Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Crop Connection

Hello and welcome to my first blog of the summer, before I begin, let me introduce myself and more importantly my research. I am currently a 4th year PhD student at the Economics Department of The George Washington University. During the course of summer I will be conducting field research for my dissertation in rural areas of Pakistan. I would like to take this opportunity to first sincerely thank, The Sigur Center for Asian Studies for providing the grant that has made this opportunity possible.

Today cell phones have become an essential part of our lives in terms of communication. If we can’t find our cell phone for 10 minutes we start putting our entire household upside down to locate it. Somehow not having the cell phone makes us disconnected from the rest of the world as it serves as a source of information as well as communication for us. Today, the farmer sitting in a remote village of Chani Goth experiences the same situation. Cell phone is his primary source of information and communication and his crops and livelihood depend on that cell phone. Therefore, my research over the summer will study how farmers in rural Pakistan use cell phones for making their agricultural decisions.

Research from several countries all over the world has shown that cell phones have benefited agriculture markets by reducing spatial price dispersion. However in my research I am exploring this channel and other channels through which cell phones can influence agriculture related decisions. In particular one such decision is related to the choice of crops grown by farmer. In rural Pakistan growing high value but highly perishable crops is one of the few if not the only road to escaping poverty.  Some of the underlying mechanisms include but are not limited to: communicating over the prices, communicating over time of harvest, communicating sales of crops, communicating about the wait times and conditions at the mills in cases of crops such as sugarcane which need to be processed. To conduct this research I have designed a comprehensive household survey questionnaire. This household survey questionnaire includes modules on household roster, migration, household land use, agricultural production, post harvest losses, timing of plantation, harvest and fertilizer application, agricultural costs, household history of agriculture in previous generations, household non-agricultural sources of income, education, credit access, time use of farmers and finally household consumption. Using this survey tool I am going to interview a random sample 500 households in the province of Punjab.

The selection of villages is one of the most important tasks in this research. In particular to identify the causal impact of cell phone access on agriculture decisions; I am going to make use of a natural experiment. Cell phone coverage has been introduced in rural Pakistan after the year 2000. Although it has grown rapidly, based on security reasons, the first 10 Km along the international border do not have coverage. The map in Figure 1 is coverage map of villages in 20 Km of Border with India for 1 district only. To interview households that are similar in nature however are different in terms of access to cell phone coverage I will make use of this restriction and interviews households on both sides of the restriction. Although there is non-compliance in the data, this restriction still provides an exogenous source of variation in cell phone coverage. The methodology for this would be by collecting details about household location data with the help of handheld Geographical Positioning System (GPS) units.

During the rest of the summer, I will be conducting, survey pre-test as well as the actual survey. I will be posting more about my experiences as I travel more for the survey. Please feel free to post any comments or questions that you may have. 

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