I am an applied microeconomist with specializations in development economics and econometrics.

My research studies the economics of development in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on the agricultural sector.

  • My dissertation research studies adoption of a new production technology in Kenya.
  • My post-dissertation research studies subsidies for production technologies in Uganda.

I am an assistant professor of economics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Feel free to email me at birdsa01@luther.edu. My CV is available at this link.

RESEARCH

While the number of people living in poverty worldwide decreased in recent decades, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa increased during the same period. This persistence in poverty is due in part to productivity being low and stagnant, especially in the agricultural sector in which most of the population works. To stimulate productivity growth in agriculture, many governments in sub-Saharan Africa subsidize prices of technologies like hybrid seeds and fertilizers for targeted agricultural household firms. My research studies how the targeting and design of subsidy programs affect their ability to increase productivity and decrease poverty in a cost-effective manner.


WORKING PAPERS

Technology Adoption, Transaction Costs, and Input Subsidies in Smallholder Agriculture: Theory and Evidence from Western Kenya, August 2019.

Abstract: Many governments in sub-Saharan Africa attempt to increase agricultural productivity by subsidizing adoption of technologies like hybrid seeds. Programs often target subsidies to relatively wealthy households producing surplus food to sell on the market. Yet incentives for technology adoption would be large for “almost seller” households that can overcome the transaction costs of selling in food output markets and “almost autarkic” households that can displace costly purchases by adopting technologies to increase their own food production. I test this prediction using data from a randomized control trial of information about new, high-yielding varieties of maize developed for western Kenya. To estimate heterogeneous effects of the information intervention on adoption, I predict each household’s output market participation without the new varieties. Consistent with the theory, I find the common strategy of targeting agricultural subsidies to household producing surplus food excludes many households willing to adopt new production technologies.

[Link to full paper]


Program Targeting and Design: Input Subsidies in Smallholder Agriculture, July 2019.


Filling a Niche? The Impacts of a Local Seed Company on Maize Productivity in Kenya, June 2019.

with Michael Carter, Travis Lybbert, Emilia Tjernström

Summary: Regions with lower agricultural potential tend to lack productive technologies suited for their environments due to low levels of investment to develop productive technologies for these regions. This study evaluates whether seed varieties developed for lower potential agroclimatic regions by small, private seed companies can increase productivity and incomes of agricultural households in the context of maize seed systems in Kenya. The study employs a randomized control trial to assign communities to receive information about new, productive seed varieties as part of a collaboration with a small Kenyan seed company. The study shows the potential role of small, private seed companies to increase agricultural productivity in lower potential agroclimatic regions.

[Link to policy brief]


Agricultural Technology Adoption, Market Participation, and Price Risk in Kenya, Dec 2017.


WORK IN PROGRESS

Returns and Learning from Subsidized Inputs by Ugandan Smallholder Farmers

with Michael Carter, Maria Jones, Saahil Karpe, Laura Meinzen-Dick

Summary: Temporary farm input subsidies are one of the main policy tools for addressing low productivity in African agriculture, as they reduce the costs and risks that smallholder farmers face when experimenting with modern inputs. Without a clear exit strategy, however, subsidy programs may become fiscally unsustainable. Moreover, there is no rigorous evidence on whether program efficacy varies by subsidy level. In collaboration with the Government of Uganda, this impact evaluation aims to identify the impact of a temporary farm input subsidy on the use of, returns to, and learning about modern farm inputs by smallholder farmers. The evaluation will study these impacts both during and after the period of time when farmers receive subsidies. By studying these impacts of the pilot subsidy program, the impact evaluation will inform subsidy design for subsequent roll out of the subsidy program throughout Uganda. Data collection consists of a baseline household survey in 2019, a midline survey in 2020, and an endline survey in 2021.

[Link to AEA RCT Registry]

TEACHING AND MENTORING


INSTRUCTOR, LUTHER COLLEGE

  • Economics of Information and Networks, 2019;
  • Principles of Economics, 2019.


TEACHING ASSISTANT, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT DAVIS

Students evaluated my overall performance near the high score of 5.0 in a variety of courses:

  • Economics of Global Poverty, 2019 (4.8/5.0);
  • Econometric Theory and Applications, 2013 & 2014 (4.7/5.0 & 4.4/5.0);
  • Financial Management of the Firm, 2014 (4.7/5.0 & 4.8/5.0);
  • Intermediate Microeconomics, 2013 (4.7/5.0).


SEMINAR COURSE DEVELOPER

Sustainable Development and Rio+20, Iowa State University, 2012


MENTOR TO INDIVIDUAL UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS

Graduate Academic Achievement and Advocacy Program, Davis, 2017 [Link to program website]

Undergraduate Thesis, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina, 2016


MENTOR TO GROUPS OF UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS

Learning Community for Global Resource Systems major, Iowa State University, 2009-2011 [Link to community website]