Goodbye DC, hello India?

This research project has evolved to a cross-country study on the relationship between agricultural growth and the prevalence of undernourishment. In order to get to the root of the poverty in developing countries, this study will help policymakers understand what impact their projects to build up farmer productivity is having on nutrition. Based on the literature review and suggestions from John, I built my dataset using the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries as my dependent variable and agricultural growth as my main independent variable.

I spent the majority of my time in DC building up the dataset of all the main indicators and control variables. It is especially difficult to find comprehensive cross-country data on most of the variables, which was an issue I faced multiple times. Another issue was endogeneity in the model because although I was measuring the effect of agricultural growth on the prevalence of undernourishment, the causality could be reversed. Theoretically, agricultural growth should lead to lower rates of undernourishment because farmers have more income to buy food and more agricultural products in the market mean that the price of food should decrease, making it more affordable. However, it is also possible that improved undernourishment due to outside factors may lead to greater labor productivity and agricultural growth can result from better nutritional status.

In order to deal with this issue, I had to find some instrumental variables that would be highly correlated with agricultural growth but not with the error term. This was a challenge because every instrumental variable I wanted to use (fertilizer prices, irrigation) had very limited data coverage, so the models had few observations. In the end, I did the regression models using different definitions of agricultural growth and used a couple of instrumental variables to compare the preliminary results.

This empirical stage of this research has been an amazing learning experience. Talking to John and other researchers at IFPRI has allowed me to learn more about STATA, descriptive statistics, and econometrics. I was able to develop models on the rates of change of agricultural growth at different levels and control for initial conditions in the countries that may affect nutrition. At the end of my time at IFPRI, my preliminary results have set the stage for a senior independent study that I can continue with the help of John. Even more exciting, there is another IFPRI researcher doing a similar study but examining stunting and wasting and the effect of income growth, so John suggested that after I do my senior paper we can all combine and have one final product that can be published.

Now, stage two of my research is on the ground observation to how the results in the data (which show that agricultural growth does lead to a decrease in prevalence of undernourishment) actually predict what is going on in the developing countries. After much deliberation, I had to change the area of my case study from Bangladesh to India because I got in contact with an NGO, Ibtada (under the Aga Khan Foundation) that is doing work on rural development and they agreed that I could go into the field with them and talk to the farmers, alongside evaluating some of their development interventions. Unfortunately, none of the NGOs that I contacted in Bangladesh really responded and I did not know if I would be able to just stop by different farming villages on my own without any official authority. Since I had a concrete institutional contact in India, I would have greater hands on access in order to do a proper case study,  I decided it would be the best route to take.

So, I am currently in India! I have done some observational visits so far and will spend the rest of my time here going to the villages and finding out how agricultural growth is actually impacting the lives of the people.  The village I went to last week was actually predominantly Muslim, and I am interested to see how their conditions differ from a predominantly Hindu village because I have read about the discrimination that Muslim communities face. It has been really interesting to compare the situations I see here with Bangladesh because both are developing countries, but the contrast between rich and poor is so  much more stark in India. In Bangladesh, most people live in modest conditions (with a few exceptions). In India, there are skyscrapers and mile long malls on one side of the street and a slum on the other.  I am excited to fully devote my time to the case studies in the upcoming days and learn about whether what I saw in the empirical analysis matches up with the real world.

Farmhouse

New tractors, indicating agricultural growth

New tractors, indicating agricultural growth

Access to water is a huge issue in villages

Access to water is a huge issue in villages