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Title:Three essays challenging assumptions about smallholder farmers
Author(s):Cardell, Lila
Director of Research:Michelson, Hope
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Michelson, Hope
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Winter-Nelson, Alex; Herrera, Catalina; Lentz, Erin
Department / Program:Agr & Consumer Economics
Discipline:Agricultural & Applied Econ
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):economics
Abstract:This dissertation focuses on research on smallholder farmers in developing countries. All three essays examine current methodologies and assumptions in the development literature and offer alternative approaches. I focus on two main themes. The first is the validity of common empirical models used in agricultural and nutrition contexts. The second theme is understanding the behavior of smallholders in making agricultural and nutrition decisions. My motivation for these essays is based on the encouragement over my many years of education to focus on critical thinking and skepticism. Many of the models and assumptions in economics are more subjective or normative than researchers acknowledge, and this dissertation confronts a few accepted ideas. The first essay challenges the existing assumption that staple grain prices always rise after harvest, and that farmers are not taking advantage of this arbitrage opportunity due to limited storage technology or liquidity constraints. Using 20 years of data across 14 African countries, this chapter demonstrates that the assumption of positive intra-temporal returns does not always hold. Farmers cannot always predict returns to storage and the volatility in maize prices combined with risk aversion may account for low storage uptake in Sub-Saharan Africa. This essay contributes to the existing literature by imagining a scenario where the farmer is right and proposes that the market failure is access to forward contracts to smooth consumption. The second essay questions the application of one of the most common program evaluation approaches: Difference in Difference designs estimated with two ways fixed effects. Recent economic research has determined that this approach may not be appropriate for all program scenarios, such as differential treatment timing, and can result in biased treatment effects. I consider the appropriateness of TWFE DID in the context of a Heifer International livestock distribution program in Zambia by replicating two prior papers published using this dataset and re-estimating them using an alternative model. This essay contributes to the nascent economic literature on applications of newer DiD methodology, as well as the overall literature on the impact of livestock ownership on household level consumption. The third essay considers existing methods of evaluating nutritional inadequacy and inequality and the sensitivity of those outcomes to methodological choices. Using a large scale nationally representative survey in Bangladesh, this essay delves into whether the assumptions in those methods affect outcomes and provides guidelines for choosing a method. The choices that researchers make in estimating nutritional inadequacy and inequality, such as the data source or aggregation method, can significantly influence their findings, and therefore the allocation of limited resources for addressing malnutrition globally. This paper contributes to the applied economics literature by identifying the methodological steps that can influence nutritional outcomes and providing guidance for best practices.
Issue Date:2021-11-24
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/114078
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Lila Cardell
Date Available in IDEALS:2022-04-29
Date Deposited:2021-12


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