Kelsey Jack speaks at the Yale Climate, Environment & Economic Growth Conference on November 9, 2023
Kelsey Jack presenting at the Yale Climate, Environment & Economic Growth Conference 2023. Photo by Julia Luckett.

EGC Voices in Development, Season 2 Episode 2 • Transcript 

The vast majority of climate financing is directed towards mitigating, reducing, or preventing greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is a vital need for climate financing aimed at adaptation, protecting the lives and livelihoods of the people most affected by climate change. Low-income countries are disproportionately suffering from climate breakdowns, particularly among the poorest and most vulnerable people within these countries. 

In this episode of Voices in Development, Kelsey Jack, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discusses her recently completed study focusing on rainwater harvesting techniques in rural Niger, where intensive agriculture practices have degraded soil quality, making the population particularly vulnerable to climate shocks. Jack studied the impact that rainwater collection has on increasing soil quality through the digging of demi-lunes, which are semicircular basins that farmers dig into the earth to collect rainwater. Jack’s team organized a training period conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture that led to massive adoption of the demi-lunes. 

The big headline finding out of this study is that giving people access to information had a really large effect. After a training that was basically a half-day training conducted by the Ministry of Environment in Niger – resources that are available in Niger, training farmers how to actually construct these techniques on their fields and, crucially, training them how to construct these techniques without any kind of specialized equipment, without any outside capital [...] – that just that kind of a training led 90% of people who otherwise would not have adopted to adopt at least some of them.  - Kelsey Jack

Jack argues that economists have a responsibility to test their innovations in the real world before pushing for policy changes.  

A man digging in a field in Africa
A farmer in Niamey, Niger, 2017. Photo by Buraktumler.

I think what economists can do hopefully is two things. One is really trying to rigorously test under kind of natural conditions how well to do new technologies, but also old strategies that maybe are increasingly relevant. And we need to think about how can people be encouraged or even in our case, just given the information that allows them to adopt new practices. That getting that evidence is really key, because if we just kind of go blind and say, jump from the engineering or agronomy study straight to policy, we may end up really pushing things that out there in the real world are not quite as promising as they seem. Or conversely, some things that maybe didn't look quite as good ex-ante end up really helping in ways that sometimes surprise us a little bit. And the second thing is this more comprehensive picture of what does it mean to adapt that. Adaptation doesn't necessarily look like one piece of behavior change or one piece of technology adoption. It looks like a household or a community's overall resilience to climate shocks increasing. - Kelsey Jack

The podcast also features interviews with Rohini Pande, Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, placing mitigation in the larger climate agenda; Gregory Lane, an Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, on how innovations in weather forecasting can impact farming practices in India; and Islamul Haque, a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE), on identifying the “low hanging fruit” in climate adaptation technology.  


5 panelists in discussion, laughing
The panel discussion on "Frictions in adaptation and environmental justice" at the Yale Climate, Environment & Economic Growth Conference 2023, with (L-R) Sunil Amrith (Yale), conference organizer Rohini Pande, Islamul Haque (University of Southern California, Y-RISE), Kelsey Jack (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Gregory Lane (University of Chicago).

Haque believes that there are more low-cost methods that will contribute to strong climate resilience and the larger international climate agenda might direct more funding to finding these methods.

My takeaway is basically that we should do more work on identifying these low-hanging fruits, where with very minimal investment and very simple interventions, we can actually make a very big difference in terms of resilience of the farmers income and living standard.” - Islamul Haque  


Lane says that development economists are well-suited to this task because they do experiments to test how the theoretical solutions perform in the real world.

What micro economists, development economists, are good at doing is testing ideas. There's a lot of ideas that, on paper, sound really great. People are great at thinking up stories about something that might solve an issue – and they're all plausible. But as social scientists know, there's a lot of other constraints or other reasons why plausible good-sounding ideas fail when they're actually implemented. And so, development economists’ toolbox, particularly around experiments, is that you have to test something before you feel good about proposing it as a solution. It just can't work in theory or sound very palatable. It has to actually show results.” - Gregory Lane

About the Guests: 

Kelsey Jack is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she has a split appointment between the Bren School and the Department of Economics, after seven years as an Assistant Professor in the Economics Department at Tufts University and a postdoc position at MIT, with the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) at J-PAL. Jack has a bachelor's degree in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University and a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University. Before graduate school, she spent two years in Lao PDR working for IUCN. Her research is at the intersection of environmental and development economics, with a focus on how individuals, households, and communities decide to use natural resources and provide public goods. Much of her research uses field experiments to test theory and new policy innovations. She has done research in numerous countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and has ongoing work in South Africa, Ghana, Zambia and Niger. Jack co-chairs the Environment and Energy sector at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT (J-PAL), is an affiliate of the Environmental Markets Lab at UCSB (emLab) and an associate editor at the American Economic Review and Econometrica.

Rohini Pande is the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, Yale University. She is a co-editor of American Economic Review: Insights. In 2018, Pande received the Carolyn Bell Shaw Award from the American Economic Association for promoting the success of women in the economics profession. She is the co-chair of the Political Economy and Government Group at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a board member of Bureau of Research on Economic Development (BREAD) and a former co-editor of The Review of Economics and Statistics. Before coming to Yale, Pande was the Rafik Harriri Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard Kennedy School, where she co-founded Evidence for Policy Design. Pande received a PhD in economics from London School of Economics, a BA/MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University and a BA in Economics from Delhi University.

Gregory Lane is an Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. His current research focuses on innovations in finance and technology, and labor markets in developing countries. He is a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and an affiliate at J-PAL. Prior to joining Harris, Lane was an Assistant Professor at American University. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a PhD in Agriculture and Resource Economics in 2019.

Islamul Haque is a postdoctoral associate at Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE). He is a development economist with an interest in the economics of climate change adaptation in developing countries. His current research is focused on understanding the frictions that limit climate change adaptation in developing countries, designing solutions to address these challenges and generating evidence on their effectiveness and scaling complexities. Haque received a PhD in economics from University of Southern California.