Three Essays on Agriculture, the Environment, and Peer Networks in Western Kenya

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This dissertation investigates selected issues related to rural poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and evaluates whether information - such as that regarding a farmer's soil nutrient levels or agroforestry practices - can provide rural households with the needed skills and knowledge to break the cycle of poverty. The setting of the research is western Kenya, a densely populated area where agriculture is the primary economic activity. Many of the farms in the area are very small, often only one acre, and the lack of effective fertilizer and other input use has contributed to crop yields far below potential. The essays in this dissertation seek to determine whether information regarding agroforestry practices and soil nutrient levels can be effective tools for economic development, and, additionally, analyze the effect. the effect of information spread through peer networks on agricultural productivity. The first essay (Chapter 2) focuses on the potential of agroforestry to reverse environmental degradation in Kenya by increasing tree coverage and providing a renewable source of household fuelwood. The results show that the various sources of fuelwood, such as collecting fuelwood from off the farm and producing it on the farm through agroforestry, are not readily substituted by households in western Kenya, primarily due to gender-specific labor roles within households. As a result, there is an effective limit on the extend of agroforestry in the area unless gender norms for household labor change. In Chapter 3, we analyze the effect of soil information transfers on household agricultural input demand by sampling soils from small-scale farms in western Kenya. After testing the soils and returning the soil nutrient results to farmers, we used experimental auctions both before and after the farmers received the results to measure changes in agricultural input demand. We find that soil testing and input recommendations do have a significant effect on farmer input demands, though the results are heterogeneous by input type and gender. Chapter 4 analyzes peer network effects on agricultural productivity in western Kenya. We find that female peers tend to increase male farmer's productivity, and hypothesize that this is due to the higher levels of social capital (proxied by network centrality) found among men in the village samples, which increases their bargaining power with those less central in the networks (often women). The three essays point to the important role of gender in resource allocation, social dynamics, and factors influencing agricultural productivity in western Kenya. Overall, this dissertation shows both the opportunities of information diffusion for further economic development in Kenya, but also the challenges posed by cultural norms that limit the spread of productivity enhancing information.

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Experimental auction; Agroforestry; Information diffusion; Soil testing; Agriculture economics; Social Networks; Gender


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Lee, David R.

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Lehmann, C. Johannes
Thies, Janice E.
Liaukonyte, Jurate

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Applied Economics and Management

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Ph. D., Applied Economics and Management

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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