My research uses economics to inform and improve the food system, especially in Africa. I began at Purdue University with a focus on markets and trade, then innovation and information, and since moving to Tufts in 2010 have focused primarily on how to improve human nutrition. A narrative record of USDA-funded research at Purdue from 1998 to 2010 is available through my annual reports in CRIS. For a summary of what I’ve learned, the best single source is this recent review article, with its open-access preprint:
- Masters, W.A., A.B. Finaret and S.A. Block, 2022. The economics of malnutrition: Dietary transition and food system transformation. Handbook of Agricultural Economics, vol. 6: 4997-5083. Amsterdam: Elsevier. (preprint)
You might also enjoy a few short & silly fun experiments from my teaching blog, or snippets below about my favorite topics:
- Food prices, currently focusing on the cost of nutritious diets. Previous topics include distortions to agricultural incentives and the political economy of policy choices, for which my bottom-line conclusion is summarized in the final quote in this NYT article.
- Infant feeding, especially the market for premixed infant cereals, and the cost of the high-density complementary foods needed during the crucial period from 6 to 24 months of age, explained in this NYT story.
- Agriculture-nutrition linkages, at different geographic scales as both affect poverty reduction, rural institutions and urban settlement. For 2018 paper in JDS on agricultural transformation and nutrition transition in Africa, replication code and data are here.
- 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 that could help guide development policy, for example by understanding the role of winter frosts in economic life. To see the frost data 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.
- Incentives for innovation, especially through prizes and contest design in search of more effective incentives for improvement in agriculture, food and nutrition. My work in this domain tests how winner-take-all prizes for best performance differ from other incentives, such as shared prizes offered in proportion to incremental improvements.
Consulting reports and advisory work
- World Bank report on groundnut value chains in Senegal (2016-17)
- Chicago Council 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)