Isabelle Tsakok, Ph. D.

Economist, Consultant on Agriculture and Rural Development

Curriculum Vitae:
• Policy analyst, development practitioner, researcher and teacher
• Worked at the World Bank and in many regions of the developing world
• Focus on agricultural transformation, food security, and poverty reduction
Success in Agricultural Transformation:
What It Means and What Makes It Happen

Cambridge University Press (August 2011)

To lift and keep millions out of poverty requires that smallholder agriculture be productive and profitable in the developing world. Do we know how to make this happen? Researchers and practitioners still debate how best to do so. The book proposes a hypothesis that five sets of conditions are necessary to achieve success. It concludes that government investment in and delivery of public goods and services sustained over decades is essential to maintaining these conditions and thus successfully transform poverty-ridden agricultures. No amount of foreign aid can substitute for such sustained government commitment. The single most important threat to such government commitment is subservience to the rich and powerful minority.

"Should developing countries invest in agriculture to spur growth, or tax agriculture to subsidize industry? Tsakok's examination of the fundamental evidence for these canonical economic development strategies results in a volume that is an invaluable reference to anyone making a first venture into development policy. The approach is comprehensive and nuanced, but absent the jargon and meaningless details that often obscure economic policy texts. This may well become the definitive treatment of what are the most important issues in development policy."
- David R. Just, Cornell University

"Based on refutable and testable hypotheses, we finally have a serious assessment of what 'good' government can and should do to promote small-scale agriculture to reduce rural poverty. The case studies and historical evolution evaluated in this book will be welcomed by all those concerned with agricultural transformation and poverty."
- Gordon C. Rausser, University of California, Berkeley

"For professionals and policy makers, a must-read for those who are willing to reassess the role of agricultural development with an open mind. For the general public, the book tells the story of how successful agricultural transformation has saved humankind from the dire predictions of the Malthusian Law of Population. For all, it is a call to action against self-serving governance that traps millions of smallholders in stagnant agricultures and soul-wrenching poverty."
- Robert Thompson, Chicago Council on Global Affairs; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"This is a marvelous book. The case studies are fascinating, the methodology used for interpreting them is innovative (and provocative), and the conclusions about the critical role of sustained support from the public sector for successful agricultural transformation are exactly right. Everyone interested in why economic development is so hard needs to read this book."
- C. Peter Timmer, Harvard University

"The results of the country analyses in this book are original and relevant, demystifying many widely accepted convictions supposedly verified by econometric estimations. One belief challenged is that agricultural growth in developing countries always leads to a broad-based improvement in farm family incomes and development more generally. In contrast, Isabelle Tsakok, making use of a wealth of information from many nations, identifies five conditions common to all successful transformations of developing country agriculture and rural poverty alleviation. The comparative histories of agriculture in seventeen countries, both developed and developing, make this work a unique and valuable resource for those working in agriculture and rural development."
- Alberto Vald�s, Catholic University of Chile

Agricultural Price Policy:
A Practitioner's Guide to Partial-Equilibrium Analysis

Cornell University Press (October 1990)

This book is a tool-kit for practitioners on the practical application of partial-equilibrium analysis to the problems of agricultural pricing policy. It addresses four questions:

What are the basic issues raised by agricultural price policy?
What is the level and structure of incentives generated by prevailing price policy?
How efficient is the resource use induced by the incentive structure?
What are the incentive, financial, efficiency, and welfare implications of given price changes for specific commodities?

The book explains how price policies undermine or promote agricultural development through the incentives they generate. Specifically, it discusses price distortions; the financial incentives they create for production and consumption; the selection of marketing channels they promote; the pattern and efficiency of resource allocation they induce, and the impact they are likely to have on producers, consumers, government and the economy as a whole.

Although the book is a practitioner's guide to partial-equilibrium analysis, it places agricultural policy within its broader macro and trade context. By placing agriculture policy in a broader open-economy context, the book is making a basic conceptual point, namely the need to integrate domestic agricultural policy with the broader domestic macro policy and with international trade policies. The starting point of the analysis is thus the recognition of increasing interdependence on two fronts: between agriculture and the broader economy, and between agriculture and the world trading system.


I grew up in the Republic of Mauritius, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural society in a small island in the Indian Ocean. Growing up with and learning from people from very different cultures and ways of life during my formative years proved to be a valuable asset as a development practitioner.

After leaving Mauritius, I pursued my university education in the United Kingdom and in the United States. I received a BA in Philosophy and Economics (1970), and MSc in Economics (1971) at the London School of Economics and Political Science. At Harvard, I obtained an MA in Asian Studies (1973), and a PhD in Economics (1976).

I have worked on development issues for over 25 years, first as World Bank staff and since retirement as consultant, on and off. I have specialized in policy analysis; research and training activities in agriculture, agri-business, rural development, food security, and poverty reduction. I have worked in most regions of the developing world: Africa; Asia - South, Southeast and East; North Africa and the Middle East; and Latin America. I have also given training courses for graduate students and development practitioners on agricultural development and policy analysis, at times using a policy game called Exaction, a simulation game I developed with Professor Graham Chapman. I have taught at the World Bank; the School of Public and International Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University, New York City; the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development (SARD), Renmin University of China, Beijing; and at the Policy Center for the New South, Rabat, Morocco.

While I love development work, I do have many other interests. My favorite hobby is cooking and sharing a meal and lively conversations with family and friends.