Sustainability Science Program

Faculty Grants

Integrated Use of Land and Water Resources

Faculty Grants

Internalizing Agricultural Externalities: Incentives, Information and Environmental Impacts
Nava Ashraf. Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School

2010-11 Land-Water Initiative award of $40,000

In the Bolivian highlands, as in many parts of the developing world, agricultural decisions on land-use generate negative environmental externalities on sustainable water sources. Extensive cattle grazing degrades water quality and quantity and increases risks associated with landslides and flooding. Our intervention explores alternative mechanisms for behavior change to mitigate these externalities. Providing targeted local information lowers collective action barriers at the community level, and allows for locally imposed incentives through sanctions or positive compensation. Alternatively, these incentives may be provided by the implementing organization through direct payments for improved grazing practices. A rigorous experimental design allows us to identify generalizable relationships between the provision of targeted information and financial incentives and resulting behavioral and biophysical outcome measures. In addition to comparing the effectiveness of financial incentives with local bargaining solutions, we will observe the interaction between these two approaches to better understand whether top-down interventions crowd out local resource management approaches. We will explore a two-way relationship between the interventions and water-related shocks, tracking both the biophysical effects of the treatments and the robustness of behavior change to shocks such as landslides.

Enhancing the Resilience of Subsistence Farming to Drought: Crop Diversification in the former Transkei, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Noel Michele Holbrook
, Professor of Biology and Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

2010-11 Land-Water Initiative award of $40,134

The potential for physiological diversification to reduce drought related risks faced by subsistence farmers in the former Transkei, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa will be investigated. An empirically-based modeling analysis will be conducted for a series of hypothetical subsistence farms across a range of realistic rainfall scenarios, and a field validation of the preceding analysis across a similar rainfall gradient. We will assess the potential for diversification of crop physiological types to increase resilience and explore alternative income mechanisms used in this region to augment crop losses during drought. In addition, we will contrast physiological diversification of existing crop combinations relative to co-occurring native communities.

Sustainability of the Amazonian Hydrologic Cycle with the Expansion of Agriculture and Changing Climate
Paul Moorcroft
, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Steve Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science and Associate Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences
John Briscoe, Professor of the Practice of Environmental Engineering and Health
Faculty member in Schools of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Public Health, and Kennedy School of Government

2010-11 Land-Water Initiative award of $64,336

Ongoing agricultural expansion in Amazonia and the surrounding areas of Brazil is expected continue over the next several decades as global food demand increases. The transition of natural forest and cerrado ecosystems to pastureland and agricultural crops creates warmer and drier atmospheric conditions than the native vegetation. In addition, human induced climate change arising from increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also expected to push the Amazon region towards a warmer and drier state. In a number of recent climate modeling studies, the Amazon has been shown to exhibit two contrasting states for the water cycle and ecosystems of the region: a moist forested state, and an alternate drier and warmer state with savanna-like vegetation. This has raised the question of whether deforestation and conversion to agricultural land cause the atmosphere-vegetation-hydrologic system of the Amazon to switch from is current moist state to the warmer and drier one? And if so, will this new state have sufficient precipitation to sustain the native forest and productivity of adjacent agricultural areas? In this study we propose to answer these questions by investigating the stability of the Amazonian hydrologic system to deforestation and climate change scenarios using a coupled vegetation-atmosphere model. Our study will combine the effects of deforestation and associated agricultural expansion with climate change scenarios. We expect to come closer to capturing the true response and thresholds of the Amazonian system than previous studies as the model has a more realistic representation of the dynamic response of the native vegetation. By doing so we will be able to answer the question: how much deforestation is too much?

The impact of Rainfall Shocks on Cooperation and Productivity in Contract Farming: Evidence from Kenya
Michael Kremer
, Gates Professor of Developing Countries and Professor of Economics, Department of Economics
Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

2010-11 Land-Water Initiative award of $31,000

The shift toward cash crop and market-oriented agriculture is a key step to foster growth and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa. Contract farming schemes play a central role in this transition. As agriculture in Africa is primarily rainfed, water-related stresses provide major sources of vulnerability for the human-natural systems that sustain cooperation in these organizational forms. In the proposed research, we use unique micro-data to study the static and dynamic impact of rainfall shocks on productivity and cooperation in a large sugar cane outgrowing scheme in Western Kenya. Using the company administrative records, we will construct and analyze a database containing information on production, inputs, measures of farmers' effort and plot-specific rainfall shocks. This will allow us to study how these shocks affect cooperation between the company and the farmers. First, we will look at the impact on productivity of adverse rainfall conditions during the cane growing cycle. We will particularly focus on how these effects differ across farmers that vary in experience, baseline productivity level and plot size. Second, we will look at the impact on measures of farmer's diligence recorded by the company. Third, we will test whether, through a credit constraint channel, current shocks affect future cooperation and productivity. With its focus on water-related shocks in contract farming, the proposed study will bring high-quality evidence to an understudied research topic. We also plan to make the database available to other researchers after a first round of analysis.

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