Published on Development Impact

Weekly links December 16: Stagnant agricultural technology progress in Africa, stories behind the data, causal impacts of electrification, and so much more…

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A bumper crop of links as I catch up on some of the interesting reading I did during the last few weeks of our job market series, and give you some reading over the holidays – Development Impact will now be on break until January 9.

·       VoxDev has a new VoxDevLit out on Agricultural Technology in Africa, edited by Tavneet Suri and Chris Udry: “We discuss recent trends in agricultural productivity in Africa and highlight how technological progress in agriculture has stagnated on the continent. We briefly review the literature that tries to explain this stagnation through the lens of particular constraints to technology adoption. Ultimately, none of these constraints alone can explain these trends. New research highlights pervasive heterogeneity in the gross and net returns to agricultural technologies across Africa. We argue that this heterogeneity makes the adoption process more challenging, limits the scope of many innovations, and contributes to the stagnation in technology use”.

·       Don Green has written an EGAP post on 10 things you should know about adaptive experimental design – with a couple of nice examples given to illustrate some pros and cons, as well as discussion of what this means for pre-analysis plans.

·       In Nature, Ratledge et al. use machine learning to look at the causal impact of electrification in Uganda “we show how a combination of satellite imagery and computer vision can be used to develop local-level livelihood measurements appropriate for inferring the causal impact of electricity access on livelihoods. We then show how ML-based inference techniques deliver more reliable estimates of the causal impact of electrification than traditional alternatives when applied to these data. We estimate that grid access improves village-level asset wealth in rural Uganda by up to 0.15 standard deviations”.

·       Congratulations to Dean Karlan on being appointed USAID Chief Economist, and Rohini Pande for winning the 2022 Infosys prize for social sciences. Nice anecdotes about Dean are included in Samantha Power’s comments at his swearing in: “From his earliest days, according to his mother, Dean demonstrated two traits critical for any development economist – an obsession with numbers, and a kind heart. When he was two years old, he overheard a conversation concerning his grandmother who wanted to do something that seemed like it was going to be quite expensive. Dean, who was not yet talking, went into his bedroom and brought his grandmother his piggy bank.”

·       It’s always fun to hear some of the stories behind the data collection you see presented in papers. Here is job market candidate Tillman von Carnap on why collecting data on Kenyan markets involved the geography department at the University of Tasmania;  and Chris Blattman on his early adventures in data collection in India with great sentences like “Blind and penniless in the desert, by day 3 I am getting the hang of Bubaloo”.

·       Data Colada continues discussion of nudging meta-analysis, noting the problem of big effect sizes often coming from problematic experiments in the literature, as well as another illustration of the problems with interpreting an average effect when interventions differ so much “While these three studies are loosely speaking related to “the environment”, it’s unclear to us how to decipher the meaning of the mean that combines the effect of (1) telling people all bananas cost the same on the share of eco bananas purchased, (2)  telling households a researcher is coming to check their stickers on placing said stickers, and (3) defaulting academics into a CO2 fee on paying that fee.”

·       On the IGL blog, Nyangala Zolho sets out different ways experimentation could be used to help develop and implement green innovation policies, with some examples. E.g. “For example, in the Netherlands around 1,100 companies with relatively high energy consumption agreed with the government to achieve an energy saving of 30% between 2005-2020. However, in 2015 it became clear that the feedback reports sent periodically to help these same companies meet their target were not being downloaded. An experiment was launched to test whether an alternative format delivering the same report would increase the number of downloads. This experiment not only showed that an alternative message, alongside sector comparison data increased the number of report downloads but also that it led to findings being discussed with colleagues and management more frequently. This relatively small tweak made a significant difference to ensuring the successful delivery of this policy.”

·       On Medium, Fahad Mirza has his top 25 stata visualizations with full code – for summarizing data.

·       Seema Jayachandran tries out posting on with a post summarizing Mica Sviatschi's work on how U.S. deportations increased gang crime and violence in El Salvador

·       BREAD/IGC Virtual PhD course on Firms and Development: Starting Jan 12, there is a free month-long course of 8 lectures on firms and development, with lectures by David Atkin, Dave Donaldson, Jing Cai, Eric Verhoogen, Pete Klenow, myself, Chris Woodruff, Rocco Macchiavello, Lauren Bergquist and Reka Juhasz.

·       Funding and Conference calls:

o   The World Bank Innovation Challenge on Jobs and Migration is looking for proposals from thinktanks, research centers, international organizations etc. It “aims to build evidence around effective solutions that maximize the economic and jobs benefits from safe, orderly, and regular migration.” There is also a matchmaking effort for researchers interested in working on these issues.

o    PACDEV will be at the University of Washington March 18, with submissions due Jan 6.

o   PEDL is hosting a young scholars matchmaking workshop “to strengthen the links between young scholars in high- and low-income countries working in the rapidly growing field of entrepreneurship and private markets research” – deadline for ideas Jan 9.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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