Relevance and Criticism of Von Thunen Model

Criticism of Von Thunen Model is based on its unidimensional character which is based in a medieval European setting. In Europe, the cropping intensity declines away from North-Western Europe. Similarly, the land-use zones are elongated along the cross-continental railways. The cropping intensity declines as one moves away from these modes of rapid transport. Due to its focus on the experience of western world, it has been widely criticized based on following rationales.

Points of Criticism

  1. No Isotropic land: Von Thunen assumed the hinterland around the city as a plain having homogeneous fertility or productivity. In reality, land has undulating topography and its fertility also varies from place to place.
  2. Transport Cost is not constant: Von Thunen assumed the aggregate transport cost to increase at a constant rate with distance but in reality, the transport cost increases but at a diminishing rate.
  3. Men are not always economic: He assumed the men to be economic and rational who want to increase their profit. In real world, men behave socially and act according to their upbringing, social environment and political compulsions. E.g. some people want to operate near their home even if they get lesser profit than another favorable location.
  4. No Single Market: In reality, there are multiple markets in an area which offer special services to their clients as theorized by Walter Christaller in Central Place Theory. One city is good in one product, other city in another product. People also try to choose the market as near to their homes.
  5. Ignores modern technology: This theory ignores modern technology such as fast modes of transport and cooled containers for transport of perishable goods. Railways have also enable transport of heavy goods, such as wood, at a cheaper cost from far away places.
  6. Ignores modern Agriculture: This theory ignores modern agricultural practices for growing crops. It ignores completely the role of fertilizers and pesticides to increase the productivity of soil. In present world, farmers try to grow crops in all seasons without fallows by using fertilizers. Leaving fallow land is also not determined by distance from the city but by fertility of soil and availability of water.

Applicability of Von Thun Model in Indian Context

In conclusion, this model is not completely applicable in modern world. However, it has certain parts which are applicable to date.

1. Decline in Cropping Intensity

Prof. M. Shafi’s model of Koil, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh shows that the intensity of crops decline from a core agricultural area which is highly fertile. Intensity of cropping also declines away from the Great Plains.

2. Horticulture and Milk Production

These activities are located near cities and is high valued perishable products. These products are mostly located in the peri-urban areas and supply fresh vegetables and milk to the city dwellers. You can observe this phenomena in most cities like Delhi, Karnal, Chandigarh, Lucknow etc.

3. Transport Cost

Transport cost is one of the largest component of production cost of weight losing industry such as Iron and Steel. Iron ore is loses weight after smelting. Therefore, the producers locate their industry close to the source of Iron ore to minimize the transport cost e.g. TISCO in Jamshedpur, IISCO in Burnpur etc. Similarly most Steel plants are located near iron ore reserves in Chhota Nagpur Plateau.

4. Isolated Regions

Some areas are Isolated and have only one big market such as Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Therefore, the people from Hinterland are totally dependent on the lone market from sale and purchase of goods. The isolation can be forced on people by topographic barriers such as forests, mountains and rivers. For instance, there may be second market but reaching it may be difficult due to presence of river or mountains.

5. Impact of Rivers

Rivers reduce the transport cost as explained by Von Thunen in his modified model. It is a much faster, easier and cheaper mode of transport. Presence of a river near a city increases its service area. This is true in areas where rivers a perennial and navigable e.g. National Riverways of Brahmaputra, Ganga, Godavari, Krishna etc.

6. Modified Von Thunen Model

Modified Von Thunen Model was a precursor of Christaller’s Central Place Theory because Von Thunen proposed, later, that the hinterland may have smaller marketplace with its own small hinterland. We can see that most large cities in India have smaller cities around them. These smaller cities provide certain services to the people around them. For instance, Chandigarh is a central market where people come for shopping and recreation, however, you can also see that Zirakpur, a smaller city around Chandigarh has also become a marketplace too and has its own hinterland. This can be observed in most large cities like Delhi, Mumbai etc.

7. Decline in Rent

Rent of land does decline as we go farther from city. For instance, try renting a home in South Delhi. You will be asked a very high rent for single room. If you move farther from South Delhi towards outer Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon, you will observe that you can afford two BHK flat for the price of Single room of South Delhi. Similarly, the rent of commercial property, rent of agricultural land etc. also declines are one moves away from city.


It can be seen that Von Thunen’s model has certain practical applications but not in entirety . Only certain basic ideas of this model are applicable to India or other cities of world. If seen as a whole, this model is outdated.