Abstract

Thinly traded agricultural commodity markets are a concern for farmers and policy markers due to the belief that prices in these settings will be highly volatile, subject to manipulation, and incapable of efficiently allocating resources. Analysis of thin agricultural markets has to date been impeded by lack of an appropriate analytical framework from which to study their behavior. In this paper we propose the modern agricultural markets (MAM) framework as an appropriate paradigm through which to view and evaluate thin markets. We argue that thinly traded markets that meet key conditions required for a MAM will generate maximum economic surplus and enable farmers to earn at least a competitive return on their investments. In the absence of these conditions, however, the concerns known as the “thin market problem” have validity. We set forth the MAM framework, interpret it in a thin-market context, and conduct several brief case studies of thin markets to illustrate use of the approach and draw some key inferences about these markets' behavior. The analysis indicates that appropriate government policies directed to thin markets are those that facilitate their convergence to MAM status, but in reality key policies under recent consideration would have the opposite effect.

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