growing population does not create any obstacle in the way of investment needed for agricultural development The investment like raising of new fields, minor irrigation work, digging of canals, drainage etc. need the conversion of human labour into capital assets. Therefore, a growing population is welcomed in these stages of agricultural development.

Boserup’s Theory and Modern Times under Developed Economies:

Prof. Boserup maintained that her theory of agricultural development is valid even in the modern times for under-developed countries with undeveloped industrial sector.


For instance, she remarked that the modest increases in output per man hour which can be obtained by the use of industrial products or scientific methods in such communities may not be sufficient to pay for every scarce resource of skilled labour and foreign exchange which they absorb.

Therefore, it seems somewhat unrealistic to assume that a revolution of agricultural techniques by means of modern industrial and scientific methods will take place in near future in countries which have not yet reached the stage of urban industrialization.

Criticisms of Boserup’s Theory of Agricultural Development:

Unlike other agricultural development models, Boserup theory of agricultural development is also not free from criticism. According to T.W. Schultz, “Boserup thesis is in general wrong, This may be true only if we attempt to test its validity with regard to the modern underdeveloped countries.

The main points of criticism an understated:

1. The major criticism levelled against Boaerup theory is that it is not applicable to those economies where the urban industrial sector is less developed, The U.S. A. or Canadian economies even, if it is sparsely populated as compared to many other economies is, thus, no longer a test case for this theory.


2. Boserup has expressed the hope that in the present day underdeveloped economies, growing population can be absorbed in the agricultural sector. But, this idea is true in countries like U.S.A. where the density of population is quite low. The farm problem in such economies has necessitated transfer of labour from agriculture sector to the non-agriculture sector.

The reason is that it is difficult to understand Boserup’s opinion how urbanisation and subsequent industrialization took place in such countries when pressure of population on agricultural development was quite low in pre- urbanisation periods. In fact, there are certain other significant factors which are quite important to bring urbanisation and industrialization in those countries.

3. Though, Boserup has attempted to show that cultivation becomes more intensive when population increases and becomes extensive in character when population falls. But, this assertion of Boserup is not fully convincing. It is due to the reason that the sequence of intensification of cultivation and accompanying technical, institutional and social set up enumerated by her is not fully reversible.

In Indian context, the growing unemployment in the agricultural sector in the post-independence period is so conspicuous that it can be ignored. In other words, disguised unemployment in traditional agricultural economies of South East Asia fails to recognise the fact that agricultural development has totally failed to absorb growing population.

4. Boserup has absolutely ignored the unfavourable effects of growing population on agriculture. In backward economies where land frontiers have already been reached, the sub-division and fragmentation of holdings must follow. Thus, small farmers in turn will obstruct the use of improved technology and the growing population may adversely affect the process of capital formation.

5. The last but not least is that Boserup model has only an academic value. Its, application to modern day world is completely uncertain. The various stages of intensification of cultivation are only a matter of history and it is a history which is not likely to repeat itself.