Here are some of my current research projects.
A classical motivation for using information provided by the local community to target social benefits in developing countries is that community members may have more current, dynamic welfare information about others than a centralized program implementer. However, there is little direct evidence supporting this claim; most relies on correlations between community-provided information and survey-collected welfare metrics. To understand the information community members have and use in targeting, we conduct lab-in-the-field experiments and community meeting exercises with 300 families in Purworejo, Central Java. Participants complete tasks where they individually rank other community members based on specific welfare benchmarks (consumption, neediness, and assets), as well as targeting tasks. We find that community-held welfare information is distinct from information captured using standard survey methods, and seems to reflect longer-term fixed attributes, rather than dynamic welfare information. Accordingly, community members use longer-term wealth information to predict dynamic welfare, and to target social benefits. Moreover, we find that community information about more dynamic measures does not outperform simple proxy means test scores in predicting more dynamic survey welfare metrics. Finally, we find community members’ information sets are fairly concordant, and rankings constructed during community meetings do not seem to more closely reflect survey-collected welfare metrics. These findings suggest that community-based targeting methods may be useful in identifying long-term poverty, but less useful in identifying acute short-term distress.
We estimate California residents' preferences and willingness to pay (WTP) for current beverage container recycling methods, including curbside pick-up services, drop-off at government-subsidized recycling centers, and drop-off at non-subsidized centers. Using a representative online and telephone survey of California households, we estimate a discrete choice model that identifies: the California Redemption Value (CRV) refund amount (paid to consumers only if they recycle at drop-off centers), the volume of recyclable material generated by the household, and the effort associated with bringing recyclable materials to recycling centers, as key attributes explaining consumers' beverage container disposal decisions. Additionally, we use counterfactual policy analysis to show that increasing the CRV amount increases overall recycling rates, with the largest changes in consumer surplus accruing to inframarginal consumers, who are on the boundary between taking containers to recycling centers and recycling using curbside pick-up, namely white and higher income consumers. Conversely, we show that eliminating government-subsidized drop-off centers does not significantly alter consumer surplus for any major demographic group, and has little impact on recycling rates.
Introducing quality certification in staple food markets in Sub-Saharan Africa: A review of evidence (with Gashaw Abate, Tanguy Bernard, Alain de Janvry, and Elisabeth Sadoulet)
Third party quality certification can be used reduce transaction frictions caused by asymmetric information in value chains. Such certification may help to secure the competitiveness of smallholder farmers in domestic markets for staple crops in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), in the face of rising competition with high quality imports. Yet, while frequent in high value export crops, quality certification is still rare for staple crops. To understand why this discrepancy persists, we develop a model with four sufficient conditions for the functionality of certification in a value chain—-willingness to pay for quality by downstream agents, upstream competition among traders with pass-through of quality price premiums to farmers, existence of cost-effective certification, and farmers' capacity to respond to certification by enhancing quality. We show that if these conditions hold, certification should theoretically lead to farmers: receiving higher prices for higher quality goods, increasing investment in quality-enhancing inputs, and experiencing welfare gains in response to this quality enhancement. To see if these conditions and results hold in practice, we consult the literature and a novel diagnostic survey of experts in 20 SSA countries. We find that while certification systems exist in most countries surveyed, evidence of downstream willingness to pay for quality and of price premiums paid to farmers for quality is mixed. However, in cases where quality price premiums do exist, we observe producers responding by enhancing quality. We conclude that policymakers can promote quality certification in staple chains by first ensuring the four conditions we identify hold.
Understanding Gender-Specific Constraints to Agricultural Technology: Evidence from Cassava Farming in Kenya (with Ethan Ligon and Muthoni Ng'ang'a)
Female subsistence farmers in developing countries often have lower levels of agricultural productivity than men, partially due to lower adoption rates of agricultural technologies. These lower adoption rates may be due to lack of physical access to new technologies or lack of access to information about new technologies, among other explanations. In this study, we consider these two classes of explanations of low technology use among females, and consider the relative impacts of interventions designed to combat each. Specifically, we consider the technology of improved cassava in Murang’a County, Kenya, a more climate-resistant maize substitute, which has been underutilized especially by female farmers. Using a randomized control trial with a 2x2 matrix treatment design, we test the effects on cassava adoption by female farmers of two interventions: delivering cassava seeds directly to female farmers at their homes (improved access), and hiring female “lead farmers,” to diffuse information about cassava seeds (improved information access), as well as explore complementarities between these interventions. The results of this study will be of critical use to policymakers with the goal of improving agricultural productivity of female farmers in this setting, but who may face resource constraints in implementing policies to do so.
Using IMUE to Improve Targeting to LEAP Beneficiaries in Ghana (with Sena Agyepong, Angela Owusu-Ansah, and Ethan Ligon
The Government of Ghana’s flagship social protection program, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), provides cash transfers and free health insurance to nearly a quarter million extremely poor Ghanaian households. But the LEAP program lacks resources to reach all extremely poor households, and faces difficulties in targeting the most vulnerable households under their proxy means-based approach based. In this project, we construct an alternative welfare index, incorporating estimation of households' marginal utility of expenditure on different goods that predicts both household poverty, and which households will benefit most from the cash transfer. By using the new index for targeting, the Ghanaian government should be able to identify households for whom cash transfers will have the largest benefit.