Peasants Are Like Pandas

A new study by Jennifer Leavy and Naomi Hossain, of the Institute for Development Study:

So who wants to farm, and under what conditions? Where are economic, environmental and social conditions favorable to active recruitment by educated young people into farming? What policy and programmatic conditions are creating attractive opportunities in farming or agro-food industry livelihoods?

This paper explores these conditions in a context of food price volatility, and in particular rising food prices since 2007. To do so, it analyses primary qualitative research on the attitudes of young people and their families to farming in 2012, a time when food prices had been high and volatile for half a decade. In theory, assuming higher prices benefit small farmers, food farming should be more attractive since food prices started to rise in 2007.

But this simple causal assumption overlooks both that in many developing countries, it takes considerable economic power – ownership or access to cultivable land and affordable credit for inputs – to turn a profit in farming. It also fails to take into account more sociological explanations governing work and occupational choice – status aspiration and merit on the one hand, and perceived risk on the other.

These two explanations help to explain why young people from relatively low income families, particularly those most likely to innovate and raise productivity levels, do not perceive farming as a realistically desirable occupational choice. Continue reading

The Tenuous Tradeoff between Religion and the Internet

From the very serious MIT Technology Review:

Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.

That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?

Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.

The emphasis is mine. You can read the whole article — titillatingly titled “How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion” – here. Oh, and here’s some “evidence” for you: Continue reading

Slides for My Talk at the Cornell Institute for African Development

I was in Ithaca last week to give a talk at Cornell’s Institute for African Development (and, incidentally, work with coauthors on a few projects). The title of my talk was “The Food Security Impacts of Participation in Agricultural Value Chains.”

If you have an interest in the topic of agricultural value chains and contract farming, you can find my slides here. Comments are most welcome, given that the results therein are very preliminary.

Extreme Weather and Civil War

The abstract of a great new article by Jean-François Maystadt and Olivier Ecker in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics titled “Extreme Weather and Civil War: Does Drought Fuel Conflict in Somalia through Livestock Prices?”:

A growing body of evidence shows a causal relationship between extreme weather events and civil conflict incidence at the global level. We find that this causality is also valid for droughts and local violent conflicts in a within-country setting over a short time frame in the case of Somalia. We estimate that a one standard deviation increase in drought intensity and length raises the likelihood of conflict by 62%. We also find that drought affects conflict through livestock price changes, establishing livestock markets as the primary channel of transmission in Somalia.

The emphasis is mine. And in case anyone wondered, I was not a reviewer for this paper (and generally, I try not blog about the papers I get to review…)

22 Tips for Conference and Seminar Presentations

A graduate student whose (excellent) second-year paper was accepted at a few conferences came to my office last week to ask me how she should prepare her conference presentations. Because I have never given much thought to how I actually do prepare for conference and seminar presentations, I told her I would write a blog post on the topic after thinking about it. So here is my list of tips on how to prepare conference and seminar presentations, in no particular order. I’m sure I’m forgetting many things; please feel free to include your own best tips in the comments section. Continue reading