AAEA 2015 Recap

This past week I was able to attend the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting in San Fransisco. It was a fun event with lots of good discussion. In this post I’ll highlight a few of the most interesting sessions I attended. Unfortunately due to the nature of these sort of events, I was only able to attend a small fraction of the available sessions. I know I missed an excellent session on Incorporating Ethics in Economic Analysis with Paul Thompson, Jayson Lusk, David Just, and Harvey James Jr.

Agriculture in Africa: Telling Myths from Facts

The first session I went to summarized a large research project aiming to close the data (and knowledge) gap about agriculture in Africa by implementing nationally representative household surveys in six African countries. Here is a short intro video:

The research aims to confirm or deny the validity of several commonly perceived wisdoms about agriculture in Africa such as:

  1. The use of modern inputs, like chemical fertilizer, remains dismally low.
  2. Land, labor, and capital markets remain largely incomplete and imperfect.
  3. Agricultural labor productivity is low.
  4. Land is abundant and land markets are poorly developed.
  5. Access to credit remains low.
  6. African youth are leaving agriculture en mass.
  7. Trees on farms are negligible.
  8. African agriculture is intensifying.
  9. Women perform the bulk of Africa’s agricultural tasks.
  10. Seasonality continues to permeate rural livelihoods.
  11. Smallholder market participation remains limited.
  12. Post-harvest losses are large.
  13. Droughts dominate Africa’s risk environment.
  14. African farmers are increasingly diversifying their incomes.
  15. Agricultural commercialization and diversification improves nutritional outcomes.

I think this is a great list of “perceived wisdoms” because looking it over, I have a vague feeling or opinion about each one of these items, yet I have no data or evidence to back up this belief.

Aspirations, Social Networks, and Economic Behavior

As readers of this blog will know I’m thinking a lot about aspirations (or hope) as it relates to economic behavior. Some great new research as presented by a PhD candidate from the University of Georgia on this broad topic from work in Nepal.

Here’s the working paper: Social Drivers of Aspirations Formations and Failure in Rural Nepal.

I think this is an important research area and this paper makes a great contribution. The authors measure the association between individual’s aspirations for income and assets and the income and assets of people in their social network. This is important as it provides evidence of the theoretical work of Debraj Ray and Arjun Appadurai – saying that people’s hopes and aspirations for the future( which probably determine future-oriented decisions) is influenced by the relative levels of income and assets of others who have similar characteristics to them.

Agricultural Commercialization in the Developing World

There are two papers that deserve a mention under this topic. The first is a study on the welfare impacts of rising quinoa prices. Basically, should consumers in the developed world continue to consume quinoa at the rate we currently do? In short (and at risk of oversimplification) YES! It actually helps people in Peru. Read more from Marc Bellemare’s blog on Quinoa Nonsense, or Why the World Still Needs Agricultural Economists.

The second is a presentation on a replication study of Dean Karlan’s study on the impacts of export crop adoption in Kenya. In light of all the drama about the de-worming paper this past week, it was super interesting to see first-hand how a real replication study actually works. I’m still not sure what the term ‘replication study’ actually means, but I enjoyed this presentation and its implications for the rigor of the scientific process.

Here’s the replication paper: Recalling Extra Data: A Replication Study of Finding Missing Markets.

Applying Behavioral and Experimental Economics

I was also able to attend and participate in a post-conference workshop on behavioral and experimental economics. Part of this workshop was a great “mini-mentoring” lunch were I was able to discuss some research ideas with some very insightful folks. Most of the workshop was presentations by established researchers who are applying behavioral and experimental methods to their research on food policy, nutrition, and environmental policy. It was fascinating!

The highlight presentation discussed a recently published paper by David Just and Andrew Hanks on the Hidden Cost of Regulation: Emotional Responses to Command and Control.

There were certainly other excellent presentations, I just didn’t have a chance to see them. If you attended the conference, feel free to complete the list in the comments below.