Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mary Bohman will be moderating a panel with three ERS presenters on ag trade, food safety and nutrition.

The USDA’s Premier Economic Research Institution: ERS economists talk research on trade, food safety, and nutrition policy

Hello, on Monday 6/25 NCFAR will be hosting a seminar featuring the Economic Research Service (ERS), the intramural economic research agency within the REE Mission AreaDr. Mary Bohman, Administrator of the Economic Research Service will be joined by senior economists to present research on tradefood safety, and nutrition economics. They will also shed light on the important data, economic statistics, and collaborations that allow for such research and analysis to be done in service to our nation.

Location: Noon Lunch Seminar, 1302 Longworth House Office Building
              2:30pm 328-A briefing, Russell Senate Office Building

More about the NCFAR seminar series at: Learn More

  Lunch provided to attendees, vegetarian option also available

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Member Awards: Uma Lele

Uma Lele, “a leader in the world of economic development,” receives Dyson’s Wharton Award

Lele with her son, Abhijeet, MBA ’89, and Professor Ralph Christy
Uma Lele, MS ’63, PhD ’65, never considered herself a trailblazer—not when she became the first woman to earn a PhD in agricultural economics from Cornell and not when she became one of the first employees of the World Bank and the rare woman traveling on international missions in the 1970s. But her distinguished career of more than four decades as a leading independent scholar and development economist leaves no doubt that she has been just that.
Lele has authored or co-authored 18 books or book-length reports and more than 130 book chapters, papers, and articles on topics ranging from the environment to gender to global health. Her long career in research, operations, policy analysis, and evaluation included many years at the World Bank, interspersed with periods of service to universities—including Cornell—and international organizations.
To the many significant honors and awards she has accrued in her career, Lele recently added one from the Dyson School, the Clifton R. Wharton Jr. Emerging Markets Award. Recognizing outstanding service, leadership, and contribution to economic progress in emerging markets, it was presented during the Emerging Markets Program’s International Symposium and Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) presentations on April 17.
Among those attending the ceremony in Warren Hall were Lele’s son, Abhijeet Lele, MBA ’89, who is the managing director at Temasek, a healthcare investment firm in Singapore, and emeriti Randy Barker and Bill Tomek, two professors from her student days.
Lele and Clifton Wharton—a noted pioneer in philanthropy, higher education, public policy, and business—crossed paths when she was a graduate student and he was supervising programs in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for the Agricultural Development Council. “In those days (the early sixties), it was rare for a black person to achieve as much as he did. And so, I always admired him,” she said. “It was heartwarming, and a big surprise, to receive this award.”
Photo of Lele with three men
Lele with Professors Emeriti Norman Uphoff and Randy Barker ’53 and former fellow graduate student Bob Herdt ’61, MS ’63, who retired as a vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation. All have been Wharton Award honorees.
Ralph Christy, professor of applied economics and management and former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development, who chaired the award committee, called Lele “a leader in the world of economic development and a brilliant researcher whose work on the food markets in India has been widely cited.
“She supports her theories with rigorous empirical analysis, which is so relevant for policymaking, particularly for decision-makers in developing countries,” he observed. “The strength of her work lies in her rich data sets. Some have been counterintuitive, such as identifying the need for more resources, not less, as agriculture becomes a smaller part of the overall economy. Others have advanced or challenged existing theories.”

From Cornell to the World Bank, and back again

Lele, who grew up in the Indian state of Maharashtra, credits her life’s trajectory to her father, a lawyer and judge who “had big ambitions for his daughter, and a long vision.” By the time she was 18, she had fallen in love with her brother’s friend Jayant Lele, PhD ’65 (CALS). The young man, who had a Ford Foundation fellowship to study at Cornell, asked Uma’s father for her hand in marriage. “My father was a quick-thinking man,” she said with a laugh. “He said to Jayant, ‘You are going abroad, and she hasn’t finished her education yet. Why don’t you get your PhD and, when you return, if she’s not married and you’re not married, then maybe the two of you can wed.’”
Candid photo of Uma at the reception
Uma Lele, MS ’63, PhD ’65
Jayant persisted, and Lele’s father ultimately relented, setting what he considered to be a high bar: if his daughter also earned a fellowship for graduate study in the United States, then the two could marry. “My father felt the gulf between us would be too great if I weren’t similarly educated,” she said. Although she had not yet completed her bachelor’s degree, she “applied to schools like crazy” and received a fellowship from the economics department at the University of Chicago.
The couple married, and Lele went off to study under Theodore Schultz, the chairman of the Chicago School of Economics and a future Nobel laureate. Her husband, meanwhile, worked on his doctorate in rural sociology at Cornell. “In the sixties, that was unheard of,” she said, referring to their long-distance marriage. “Not many women even did graduate work in those days, certainly not in economics.” Within a year, she had transferred to Cornell, where the College of Agriculture (since 1971 the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, or CALS) and the College of Arts and Sciences awarded her a joint scholarship. “They took a chance on me, figuring I couldn’t be that bad if I’d been admitted to Chicago’s graduate program,” she said. She finished her master’s degree, did field work in India, and went on to earn a PhD at age 24, unaware that she was the first woman in her field to do so at Cornell. “I knew all my fellow students were men,” she said, “but I didn’t even think about it. I was so busy.”
Looking back, she said, she is grateful to both Cornell and the University of Chicago “for giving me tremendous opportunities.”
The couple’s son, Abhijeet, was born while they were still in Ithaca. Ten days later, they left for Canada, and Lele settled in as a housewife and mother, though she soon became bored by the long winters and lack of professional stimulation. Field research on Indian grain markets took her back to India for long visits, during which parents and family members “were more than happy to look after their grandson.”
In 1971, in recognition of that research, Lele was hired by the World Bank, “ostensibly to work on markets in South Asia.” Soon, however, she was ordered to head up a research study on Africa. “I was given all sorts of different kinds of assignments. Most of the time, I was thrown into the deep end, into the middle of the ocean, into fields I knew nothing about,” she said.
Lele left the World Bank for a time to return to Cornell as a visiting professor and finish a book derived from her work. The Design of Rural Development: Lessons From Africa (the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975) burnished her credentials as an Africa expert. “I was one of the early ones to say that complex integrated projects don’t work in the African context because of their countries’ weak institutions,” she said. Her study concluded that “project design needed to be bottom-up and build capacity before institutions could absorb large inflows of capital.”
She returned to the World Bank in 1974, after belatedly receiving approval for a leave of absence. By that time, she was married to John Mellor ’50, MSc ’51, PhD ’54, professor of agricultural economics, economics, and Asian studies and director of the Comparative Economics Program, who had been appointed director of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Over the next 17 years, she published on Africa, aid, and capital flows.
Photo of three female students presenting at the front of the room with posters
Lele listens to a SMART presentation by Catherine Wei ’19, Jordan Cohen ’18, and Emma Newburger ’18.
In 1991 Lele, by then divorced, left the World Bank for the University of Florida, where she spent four years as a graduate research professor and director of international studies. While there, she directed the Carter Center’s Global Development Initiative. Lele also co-chaired the Task Force on Research Innovations for Productivity and Sustainability with Ronnie Coffman PhD ’71, then the associate dean for research in CALS, where he is now the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor and director of international programs. The task force explored how American universities could partner with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and developing countries to fund collaborative research.
Upon returning to the World Bank in 1995, Lele was asked to evaluate the bank’s forest strategy. Her lack of knowledge in that area, she said, was seen as an asset, because it would lead her to ask difficult questions. Her recommendation, a controversial one, was to abandon the bank’s existing policy and formulate a new one that balanced conservation with poverty alleviation. “I was developing a reputation for speaking my mind, regardless of the repercussions,” she said.
As co-chairwoman of the International Forests and Grasslands Task Force for the China Council on Environment and Development, she suggested that China survey farming households in forestry areas to learn the impact of the government’s logging ban. “We had 10,000 observations, and they showed that the ban had a drastic adverse impact on poor people’s lives,” she said. “We suggested that they replace the logging ban with a program that would incentivize farmers not to deforest and to plant trees. They began offering payments for environmental services, which has been very successful.”
In Brazil, working with Embrapa, she introduced the idea of competitive grant programs and helped create Labex, a “laboratory abroad” program that would allow Brazilian agricultural scientists to work on joint research projects with their counterparts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, Embrapa also has laboratory exchange programs with countries in Europe and Asia.
As a senior advisor in the World Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department (now called the Independent Evaluation Group), Lele also led meta-evaluations of CGIAR, a global partnership of funders and centers of agricultural research, and the World Bank’s approach to global programs. “I kept expanding my mind and having a tremendous opportunity at the bank to take on responsibilities for which I was totally unprepared,” she said. “I had many supportive bosses, whom I credit for being willing to take that risk.”
Lele has been an informal mentor to the women who followed her and has enjoyed watching the progression of their careers. “Lots of the young people who worked for me have risen to high levels,” she said. “If one lives a long life, you experience all sorts of good things professionally.”

Receiving, and bestowing, honors

Since retiring from the World Bank in 2005, Lele has been writing papers and giving lectures on the reasons why some countries are more successful than others. “That’s a question that has always interested me,” she said. “There’s humility in recognizing that knowledge of what can be done is not the same as translating knowledge into policy—and, most of all, translating policy into implementation. The difference between China, which has been hugely successful, and India, which has progressed more slowly, is that the Chinese are great implementers while Indians have increasingly reduced their capacity to implement.”
Photo of two females presenting with posters
SMART members Sandra Mosqueira Caminada MPA ’18 and Matalyn Stark ’18 present their research.
Last year, she received two career achievement awards from Indian organizations: the B. P. Pal Memorial Award from the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, of which she is a fellow, for “singular outstanding overall contribution to agriculture” (making her the first social scientist to be so honored), and the M. S. Swaminathan Award from the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences, for “lifetime achievement in leadership in agriculture.” She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics and a CALS Outstanding Alumna Award, among other honors.
To support the growth of human capital in developing countries, Lele has funded two awards of her own.
Through the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), of which she is a fellow, she established the Uma Lele Special Purpose Fund, which awards fellowships of up to $5,000 a year to students who select AAEA members as mentors and work with them on proposals. Lele, who learned from Ted Schultz the importance of human capital, created the award, she said, “because I feel strongly that unless nationals of developing countries—who understand their countries’ soils, plants, and policies—become outstanding in various fields, their agriculture will never become prosperous.” Last year, she partnered with the Indian Agricultural Research Council to replicate the program in India.
Through the International Association of Agricultural Economists, of which she is an honorary life member, she established the Uma Lele Prize for Best Contributed Paper on Gender, an award for research on gender issues in agriculture, in 2011. “This is my small way to try to promote certain ideas,” she said. “I try to put my money where my mouth is.”
Lele currently is a visiting researcher at the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi. Her latest book, Food for All: International Organizations and the Transformation of Agriculture, is forthcoming from the Oxford University Press.
—Written by Sandi Mulconry, a freelance writer for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business; Photos by John Reis

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Member Blog: David Zilberman

Rapid Innovations in Agrifood Supply Chains

We hosted our third Agrifood Supply Chain Conference on April 18 and 19 together with Solidaridad and other wonderful sponsors. The conference was hosted at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) building in Berkeley, which houses cutting-edge institutions – the EBI and Innovative Genomics Initiative – that create new technologies affecting supply chains around the globe. The key premise of the event was that a high rate of innovation is triggering supply chains to evolve to create new products or new ways of producing existing products, in ways that are economical and meet environmental and social objectives.

The conference emphasized some of the tensions and contrasts within agricultural supply chains, and how policies can resolve or exacerbate these tensions. For example, the contrast between the supply chains for two important crops, cocoa and blueberries, was quite apparent. Cocoa originated in the Americas and production practices were established by Franciscan monks. This system has remained mostly in place to date. The crop is grown mostly in Western Africa where yields are low, trees are tall and require significant harvesting efforts. Modern inputs are rarely used, and there are concerns about labor practices and environmental ramifications. Yet, there are small, specialized producers who are producing high-value, refined varieties. Researchers have discovered new varieties that can improve productivity in the cocoa sector, but adoption of these varieties is limited due to credit constraints faced by farmers, as well as lack of investment in extension services and constraints imposed by government. Some of these constraints may be motivated by the concern that an increase in supply may lead to a drastic reduction in the price of cocoa, which is low already. One possibility that would allow improvement in productivity is to invest in nurseries that introduce higher yield cocoa varieties, and expand outreach to improve production methods, while simultaneously converting some of the land to other crops, such as palm oil. This would allow to maintain cocoa production levels, generate new sources of income, and overcome price stabilization concerns.

While cocoa is an established crop grown by traditional smallholders in developing countries, blueberries have emerged as a commercially significant crop recently. Demand for blueberries increased partly due to studies showing that they contain strong antioxidants. At the same time, supply increased as research efforts allowed for a uniform, high-quality product. Harvesting is labor-intensive, and as minimum wage rises and constraints on immigration grow, the industry is seeking out methods of automated harvesting. Blueberries, for processing, are already harvested mechanically in some cases. But there is hope that with increased precision, harvesting of blueberries for the fresh market will also be automated. In addition, there are continued efforts to increase the efficiency of production and availability to consumers, in part by designing smaller plants that can be grown in vertical farming systems.

Both the emergence of the blueberry sector and the desire to produce high-quality and sustainable cocoa reflect the agrifood sector’s emphasis on addressing consumer demands. The emergence of the organic sector is a prime example of this trend. Whole Foods has been a major promoter of organic, and their success has led other companies, like Costco and Walmart, to invest in building supply chains for organic products. The organic industry emphasizes that organic is “clean” and “natural” even though there is no significant scientific evidence of the superiority of organic products from a health perspective. Regardless, many consumers prefer organic, which leads to a price premium for these products. It also reflects a societal tension between science and ideology that may affect attitudes to agricultural biotechnology as well as climate change. Some of the people most concerned about climate change also oppose the use of biotechnology in agriculture, but modern biotechnology can be an effective tool to help address the potentially negative effects of climate change related to agricultural production. For example, genetic tools can be used to modify crop varieties to withstand changes in climatic conditions, such as droughts, floods, etc. With the introduction of gene editing tools, such as CRISPR, the capabilities of biotechnology are being enhanced even further. The likelihood of their adoption will increase if the regulation of gene editing in agriculture will balance benefits and risk. It’s clear that the major beneficiaries of many of these technologies are developing countries that suffer from food deficiencies, and are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The major challenge is to develop the capacity to create crop varieties and systems that will be appropriate for various locations and be adopted when needed given the impending consequences of climate change.

One of the major features of modern supply chains is product differentiation. It is becoming evident that food markets are bifurcated between foods that target the affluent and foods that target the rest of the population. Very often, people who can afford the price premium tend to purchase and consume organic-certified products. For some, it is because of presumed health benefits, while for others it is due to taste.  Others cite more environmentally friendly practices (restricted pesticide use), or animal welfare considerations. We are now seeing the emergence of restaurant chains, including fast food chains, that emphasize organic products. From the farmer’s perspective, this is desirable as it increases farm income. From a global perspective, it may be problematic because the supply of organic products is limited and may be taxing on the environment. Furthermore, the misleading demonization of non-organic food products may lead consumers to misallocate resources, spend extra money while gaining minimal benefit, and actually harming the environment.

A growing aspect of the food system is access to information and transparency about the supply chain. More affluent consumers are generally more interested in and are more willing to pay to be more familiar with food ingredients, and even food production methods and working conditions. The cost of providing this information is declining with information technology and there is a growing reliance on certification systems. However, developing metrics for certification systems that adequately measure positive change, such as poverty reduction and improved market access for farmers, and reduced environmental impact of farming processes is a huge challenge in itself. This is a work in progress – the track record of certification systems to date is mixed. Some indeed may reduce deforestation and eliminate forced labor, but others may be costly to farmers and won’t necessarily lead to meaningful change. Certifiers themselves need to be scrutinized in terms of their impact and their cost. Much of the certification is conducted by NGOs, but these are temporary solutions that need to be upscaled by sound regulatory systems that are enforced by national governments and integrated into a global system.

Some useful insights on certification were shared by keynote speaker Nico Roozen of Solidaridad, our conference partner this year. Solidaridad is a global not-for-profit organization working for over 45 years in the area of sustainable agrifood supply chains. Solidaridad was, in fact, the first creator of fair trade labeling. In the 1980s, Nico witnessed first-hand the social unrest and brutal massacres of the civil wars in Central America. He realized that violence can be reduced through economic empowerment to improve the lives of poor communities striving for justice and equality. He learned from farmers that what they truly wanted was a better price for their coffee, not more aid money.

These experiences inspired him to create the first fair trade label (Max Havelaar) for sustainably produced coffee in 1988, and thereafter for bananas in 1996. Nico encountered resistance from both supermarkets and activists (who were against working with business) in establishing the certification program Max Havelaar. Solaridad continues to partner with businesses and national and regional governments in their work. Despite its long history with certification, Solidaridad agrees that it’s simply not possible to certify farmers out of poverty, or stop deforestation by certifying relatively small market segments. It recognizes the limitations posed by third-party certifications and emphasizes the need for innovation to overcome their shortcomings and eventually replace them by well-functioning regulatory frameworks.

The growing demand for organic food also seems to reflect a sense of dissatisfaction among consumers with the existing agrifood system. However, the food system is evolving. The changes in the food system are outcomes of relentless innovations that tend to originate in new knowledge and development and commercialization efforts resulting in new food products and methods of production and consumption, and provide growing capacity to deal with heterogeneity.

One of the biggest problems in the agrifood system is food waste and spoilage. A significant portion of food produced in the tropics is wasted due to high moisture during harvest and storage. It results in the growth of mycotoxins, including aflatoxin, which is a source of childhood stunting, liver cancer and other medical conditions. A solution to this problem is the concept of the “dry chain” where equipment and procedures are designed to dry produce after harvesting and preserve it in a manner that protects it. While the technical components of such a system are readily available and applied in many parts of US and Europe, the main challenge is to implement similar solutions in developing countries. This entails developing the production of affordable equipment, establishing mechanisms for finance, and providing promotion and education that generate demand and result in appropriate use of the new technologies.

While there is a lot to be done, the world has witnessed immense ‘quiet revolutions’ over the past fifty years, that have improved the quality, convenience, and diversity of food throughout the world, and especially in developing countries, through the introduction of enhanced value chains. We have been witnessing a process through which many technologies introduced in the US and Europe in the 1950s and 60s (e.g. refrigeration, improved storage, processed foods, supermarkets) have been transferred to Latin America and Asia in the 1980s/90s and to many parts of Africa and South Asia in the past 20 years. The diffusion of these technologies is still only partial, but it is moving very quickly, and has had significant impact on farms and agribusiness supply chains. The well-being of many farmers has drastically improved, while many others have lost, at least in relative terms.

Some of the drudgery and waste associated with food preparation is being reduced by processing, in the forms of prepackaged salads and pre-cut meats. Consumers can enjoy the process of cooking and save time with meal kit services, which deliver directly to their doors. Precision agriculture embodied by technologies like drip irrigation and new applications of information technologies and robotics allows for variable application of farm inputs at different locations and over time and improve harvesting.

All these changes are associated with the development of new creative agrifood supply chains. Many of these changes rely on local resources, yet almost all of these changes affect interdependent global supply networks. These systems can be threatened by protectionist policies that erect barriers on the transport of goods or knowledge to protect local interests. Climate change is another threat; failure to mitigate it and adapt production systems and logistical facilities to changing conditions may endanger food security and safety globally. Understanding and improving agrifood supply chains and policies are works in progress, and we will continue to engage through this workshop, that aims to provide education and exchange of knowledge in the coming years.