The paradox is that the faster agricultural productivity rises, the faster the transformation can take place (Timmer 2009). This is because with rising productivity, above all of labour, agriculture can still grow – thereby producing food and raw materials for the domestic market, and often earning vital export revenue – while releasing labour and capital for the urban economy of manufacturing and services. This may seem a tall order, yet across much of the world labour productivity in agriculture has risen faster than that in manufacturing in recent decades (see Figure, also Christiaensen et al. 2011, Martin & Mitra 2001). 

In part, productivity has risen because agriculture in many developing countries had such low levels of productivity, so large increases were potentially possible; but that potential has been realised by the application of improved technology, most notably the improved seed of the Green Revolution, accompanied by public investments in rural roads, power, rural education, health, clean water and the research that has helped produce technical improvements. 

Hence the single most important issue for farming remains that of raising productivity, above all labour productivity, as ever it has been.