My #OxCSAE2019 Recap

Over the past weekend, I was able to attend the 2019 Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE) Conference at the University of Oxford. Established in 1096 the University of Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university in the world. Walking around the campus is inspiring, but even more inspiring than that is the work presented by so many on how to improve economic and social outcomes across the continent of Africa (… erm… the world. Evidently, the conference is also open to studies implemented in locations other than Africa.)

This is by no means a comprehensive recap. I’m leaving that for others (see the expected recap post by Dave Evans and in-depth summaries forthcoming on the Economics that Really Matters blog). Here are a few papers that I found interesting or stand out in some way.

The Effect of Bonuses on Teacher Behavior: A Story with Spillovers (Juan Castro)

Monetary incentives are often offered to teachers for working in rural and remote schools in many developing countries. The idea behind this sort of policy is that “good” teachers need an extra incentive to teach in hard-to-reach schools. If “good” teachers are important then we might expect these sorts of policies to improve the learning outcomes of kids attending these schools. An increasing number of studies investigate the effectiveness of these policies, but few of these studies account for a critical challenge: the bias driven by spillover effects of these programs on other schools. That is, teachers may migrate toward “hard-to-reach” schools to benefit from the monetary incentive and away from similar but “not-quite-hard-to-reach” schools. This study finds that monetary incentives are effective in reducing teacher attrition and increasing the probability of “hard-to-reach” schools filling teacher vacancies, but that failure to account for spillovers may lead to overestimating effects by about 20 to 30 percent.

Food for Thought? Experimental Evidence on the Learning Impacts of the Ghana School Feeding Program (Elisabetta Aurino)

All across the world millions of children receive some sort of food at school. Some estimates suggest that global spending on this investment is upwards of $70 billion per year. With this much money behind school feeding programs, a natural question is: Are these programs effective in helping kids learn? This study looks at a school feeding program in Ghana. The authors find that the program leads to increased performance on test scores on average. For girls and more vulnerable students, however, the effects where much larger. The authors then look at what might be explaining these results. They find that students who were exposed to the school feeding program had higher levels of enrollment, more schooling attainment, and spent more time at school relative to students who were not exposed to the program. Although these are relatively large effects, whether or not these outcomes are worth the cost requires more careful attention.

Household Labor Allocation and Unanticipated Events in Zimbabwe (Anna Josephson)

How do households in rural areas respond to negative shocks in the presence of an ongoing macro-economic crisis? In this paper, the authors investigate how households in Zimbabwe react when they experience a death within the household or rainfall shocks. This research is conducted in the context of Zimbabwe’s long-term macro-economic crisis, where the country experienced inflation rates of almost 80 billion percent (!). The authors find that as the returns to agriculture decrease, households increasingly rely on non-farm work. After the shock, wealthier households are more likely than poorer households to return to agricultural work. These poorer households are more likely to migrate or sustain their reliance on non-farm work after the negative shock. As other countries experience similar types of macro-economic stress (e.g., Venezuela) understanding how households react to negative shocks is increasingly important.

Contract Farming and Rural Transformation: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Benin (Jeffrey Michler)

Research on the welfare effects of contract farming represents a classic and rich literature. Due to a some of the core set-up of most contracting arrangements, however, much of this research is based on observational data and ultimately struggles to pin down credible causal estimates of the impact of participation in contract farming. In this study, the authors implement a randomized control trial to study the effects of smallholder farmer participation in the contract farming of rice in Benin. The authors find that those who participated in the contract farming scheme increase the area used to farm rice, their rice production efficiency, their market participation, and the income earned from selling rice. This study probably represents the best (in terms of credible causal identification) evidence to date about the effects of participating in contract farming.

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