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Dr. Brian Dillon
Sustainability Science Program
Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Office: 506 Rubenstein Building
Tel: (1) 617-496-0426
Group affiliation: Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Sustainability Science
Brian Dillon is a joint Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Research Fellow in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Charles Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. His work explores the relationship between investment and uncertainty, with emphases on agricultural and educational investments in East Africa. Other research interests include information technology in developing countries, contract farming, educational choice, and partial identification problems in econometrics. Brian is contributing to collaborative work with the Initiative on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development led by William Clark. He received his PhD in economics from Cornell University in 2011. His dissertation focuses on the measurement and analysis of individual-level expectations of the likelihood of uncertain future events, and on the effect of perceived uncertainty on agricultural production decisions. To address these issues he distributed mobile phones to a sample of Tanzanian farmers, and gathered a high frequency panel data set by calling each farmer once every three weeks. He earned a BS in mathematics and a BA in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an MPhil in economics as a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge. Brian has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, the World Bank, and the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell. He has lived in Guatemala, Vietnam, and Tanzania, working on a variety of research and development initiatives. His faculty hosts are Michael Kremer and William Clark at Harvard and Christopher Barrett at Cornell University.
Crop residue management as a farmer decision problem
Although disposal of post-harvest crop residues is a significant step in the agricultural production cycle, the choice problem that farmers face when disposing of residues has received scant attention from economists. Burning some or all residue is common in many developing country agricultural systems, such as the rice-wheat system in India, cotton in East Africa, and sugar cane in numerous settings. The net welfare effects of this disposal method, at both the individual farmer level and the social level, are unclear. Emissions from crop residue burning account for substantial release of nitrogen and sulfur, and can have adverse respiratory health effects on nearby populations. However, burning can in some cases increase agricultural profits by lowering labor costs and breaking the reproductive cycle of pests. This project builds a framework for evaluating residue burning, and alternative residue disposal methods, that accounts for the multiple, critical channels by which residue disposal affects individual and aggregate welfare. A farmer decision model is developed that clarifies the relevant tradeoffs across the key affected dimensions: atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, soil fertility, pest reproduction, localized health effects, and labor costs. By calibrating the model for a number of key agricultural systems using empirical estimates from the agronomy, economics, public health, and atmospheric sciences literatures, private and social optimum disposal methods are derived.
The link between land tenure security and agricultural investment: Theory and evidence from Zambia
Efforts by governments and international organizations to replace traditional land tenure regimes in Africa with formalized Western systems of property rights have encountered substantial resistance from both local leaders and outside observers. Although these land regularization efforts are oriented toward worthwhile development objectives, it is clear that there is much that is still not understood about the complex nature of property rights regimes in many African states. This project examines fundamental questions related to the link between security of land rights and investments in land productivity, and to the policy instruments that can attenuate such linkages. The research uses a unique household- and community-level data set from Zambia that includes village-level information on the security of a wife’s rights to land after the death of her husband. The work examines to what extent the threat of land expropriation upon widowhood distorts long run investment in land quality. A range of outcomes related to investment in land productivity is considered: crop choice, acreage allocation, input intensities, output, and household labor supply. The primary source of variation stems from village-level customary laws that govern the redistribution of land after the death of a head of household. If the allocation of resources under insecure land rights differs from that under a more secure tenure system, variation in property rights systems may results in stable, long-run differences in consumption and investment trajectories. This effect is of particular importance in a setting such as modern day Zambia, where high mortality due to HIV leads to high rates of land ownership transfer. Variation in investment and consumption practices due to land inheritance regimes will allow estimating a dynamic model of farmer’s decisions, which can be used to simulate the impact of several policy instruments (e.g., input subsidies, community education, social insurance) in realigning farmers’ intertemporal choice even in the absence of secure land rights. The findings from this project will contribute to the small, but important, literature on gender-differentiated investments in land productivity and tenure security. The research sheds light on an important mechanism through which policy instruments can improve farmers’ wellbeing, without modifying customary land tenure practices. This project is being conducted jointly with Fellow Alessandra Voena.