Portal de apoyo a las políticas y la gobernanza

Issue paper

Rethinking Public Policy in Agriculture. Lessons from Distant and Recent History. Policy Assistance Series 7

This report is based on “Applying Historical Precedent to New Conventional Wisdom on Public Sector Roles in Agriculture and Rural Development”, synthesizes the reviews of the history of agricultural policy in ten of today’s developed countries (Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America) and in ten developing and transition economies (Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Mexico, Ukraine, Viet Nam and Zambia). It draws lessons for today’s developing and transition countries that go beyond the so-called Washington Consensus.

This report is supported by 10 country case studies and FAO tries to make a case for the complimentarity between targeted public-sector interventions and private sector roles. There are a wide range of examples of good and bad policy choices and the report highlights three important lessons. 

First, in all countries that are now developed, governments played an important role in supporting agriculture at the early stages of economic development by participating in price stabilization and provision of inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. This support was maintained for a long time and it is still maintained in some cases. The same strategy was successfully employed by countries such as Chile and India more recently.

Second, it is evident that a “one-size-fits-all” policy in agriculture often has had disastrous results. The wide array and mix of policy options adopted by countries clearly underlines the importance of taking a pragmatic approach rather than getting locked into pro-state or pro-private-sector ideological viewpoints.

Finally, agriculture thrives best when there is continuity in policy and public-sector support. In the early stages of economic development, state subventions are often justifiable to ensure price stability, food availability and affordability and, ultimately, political stability which are required for long-term investment and development.