The Jameel Poverty Action LabAs a follow-on to the post on Hans Rosling's efforts to help people draw accurate conclusions from statistics on economic development, I'd like to note the work of MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which has a similar "let's look at the evidence" philosophy.
Founded in 2003 by economics professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Sendhil Mullainathan (who is now at Harvard), J-PAL is
dedicated to fighting poverty by ensuring that policy decisions are based on scientific evidence. We achieve this objective by undertaking, promoting the use of, and disseminating the results of randomized evaluations of poverty programs. [The rationale for using randomized trials is explained here.]A couple of representative projects:
Finding Missing Markets: An Agricultural Brokerage Intervention in Kenya The experimental design includes two treatment groups and one control group.
The first treatment groups is offered access to DrumNet, a Kenyan NGO. These clients are told about opportunities to sell their crops, and are provided access to transportation so they can complete advantageous sales.
The second treatment group is offered the same services, but in addition is offered an in-kind loan at the local agriculture supply store. This is a short-term loan that gives the client just enough credit to buy fertilizer, herbicide, or other chemicals before harvest. The loan is repaid directly from the proceeds from the sale of the client's crops. Hence the only risks for the lender are that the client's crop fails for some reason, or that the client leaves the DrumNet system and sells their crop through another channel. By directly linking the credit to the crop sales, it is hoped that this can be a sustainable agricultural lending model that helps farmers gain access to working capital to invest more in their harvest.
Results so far (the project is ongoing):
- More and more farmers are growing horticultural produce for export, investing more inputs.
- As a result of higher investment, farmers are seeing higher net margins and higher gross prices for their produce.
- DrumNet is an effective model for encouraging the production of export-oriented crops.
- Farmers are less likely to grow horticultural produce for export without credit.
- A comparison of members of farmer self-help groups with access to credit to those without shows that credit is effective in improving yield per acre, but the improvement does not translate into differential income gains.
The Illusion of Sustainability An investigation in Kenya of several pediatric de-worming interventions, notably, free provision of de-worming drugs vs. numerous approaches intended to be financially sustainable (i.e., not requiring ongoing subsidy), such as cost sharing, health education, and verbal commitments (a mobilization technique).
The main results:
- It appears that there may be no alternative to continued subsidies for de-worming.
- Providing medicine to treat worms is extremely cost-effective, although medicine must be provided twice a year indefinitely in order to keep children worm-free.
- An effort to promote sustainability by educating schoolchildren on worm prevention had no impact on the children's worm prevention behaviors and thus child health is likely to be worsened to the extent that funds are diverted from medical treatment into health education in this setting.
- A verbal commitment intervention which asked people to commit in advance to adopt the de-worming drugs, taking advantage of a finding from social psychology that individuals strive for consistency in their statements and their actions had no impact on treatment rates.
- Take-up was highly sensitive to drug cost: the introduction of a small fee led to an 80% reduction in take-up, relative to free treatment.