My fundamental research objective is to help reduce unnecessary human suffering manifest in ill health, malnutrition, poverty, and vulnerability to disasters. In this world of plenty, almost half the world's six billion people live on two dollars a day or less. Between one third and one half suffer undernutrition due to insufficient intake of calories, protein or critical micronutrients such as vitamin A, iodine and iron. More than one child in five lives in acute poverty, a disturbing fact to this father of five. Natural disasters appear to be growing in frequency and intensity, and affecting more people than ever, especially the poorest people in the world’s most remote places. These challenges afflict rural populations in Africa and Asia disproportionately, so my group’s work focuses mainly on those regions of the world. At one level or another, virtually all of my research and teaching tries to explore why avoidable injustice and suffering continue to disfigure a rich, technologically advanced world and what individuals and institutions can do to improve matters.
Because university professors do little directly to contribute to this objective, my approaches are indirect, through (i) teaching and mentoring students, (ii) outreach to community groups, governments, international organizations, media, non-profits, and private firms, and (iii) rigorous scholarship to inform my teaching, outreach and other researchers’ discoveries. My research group’s work is primarily field-based, empirical research in development microeconomics, with significant threads of agricultural, environmental and resource economics mixed in, and significant collaboration with scholars from a wide range of biophysical and social science disciplines. We make all of our work and data publicly available. Links to published journal articles, to books and book chapters, to working papers, and to data sets are available on other pages on this site.
The main threads of the group’s research revolve around:
- Dynamics of poverty, malnutrition and well-being
- Causes of food insecurity and effective policy and program responses
- Policy, technological change and the structural transformation of low-income societies
- Individual and market behavior under risk and uncertainty
- Interrelationship between poverty, food insecurity and environmental stress in developing areas
Most of the group’s research relies on external funding from various agencies. Current research projects include:
- A collaborative venture between the African Development Bank (AFDB), African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), World Bank, and Cornell University, the Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS) project pursues in-depth, rigorous, policy-oriented research on the causal determinants of productivity and income growth, asset accumulation, and effective risk management in African agriculture and rural spaces. New micro-level insights based on rigorous research using high quality data can guide the emerging macro-level policy discourse around the structural transformation of African economies, and especially of African agriculture and the continent’s rural spaces. For more details, please see the project website.
- A multi-year project on index-based livestock insurance (IBLI) in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute, the University of Sydney, University of California-Davis, Syracuse University, USDA Agricultural Research Service, various private sector financial institutions and development agencies, funded by the USAID Assets and Market Access (AMA) CRSP, UK DfID, AusAID, the European Union and the World Bank. The basic idea of the original IBLI product is described in this video: "Development of the World's First Insurance for African Pastoralist Herders". Multi-year panel data sets from northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, as well as GPS data from collared cattle herds in southern Ethiopia, are becoming available.
- Work with colleagues at Monash, Reading and Stanford, funded by the International Growth Centre, on the diffusion and welfare impacts of the system of rice intensification (SRI) in Bangladesh. This builds on prior work with colleagues at Cornell and the Institute for Developing Economies on SRI’s impacts in Madagascar and Indonesia.
- In collaboration with the University of Illinois, University of Sussex, Columbia University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Malawi, and with funding from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), we are studying the multi-year impacts of an integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) project and related market access interventions on the productivity and well-being of
smallholder farmers in Malawi over a multi-year period. For more details, see the project web site.
- In collaboration with remote sensing and machine learning experts, and with financial support from USAID, a group of us at Cornell, IFPRI, St. Mary’s College, and the University of Alabama is working on developing accurate, intra-annual frequency estimates of poverty and undernutrition indicators using open access big data and machine learning methods so as to reduce the cost and delay in generating useful targeting indicators in a selection of low-income agrarian countries. This builds on broader, ongoing work with computer scientists, remote sensing specialists, and others in the new field of computational sustainability through Cornell’s Institute for Computational Sustainability. For more background on the field and the institute, see this video.
Past major research projects include:
- Work with the African Development Bank, the World Bank and others using the newly available Living Standards Measurement Surveys – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) to provide up-to-date, statistically representative descriptions and explanations of sub-Saharan African agricultural and rural economies under a project entitled Agriculture in Africa: Telling Facts from Myths.
- Work with IFPRI and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, funded by 3ie, on India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
- Work with colleagues at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, IFPRI, Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization and Brown University on coupled soil and human well-being dynamics in Uganda, funded by the National Science Foundation.
- A multi-year project on idiosyncratic risk, smallholder productivity, and asset building and protection in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Ghana, in collaboration with IFPRI, the University of Ghana's Institute for Statistical, Social and Economic Research, and Addis Ababa University, funded by the USAID Assets and Market Access (AMA) CRSP , with supplementary funding from the National Science Foundation and the UK DfID-funded International Growth Centre. Among other outputs, this project built on Chris Udry and Markus Goldstein’s earlier work in southern Ghana to establish household panel data.
- A nearly decade-long research project on risk management among East African pastoralists, funded by the USAID-funded Global Livestock CRSP. Household panel data from our 2000-2 surveys are available on this site.
- A multi-year project refining, applying and developing training materials on the Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis (MIFIRA) framework for to help humanitarian agencies identify context-specific best responses to food insecurity. Initial efforts are in Kenya and Uganda in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services, CARE, the International Livestock Research Institute and the University of Nairobi, with funding from the USAID Assets and Market Access (AMA) CRSP.
- A multi-year project in collaboration with multiple international development and relief agencies (Catholic Relief Services, Land O’Lakes International Division, Mercy Corps, World Vision) evaluating the impacts of local and regional procurement of food aid under the pilot program authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. The LRP Learning Alliance generated a wealth of data and published studies that have influenced subsequently policy proposals and programming.