Research

Publications 

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

Working Papers

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.

 

Can a Rule-of-Thumb Tool Improve Fertilizer Management? Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh (with Mahnaz Islam, R&R Economic Development and Cultural Change)

Adoption of fertilizers has been high in Bangladesh as a result of large government subsidies, but farmers may still fail to apply fertilizer efficiently. In particular, overuse or application of fertilizer at the wrong time may result in higher than optimal costs to the farmer as well as environmental and public costs. In a randomized controlled trial, we provide farmers with a simple tool (leaf color chart) and a basic rules-of-thumb training to guide the timing and quantity of urea (nitrogen) application. Treatment group farmers reduce urea use by 8% without negatively affecting their yield, suggesting significant scope for improving urea management. Results show that farmers apply urea too early in the season, during a period when it is likely to be wasted, and that farmers at all levels of urea use can save urea without sacrificing yields. Cost-effectiveness estimates suggest that each dollar spent on this intervention produces a return of $2.8 dollars just due to savings of urea over three seasons, as well as significant environmental benefits. At the national level, urea reduction due to the treatment would save $80 million in direct urea cost and $11 million in carbon emission cost just within a year. We find suggestive evidence that improving the timing of urea application also affects farmers’ yield. The results demonstrate high returns to a simple tool and rules-of-thumb training to help farmers manage the use of fertilizers, suggesting scope for productivity gains through better management of inputs.

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

As with many developing countries, even though educational access has increased in Pakistan since 2000, learning levels remain disturbingly low. The methods available to explain complex subject matter, the instructional techniques that teachers use, and the teachers’ own content knowledge are often lacking, especially as students enter middle and secondary school. This study used an RCT to test a novel middle school intervention that briefly trained teachers on pedagogical techniques and provided classrooms with video content to enhance middle school students? achievement in both mathematics and science. We find that after only 4 months of exposure, our intervention increased student achievement by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations on project specific and standardized math and science tests, increases that are an additional 52 to 120 percent of the achievement gains for the control group over the same period. Further, we find that the intervention induced increased efforts by both students and teachers, pointing to a complementarity between technology and other inputs in the education production function. Taken to a moderate scale of 100 schools, this program is on par with some of the most cost-effective technology programs in developing countries.

 

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

I test the impact of the computerization of the land records management system in Punjab, Pakistan, which created a digitized database of 20 million land records, previously recorded and maintained manually by 8000 local officers. Land records management service centers were set up to provide access to the records and automated transactions for owners and tenants. This resulted in a formalization of property rights and land transactions without formal titling. Using the staggered roll-out of the program in a difference-in-difference framework, I find that the program facilitated activity in the land and labor markets. Land rental and farm size increase on average, and overall agricultural yield improves by 5 percent. Increased tenure security also resulted in a reallocation of human capital by households; consistent with higher likelihood of renting out agricultural land, agricultural participation by landowning households goes down. There is suggestive evidence that a more efficient allocation of land and labor underlines these aggregate land market and productivity effects. I use information on farm inputs and outputs to calculate farmer level productivity (TFP). Higher TFP farmers have greater access to land due to the rental market activity induced by the program, suggesting land market activity improves allocation of land. Households expected to be less productive in agriculture are more likely to rent out and select out of agriculture, suggesting that enhanced market activity also affects allocation of labor.

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, Paul Glewwe and Wahed Rahman): Baseline underway.

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

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)

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