Spreading the Washington Consensus into Food and Agriculture Sectors: The Case of the International Monetary Fund


The mandate and competence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) do not cover food and agriculture policies. Yet, signs indicate that IMF enages in these policies. Scholars lack a systematic empirical foundation to monitor the extent and impact of IMF’s operations on these sectors. Based on a combination of machine and human coding, we present a comprehensive database on IMF’s policy interventions in food and agriculture. Using new data on IMF conditionality between 1980 and 2014, we assess to what extent the IMF targets these sectors through its ‘conditionalities’—policies that governments need to implement to access IMF credit. The analysis evaluates the agricultural content and ideological orientation of each condition according to whether it promotes a developmental state, a night-watchman state, or neither. The analysis identifies that about 2% of all IMF conditions (1,105 of 58,406) directly target food and agriculture issues. These conditions are available in 43% of all IMF programs (332 of 781). They affect 100 countries of all the 131 countries in which the IMF had any agreements since the 1980s. In addition, the analysis reveals that 59.2% of these conditions embody policy measures in line with a night-watchman state, 40.1% are model-neutral, and 0.7% are developmental. Within the model-neutral category, 23.9% are conditions oriented towards building state capacity; 2.7% have a poverty reduction content; and 2.9% contain pro-environmental policies. The article discusses potential mechanisms driving the IMF to intervene into agriculture and theorizes about possible effects of these conditions on people’s livelihoods.

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