Why does female genital cutting (FGC) persist in certain places while has declined elsewhere? Using survey data from the Gambia, we study an important aspect of the persistence of FGC, namely the relationship between (i) whether a woman has undergone FGC and (ii) her support for the practice. Our data exhibit sufficient intrahousehold variation in both FGC status and in support for the practice to allow controlling for unobserved heterogeneity between households. First, our results suggest that a woman who has undergone FGC 40 percentage points more likely to be in favor of the practice, from a baseline likelihood of 40%. Second, our findings indicate that 85% of the relationship between whether a woman has undergone FGC and her support for the practice can be attributed to individual- or household-level factors, but that only 15% of that relationship can be explained by factors at the village level or beyond. This suggests that village-wide pledges against FGC, though they have worked well in neighboring Senegal, are unlikely to be effective in the Gambia. Rather, policies aimed at eliminating FGC in this context should instead target individuals and households if they are to be effective.
That’s the abstract of my most recent working paper (see here for the RepEc version, and here for the SSRN version), “All in the Family: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia,” which my former Masters student Tara Steinmetz (who was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia) and I have been working on for quite some time. A previous version had been circulated for the Midwest International Economic Development Conference, but this one is considerably improved. As with any working paper, the caveat that these results have not yet been through the peer-review process applies. Continue reading →
[T]he events of recent years have brought into stark relief the great challenges that society faces and the role for agricultural economists in helping to meet them. The agricultural productivity growth that enabled food supply to grow faster than demand—and on a shrinking land base—has slowed, contributing to the recent rises in commodity prices. Changes in climate will present further challenges to sustaining productivity growth, but public R&D investments are languishing in many places. World population may increase by one-third by 2050, and rapid economic growth in China and India, home to more than one-third of the world’s population, has caused dramatic changes in diets and food demands in those countries. Along with changes in food demand, new demands for biofuels are now competing for grain. In short, agriculture is challenged to meet rapidly growing demands for food, feed, and fuel, and to do so with ever-smaller environmental impact.
Food demands are not only growing, they are changing in ways most of us would not have imagined. The attributes that define food products and production practices have expanded rapidly. In addition to traditional product attributes such as taste, appearance, convenience, brand appeal, and nutrition, consumers increasingly care also about aspects of the production process (e.g., use of chemicals, farm location and size, and treatment of animals), marketing arrangements (in particular, their “fairness”), and implications of food production and consumption for the environment.
Indeed, within this macro environment confronting agriculture lie countless puzzles, contradictions, and fascinating and important research questions that demand answers only we can provide.
Wise words from Rich Sexton, president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), in his column for The Exchange, the AAEA’s newsletter.
Gabriel, who knows a thing or two about commodity prices, comments on yesterday’s post in which I talked about how Aulerich et al. find no evidence that speculation caused the food crisis:
I would just add:
(1) Granger-causality is not causality as is typically understood, and is best interpreted as “predictability.” Thus, if knowledge of speculative positions does not improve our price forecasts, it is reasonable to conclude that speculation does not affect prices.
(2) Speculators can profit either by taking long (buy) or short (sell) positions, so there is no reason to believe they would have an interest in strictly rising prices.
(3) Prices have gone up for some commodities for which there are no financial instruments (i.e. speculation); and prices have not gone up for some commodities for which there are financial instruments.
Yet more evidence that speculation has not caused the food crisis:
The “Masters Hypothesis” is the claim that unprecedented buying pressure from new financial index investors created a massive bubble in agricultural futures prices at various times in recent years. This paper analyzes the market impact of financial index investment in agricultural futures markets using non-public data from the Large Trader Reporting System (LTRS) maintained by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The LTRS data are superior to publicly-available data because commodity index trader (CIT) positions are available on a daily basis, positions are disaggregated by contract maturity, and positions before 2006 can be reliably estimated. Bivariate Granger causality tests use CIT positions in terms of both the change in aggregate new net flows into index investments and the rolling of existing index positions from one contract to another. The null hypothesis of no impact of aggregate CIT positions on daily returns is rejected in only 3 of the 12 markets. Point estimates of the cumulative impact of a one standard deviation increase in CIT positions on daily returns are negative and very small, averaging only about two basis points. The null hypothesis that CIT positions do not impact daily returns in a data-defined roll period is rejected in 5 of the 12 markets and estimated cumulative impacts are negative in all 12 markets; the opposite of the expected outcome if CIT rolling activity simultaneously pressures nearby prices downward and first deferred prices upward. Overall, the results add to the growing body of literature showing that buying pressure from financial index investment in recent years did not cause massive bubbles in agricultural futures prices.
From a new NBER working paper (ungated version here) by Nicole Aulerich, Scott Irwin, and Philip Garcia. Here is a discussion of the paper by Aaron Smith, who writes:
I commend [Aulerich et al.] for emphatically refuting the Masters Hypothesis. It is important for economists to bring facts and rigorous data analysis to bear on issues that have received such publicity, especially if they appear to be influencing policy
In short, the Aulerich et al. findings fly in the face of what many food policy “experts” love to believe about food prices.