My research uses economics to inform and improve the food system, especially in Africa. I began with a focus on markets and trade, and have more recently focused on innovation and information.
Major projects (click bold links for separate pages)
- Prizes and contest design, leading to a new way for donors to guide innovation. Cash payments could be paid to innovatorsin proportion to the value of new technologies adopted by farmers, as documented by data from controlled experiments and farm surveys. Data requirements and methods are derived from long experience working with West African researchers to do their own R&D impact assessment.
- The market for infant foods, leading to quality certification as a way to improve nutrition by lowering the cost of the high-density complementary foods needed during the crucial period from 6 to 24 months of age.
Previous projects and working papers
- Nutrition monitoring and public health, with a paper in Economics of Human Biology [preprint] that shows how counting cases of mild underweight helps predict child mortality, by capturing otherwise hidden changes in public health.
- Agriculture and nutrition effects on each other and other things such as poverty reduction, rural institutions and urban settlement.
- Food price policy, as co-editor with Kym Anderson of Distortions to Agricultural Incentives in Africa, and author of several pieces in that project including an Africa summary, case studies for Senegal and Cameroon, and a book chapter using these data to test political economy explanations for policy choices. My bottom-line conclusion from this work is summarized in the final quote in this NYT article.
- Market participation and productivity, with papers on agricultural prices and farm income distribution, as well as the interaction between market participation and productivity, including this grumbling letter in The New Yorker.
- Physical geography and technology, asking how location influences productivity in ways thatcould help guide development policy, across subnational grid cells or across countries. This builds on my earlier work to develop a dataset on the prevalence of winter frosts, which might help people by providing a seasonal respite from pests, pathogens and disease vectors. The possible role of frost in economic life was documented in a 2001 paper in Journal of Economic Growth (with Maggie McMillan), and in a 2003 book chapter as well as conference papers on Climate and Development (with Jeffrey Sachs) and Climate and Agricultural Productivity (with Keith Wiebe). Initial publicationof the frost results in Journal of Economic Growth was reported in The Times of London, the Toronto Star , ABC News and The New Scientist website, plus a two-minute video news item produced by Science Central for ABC television. To see for yourself, here is a map of frost prevalence in .pdf format. The country-level data is here in Excel (.xls) format, or as a zip file of the underlying cell-level GIS data.
Consulting reports and advisory work
- Chicago Council on Global Affairs Progress Report on U.S. Government Leadership in Global Ag Development (2011)
- The Columbia University advisory project in Sao Tome and Principe (2003-2007)
- USAID report on agricultural biotechnology in West Africa (2005), and slides
- Abt Associates report on priorities for agricultural R&D in West Africa (2002)
- IFPRI paper on impact of seed-fertilizer starter packs in Malawi (2002)
- USAID summary of impacts of regional trade agreements in Southern Africa (2000)
- Abt Associates text on comparative advantage and agricultural trade (1995)