Student Challenge – Finalists

Student finalists have been selected as part of the GCAN Student Challenge to explore issues related to the intersection of climate, gender and nutrition using Feed-the-Future datasets.  Each of the students has a GCAN team mentor and will develop a publishable research paper that will be released as a GCAN-IFPRI discussion paper in early 2018.


Short summaries of the student proposals are presented in below:


Tomoé Bourdier is a PhD student in Agricultural and Resource Economics at University of California-Davis.  She proposes to study how bargaining in polygynous households influences the impact of adverse climate conditions on child outcomes. Weather shocks often trigger a cascade of coping mechanisms, from reducing food consumption to selling assets, with lasting consequences on child development. In polygynous households (in which a man is married to several women), the factors that may aggravate or mitigate the impacts of such adverse events are still poorly understood. First, where polygyny is associated with discriminatory social norms, co-wives may have limited bargaining power, which may translate into poor child outcomes. While competition between co-wives may generate inefficiencies in the allocation of household resources, cooperation in the domains of agricultural production or domestic labor may lead to economies of scale and facilitate informal risk sharing. Using the Feed the Future Ghana Population Survey data, she will investigate the effect of polygyny on food security, diet diversity and child stunting. Second, the rank of each co-wife may also have a strong influence on the welfare of her own children, relative to other children. Using age and anthropometric measurements of each co-wife as proxies for rank and bargaining power respectively, she will study how they may influence child-specific feeding practices and growth outcomes. Finally, by combining survey data with spatial climate data, she will examine the timing of a child’s birth and extended periods of drought to test whether vulnerability to weather shocks may vary between children of different co-wives.


Matt Cooper is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Maryland and an Assistant Scientist at Conservation International. He specializes in combining household survey data with geographic information related to land cover, environmental health, and climate to better understand how ecosystem services interact with and contribute to household outcomes. Matt will use Feed the Future datasets that have GPS coordinates available for each household, and will extract geographic data on land use, forest cover and climate from two surveys in Ghana, two surveys in Zambia, and one in Bangladesh. This will allow him to build upon research that has established linkages between geographic variables like forest cover or drought and food security outcomes like child malnutrition or food security. Specifically, Matt will test the hypothesis that forests can buffer against the effects of rainfall shortages. Furthermore, because female headed households and households where women are empowered are more likely to gather forest resources and to channel resources into child care, Matt will also test whether there is an interactive effect between the availability of forest resources and the gender of the household head in mitigating the effects of rainfall shortages on child health. To illustrate the hypothesis that Matt will test, imagine two different areas in a drought – one with no forest cover and women without access to capital or resources, and another with ample forest cover and empowered women. The literature suggests that the later will have healthier children with better food security, while the former will have more malnourished children and worse food security. Matt will combine Feed the Future datasets with geographic variables to test whether this is the case.


Natalie Theys is a Data Analyst at Tufts University and doing a micromasters at MITx and Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.  Her project focuses on the potential impacts of increased climate variability on diet choices, with a particular focus on women. Pairing data from the Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey (BIHS) with spatially explicit climate data, she will assess the sensitivity of animal-source foods (ASF) consumption to climate change. She is interested in understanding to what extent the consumption patterns of this nutritionally-dense food group reflect the well-documented coping mechanism of selling livestock during times of drought and other adverse climate conditions. The response of both household and gender-specific consumption to climate shocks will be examined. Additionally, she will look for evidence that women’s empowerment provides a protective effect on consumption.


Katie Picchione is pursuing her Master of Science in Technology and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her study will focus on modeling the interactions among women and men smallholders and agribusinesses in Uganda to understand how farmers become engaged in agricultural markets. Though over 70% of Ugandans are employed in agriculture, many subsistence farmers are thought to be disengaged from agricultural commerce. Agribusinesses are well positioned to help farmer gain access to intangible assets like finance, information, and market linkages but such linkages are gendered. This study aims to understand and simulate how agribusinesses can enable women and men smallholders come to attain these assets and become engaged in the agricultural commodity market. The study will also study nutrition impacts following attainment of such intangible assets.  Using data and reports from the Feed the Future Uganda Baseline Survey, Katie will develop a system dynamics model of the causal loops that influence male and female farmers’ level of market readiness and market engagement. Creation of the model will utilize time-series data that show trends in productivity, agricultural employment and indicators of nutritional outcomes. Additional data on access to resources, agricultural interventions, climate and weather events, and changing demographics will be used to operationalize variables throughout the model. Finally, using scenario analysis, Katie will assess how different business strategies can help engage smallholder farmers in the broader market system.