14 January 2021

Constraints to Tanzanian Agricultural Development

A recent PhD essay in Development Economics analyses inefficiency and disarray in agricultural labour markets of low-income countries, where most farmers are engaged in small-scale farming on family-owned farms. Focusing on Tanzania, Jeffrey Dickinson studies how family composition affects labour market decisions and how, in turn, that affects farmers’ decisions to hire outside labour. Although the lives of the poor may seem simple enough to outsiders, many low-income persons operate in a highly complex and economically threatening environment.

Why did you devote a PhD essay to Tanzania’s agricultural labour markets?

I chose that research topic after learning about the recent research into the labour markets of subsistence farms. Sustainable development, meaning how we can improve farmers’ output while also decreasing the demands on the ecosystem, is a very important subject now as we need to expand food supply to meet the demands of an increasing population.

How did you formulate your research questions and what was your methodology?

My paper asked, Are farms in Tanzania still reliant principally on family labour for farming activities or are there high-functioning agricultural labour markets in Tanzania? Are there some policies which can promote more active labour markets in Tanzania? 

I analysed labour market and fertiliser factor market failures in the country utilising panel data and incorporating population estimates inferred from daytime satellite images. I leveraged those images to provide insight into the potential sources of labour market dysfunction and found population density to be an important driver of agricultural preparatory and harvest labour decisions. I was able to dissect and analyse the preparatory and harvest periods separately with respect to demand for family and hired labour. This is important since labour markets can bind in the harvest period but not in the preparatory or “slack” period.

What are your major findings and their policy implications?

My findings are that farm households in Tanzania are highly reliant on family labour and that agriculture labour markets appear dormant. It is a well-known fact that agricultural labour is viewed as being a lower form of work, so there are some policy speedbumps to overcome if we want to improve or support the performance of rural agricultural labour markets. 

So, these findings can serve society by informing policies aimed at improving the functioning and liquidity of rural agricultural labour markets. Such dynamics may apply solely to Tanzania or could parallel dynamics in rural agricultural labour markets in high-income countries.

What are you doing now?

I have been working extensively with remote sensing imagery to assess the value added from remote sensing imagery to economic analysis. My next working paper analyses the correspondence of light on the earth as viewed at night from space and tests for a relationship with changes in population and economic growth. I utilise spatial econometrics modelling techniques to control for influences of surrounding jurisdictions and find a strong relationship between population size, economic activity, and nighttime light.

*  *  *

Jeffrey Dickinson defended his PhD thesis in Development Economics in November 2020. Associate Professor Lore Vandewalle presided the committee, which included Professor Nicolas Berman and Professor Jean-Louis Arcand, co-supervisors, and Professor Salvatore Di Falco, Professor of Economics and Vice Dean for Research, Geneva School of Economics and Management (GSEM), University of Geneva.

Full citation of the PhD thesis
Dickinson, Jeffrey. “Essays in Development Economics.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2020.

Good to know:
– Members of the Graduate Institute can download the PhD thesis from this page of the Institute's repository. 
– The PhD essay “Constraints to Tanzanian Agricultural Development: Input Use in Households Under Non-Separability” can be downloaded here.

Banner picture: excerpt from an image by Jen Watson/
Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.