Favoritism and Flooding: Clientelism and Allocation of Irrigation Water. 2019. World Development 114, 175-195. 

Working Papers

`Rule-of-Thumb’ Instructions to Improve Fertilizer Management? Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh (with Mahnaz Islam, conditionally accepted at Economic Development and Cultural Change)

Heavy government subsidies have led to inefficient application and overuse of fertilizer in Bangladesh. This results in higher than optimal costs to farmers and environmental and public costs. In a randomized controlled trial, we provide farmers with a simple tool (leaf color chart) and basic `rule-of-thumb’ instructions to guide the timing and quantity of urea (nitrogen) application. Treatment farmers reduce urea use by 8% without compromising yield, suggesting significant scope for improving urea management. The results are mainly driven by farmers delaying urea application as returns to urea are low early on in the season and urea applied is likely to be wasted. Cost-effectiveness estimates suggest that each dollar spent on this intervention produces a return of $2.8 dollars due to reduction of urea use over three seasons, as well as significant environmental benefits. We also find suggestive evidence that optimizing the timing of urea application affects farmers’ yields, plausibly as the intervention allows farmers to target urea application to times when returns to urea are highest.

Beyond the Basics: Improving Post Primary Content Delivery through Classroom Technology (with Adrienne Lucas, Under Review)

Using an RCT in middle schools in Pakistan, we test the effect of a government implemented in-class technology and brief teacher training intervention on student achievement in grade level mathematics and science. After only 4 months of exposure, student test scores increased by 0.3 standard deviations on math and science tests, 52 to 120 percent more than the control group. Also, students were more likely to pass the provincially standardized high-stakes exams. Increased effort by both students and teachers indicate a complementarity between technology and other inputs in education production. At a scale of 100 schools, this program is extremely cost-effective.

Electoral Accountability and Clientelism (Under Review)

Elites may offer patronage to rural clients by providing insurance and income protection in return for political support. I test if an increase in accountability due to the transition to federal democracy in Pakistan results in higher sharecropping (risk-pooling agricultural contracts) by politician landlords. Using a tenant level panel and a difference-in-difference framework, I find that tenants of politicians receive greater access to land for sharecropping and other private goods after the election, relative to other tenant households. These results demonstrate that sharecropping allows landlord politicians to offer patronage. I argue that this ability to use sharecropping for paternalism is lower when the efficiency cost of sharecropping is high. Theoretical literature suggests that agricultural technology change should lower the incentives for sharecropping. I construct a measure of exogenous technological change, and show that such change in technology reduces the likelihood of landlords’ election in historically landlord dominated areas.

Digitization and Development: Formalizing Property Rights and its impact on Land and Labor Markets

I test the land and labor market effects of a property rights reform that computerized rural land records, making digitized records and automated transactions accessible to agricultural landowners and cultivators in Pakistan. Using the staggered roll-out of the program, I find that while the reforms do not shift land ownership, landowning households are more likely to rent out land and shift into non-agricultural occupations. At the same time, cultivating households have access to more land, as rented in land and overall farm size per cultivating household increases. I demonstrate evidence of improved allocative efficiency as land is redistributed towards more productive farmers. Aggregate district level data suggests an improvement in overall crop yield. These results have implications for both the allocation of land across farmers and the selection of labor into farming, and demonstrate that agricultural land market frictions present a constraint to scale farming and structural change in developing countries.

The Importance of Experience in Learning about New Farming Practices: Follow-up on a Fertilizer Management Experiment (with Mahnaz Islam)

Using a randomized controlled trial, we provide rice farmers in Bangladesh with a leaf color chart (LCC) that allows farmers to optimize the timing of application of nitrogen-based fertilizers. We follow the treatment and control farmers one season and two years after the intervention. Treated farmers adjust timing in the post intervention season by applying less when nitrogen absorption by plants and thus returns to fertilizer is low, resulting in lower fertilizer usage overall. Two years after the intervention, treatment farmers invest in more irrigation and experience marginally better yield, but have reverted to old fertilizer management practices. Persistence in farmers’ fertilizer practices is driven by their own experience with the intervention. Farmers pay attention to the change in personal farm output—treatment farmers who had a positive experience (i.e. better farm output after using the LCC) continue to use the LCC and follow the prescribed fertilizer usage guidelines. Conversely, treatment farmers who did not experience higher farm yield after the intervention demonstrate worse fertilizer application practices. These differences only exist at the second followup and not at the first followup round, indicating that farmer characteristics are less likely to drive this heterogeneity, and unexpected output shocks may affect the learning process. Instrumental variable analysis confirms that unexpected, aggregate shocks that lead some farmers to experience an increase in yield drive persistence in usage and treatment effects of the LCC.


Works in Progress

Soil Testing as a Solution to Imbalanced Fertilizer Use? A Field Experiment in Bangladesh (with Mahnaz Islam and Wahed Rahman)

We use a field experiment in Bangladesh where randomly chosen farmers were given crop- and variety-specific recommendation for the quantity of fertilizer to be applied. We measure whether these recommendations affect plot level fertilizer use, yield, and profit. In a previous study, Islam and Beg (2019) found that Bangladeshi farmers use fertilizer inefficiently, at times when not needed, and often in more quantity than required. Efficient application of fertilizer can be welfare enhancing as it would reduce costs and can increase income. In this study, farmers in the first treatment arm (T1) of the two armed-treatment received crop- and variety-specific recommendations for individual plots based on the soil test result of those particular plots. Farmers in the second treatment group (T2) received community-based crop- and variety-specific recommendations based on the government information already available for the farmers. The results show that T1 treatment had weak effects on the difference in the quantity of TSP used between endline and baseline, while T2 had negative effects (3.5 percent) on the extensive margin of TSP use, it reduced yield (6.6 percent), revenue (9.5 percent) and profit (42 percent). These results suggest that government recommendations do not serve the individual need of the farmers. It also suggests that only providing the farmers with required quantity does not influence their fertilizer use patterns much.

 Other Selected Works in Progress

“From Remedial to Grade Level: Secondary School Readiness Program in Odisha, India”  (with Anne Fitzpatrick, Adrienne LucasJason Kerwin, and Wahed Rahman): Baseline completed, follow-up visits underway.

“Leveraging Mid-level Supervisors to Improve Public-Sector Service Delivery in Ghana” (with Anne Fitzpatrick and Adrienne Lucas): Fieldwork completed

Seasonal Dropping-Out: using novel data to study attendance and enrollment in response to shocks. [Abstract]

“Politician Incentives for Public School Provision”

Other Working Papers 

Conflict Events, Absenteeism and Learning Outcomes in Schools

Consumer Confidence in Conflict Prone Regions (with Hassan Abbass and Ali Choudhary)

Inflation Expectations in a Developing Country Setting (with Hassan Abbas and Ali Choudhary)