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Thailand's progress in agriculture: Transition and sustained productivity growth

Working papers

Written by Steve Wiggins

This case study illustrates Thailand’s progress in agriculture and sustained productivity growth. The story describes the nature of the progress, analysis of the factors that have contributed to progress and lessons for policy makers.

Agriculture in Thailand has grown more than the population over the past 50 years, at rates of over 4% a year initially, later slowing to 2% a year. This has taken place within an economy that has become more industrialised and urbanised.

The Thai story is a good example of managing a transition: from a situation in which it was possible for agriculture to grow by putting underused factors of production to work, with only limited improvements in productivity; to a later stage, in which land and labour had become increasingly scarce and growth could continue only through improved returns to these factors. Thai agriculture now produces highly competitive exports, based on increasingly diversified and specialised farming. Overall, agricultural growth has contributed towards falling rural poverty and better food security and nutrition. Much of what has taken place has been down to private initiative, both from farmers and from agribusiness, facilitated and encouraged by strategic public investments.

Henri Leturque and Steve Wiggins