Sustainability Science Program

Nilesh Fernando

A. Nilesh Fernando

A. Nilesh FernandoMr. A Nilesh Fernando
Sustainability Science Program
Kennedy School of Government
Mailbox 81
Harvard University
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Office: 502 Rubenstein Building
Tel: (1) 617-496-0739
Group affiliation: Giorgio Ruffolo Doctoral Research Fellow in Sustainability Science

A. Nilesh Fernando is a Doctoral Research Fellow in the Sustainability Science Program and a doctoral candidate in the Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in development economics, labor economics and applied econometrics. His research seeks to understand how communication technologies can be used to improve agricultural extension systems and in so doing understand its implications for technology adoption in general, and the effects of pesticide use on the health of farmers in particular. He is a co-principal investigator in a research team investigating the impact of mobile phone-based agricultural extension in Gujarat, India. Nilesh is contributing to collaborative work with the Initiative on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development led by William Clark. Other research interests include the determinants of occupational choice in rural labor markets and the role of status signaling on social and occupational mobility across caste groups in India. Originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka, he graduated from Hampshire College with a B.A. in Mathematics and Economics in 2007. He then worked as a Research Associate at the Harvard Business School and at the Centre for Micro Finance in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. At both these institutions he worked on randomized evaluations of interventions seeking to mitigate weather and price shocks faced by Indian farmers. He is a recipient of the Vicki Norberg-Bohm Doctoral Fellowship (2012) and is a Graduate Student Affiliate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS).  His faculty hosts are Shawn Cole and Michael Kremer.

Mobile phone-based agricultural extension, cotton cultivation and sustainable pest management
This project builds on the findings of preliminary research relating to mobile phone-based agricultural extension. The project extends this research by understanding the effectiveness of different types, sources, and media of agricultural information on the adoption of sustainable pest management practices using a randomized-controlled experiment in Gujarat, India. The project focuses on cotton cultivation, the most pesticide-intensive crop and arguably the most important cash crop for the Indian economy. In particular, the research asks which factors affect the adoption of more sustainable pest management practices and their diffusion through social networks. The adoption of these practices stands to affect the health of cultivators through direct health externalities and the population at large through environmental externalities. The project also seeks to understand how to structure mobile phone extension systems to be financially sustainable and estimate its welfare effects under different pricing regimes. The long-term goal of this research project is to contribute to reducing health and environmental externalities resulting from pesticide use through agricultural extension. The implications of the research apply more generally through informing policymakers as to which mechanisms – public, private and civil society – and sources of information – agronomists and farmers – would allow for a system of agricultural extension that is financially sustainable, effective, and an equitable conduit of knowledge.

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