Climbing the ladder in Sub-Saharan Africa

It’s not easy, according to the World Bank’s Thomas Bossuroy.

Here’s the money ‘graf:

Many African economies have grown quickly, and education has expanded dramatically. But growth has been mostly driven by extractive industries rather than labor-intensive sectors like agriculture or manufacturing, and educational systems are performing poorly. As a result, social mobility seems to have remained low, and the weight of the social background still determines most of individual trajectories.


Bossuroy also points out that while education is often an important factor in upward mobility, the overall low quality of education in many Sub-Saharan African countries makes this factor very weak in the region.



Forecasting Rain in India

Mark Rosenzweig and Chris Udry have an interesting new NBER working paper called “Forecasting Profitability.” As a side note, the title really needs work though in terms of catchiness–the current one sure doesn’t hook potential readers.  If it wasn’t for Marc Bellemare, I would have passed the paper right up.

So..what makes this paper interesting is it studies whether rainfall forecasting ability affects Indian farmers decision to invest.  According to their calculations, uncertainty causes “Indian farmers to under-invest by a factor of 3 compared to optimal investment levels.”  Some of this uncertainty is reduced when the farmers can rely on good weather forecasters.  Now forecasting is not equally precise in all parts of the country and farmers know this.  When forecasters are good, farmers pay more attention and are more likely to respond by increasing investment.


NAFTA’s impact on Mexican farmers

Nice new paper by Silvia Prina in RDE (gated link here, ungated version of the paper here). Here’s the abstract:

Trade liberalization can generate substantial distributional conflicts. This paper measures the impact of increasing trade openness between Mexico and the U.S. resulting from NAFTA on the income of small versus large cash-crop farmers in Mexico. Benefits resulting from higher prices of export goods as well as losses incurred from greater import competition are considered. First, relating NAFTA cuts in trade restrictions to border prices of Mexican exports and imports, I find that NAFTA-induced tariff reductions decreased the border price of corn, Mexico’s main agricultural import, and increased the border prices of tomatoes and melons, Mexico’s main agricultural exports. Then, I find that, among cash-crop farmers, the rise in fruit and vegetable prices benefited small farmers more than large farmers; while the drop in corn prices hurt large farmers more than small. Finally, the analysis at the regional level shows stronger results in the central region where trade liberalization increased the level of earning of poor farmers relative to those of large farmers. These results are consistent with observed cropping patterns and regional characteristics.

Dirt & Development

I have a paper with a former Ph.D. student on the difficulties of agricultural production in tropical sub-Saharan Africa.  It has been an interest of mine ever since I first read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and later Jeffrey Sachs’ papers on the development difficulties of tropical climates.  So I was intrigued when I saw that the European Union’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability has just published a Soil Atlas of Africa and it is available online. It uses computer mapping techniques to create stunning illustrations of the the type of soil problems that Africa suffers from.  Below is a picture from the cover of the atlas:


While the maps are incredible, the message is pretty sobering.  Among other things, the atlas finds that:

1. “While Africa has some of the most fertile land on the planet, the soils over much of the continent are fragile, often lacking in essential nutrients and organic matter.”

2. “Aridity and desertification affects around half the continent while more than half of the remaining land is characterised by old, highly weathered, acidic soils with high levels of iron and aluminium oxides (hence the characteristics colour of many tropical soils) that require careful management if used for agriculture.”

3. “Soils under tropical rainforests are not naturally fertile but depend instead on the high and constant supply of organic matter from natural vegetation and its rapid decomposition in a hot and humid climate. Breaking this cycle (i.e. through deforestation) quickly reduces the productivity of the soil and leaves the land vulnerable to degradation”

4. “In many parts of Africa, soils are losing nutrients at a very high rate, much greater than the levels of fertiliser inputs. As a result of rural poverty, farmers are unable to apply sufficient nutrients due to the high costs of inorganic fertilisers or from a lack of farm machinery (Africa has the lowest use of industrial fertilisers in the world). Traditional practices, such as long fallow periods that improve nutrient budgets and restore soil fertility, are difficult to implement due to the increased pressures on land and changes in land tenure that restrict traditional nomadic lifestyles.”

Yikes, sobering indeed.