Ester Boserup
Ester Boserup(1910-1999)

  • From Denmark
  • Economist and writer
  • Most notable work: The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure (1965)


Boserup believed that agricultural methods depended on the size of the population and that in times of food scarcity, the people will find a way to increase food productivity by increasing human influences such as fertilizers, machinery, workforce etc.

This graph illustrates that theory, whereby the rate of food supply might vary but never reaches carrying capacity because everytime it gets close, there is a human invention or influence which creates an increase in food supply.

Theory in Brief:
Population Increase > Increased Demand for Food > Improved Agricultural Productivity > More Food > Continued Population Growth

Limitations of Boserup's Theory:
  • It is based on the assumption of a closed community without migration, when in reality, the populations of areas are constantly changing
  • There are certain types of fragile environments that simply cannot physically support a higher population, such as desertified areas in the Sahel

  • "Necessity is the mother of invention" Ester Boserup
  • "In spite of all its shortcomings, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth remains a small masterpiece which economic historians should read -- and not simply quote." Giovanni Federico
  • "Ester Boserup was a truly original scholar who challenged many prevailing economic development theories and became the guru of the women and international development movement." Professor Emerita

Case Study/Example

The Green Revolution

In the 1960s, a package of agricultural improvements known as the Green Revolution was seen as the answer to the food problem in much of the developing world. LEDCs commonly have high birth rates and rapidly growing populations, therefore food scarcity was a large concern. In order to address this problem, modified crops were invented. HVP (high-yielding variety seed programme) commenced in 1966-7.
India was one of the first countries to greatly benefit from HVP and to spark the Green Revolution. In 1967 India was still suffering from the aftermath of the Bengal famine, which occured in 1943 and in which an estimated 4 million people died of hunger. India implemented agricultural methods to increase food output, such as : continued expansion of farming areas, double cropping existing farmland, and using seeds with improved genetics. These methods were very successful as yield per unit of farmland improved by more than 30% and India became one of the world's biggest agricultural producers.
This example of the Green Revolution demonstrates Boserup's theory that technological advances will be made to increase food supply in order to avoid food scarcity in face of a growing population.

Population, Resources and Development by Jane Crispin and Francis Jegede
Advanced Geography, Concepts and Cases. Paul Guinness and Garrett Nagle