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AU Economics Professor Wins Two Prestigious Grants

By Jamie McCrary

Paul Winters research in Africa

AU economics professor Paul Winters believes that using data to evaluate the efficacy of economic programs can make a real difference across the world. “Countries spend a lot of time and money on economic development, and oftentimes don’t know if what they did worked,” Winters said. “Even if programs are effective, they can always work better. Policies can always be improved.”  

Winters has been awarded two grants to assist in the evaluation of government programs in Africa. The first is a $106,700 grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The second is a four-year $321,600 grant from the American Institute for Research.  

Evaluating Cash Transfer Programs in Africa
Winters’ grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations falls under the From Protection to Production project. The grant uses data collected on cash transfer programs in Africa under the Transfer Project. Winters’ role is to collect and organize research from all participants into a book, which will be published by Oxford University Press next year. 

“No one has really researched the impact of government programs using cash transfers in Africa,” said Winters. “This is why Oxford University is interested in the book—because it is a new and necessary collection of research.”  

Cash transfers are a social protection strategy governments use to reduce poverty and raise the quality of life for their poorest citizens. Cash is given directly to qualified individuals. Sometimes it is given conditionally, with the requirement that the money is used for social purposes such as education or healthcare, and other times it is given unconditionally, with no restrictions for use. Money is given unconditionally in Africa because its institutional structure makes it difficult for governments to monitor how the cash is used, and because some argue that conditions are unnecessary to induce investment in health and education. As a result, little to no research on the efficacy of these unconditional programs exists—which is why Winters’ research collaboration and book is so crucial.  

While Winters’ research focuses specifically on the impact of cash transfers on agricultural production, the book focuses on the program’s impact on multiple aspects of African society. Evaluations from eight African countries will be included, compiling research on the impact of cash transfers on health, education, and production. “We want to make a definitive statement about what cash transfer programs do in Africa, both on the social side and the productive side,” Winters says.  

Evaluating Agricultural Programs in Kenya
Winters also recently secured a four-year grant from the American Institute for Research to evaluate the impact of the Kenyan-based program, Plantwise, managed by CABI (Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International).  

Plantwise, which works to improve food security and the lives of the rural poor by reducing crop losses, places plant clinics throughout Kenya where farmers can bring ailing plants for diagnosis. “It’s like going to a health clinic,” said Winters. “You bring in your sick plant and get it diagnosed by trained agriculture extension agents—plant doctors.”  

Winters believes Plantwise is innovative and effective because it is both cost-effective and a way to monitor plant disease outbreaks. Past programs like Plantwise have paid agricultural professionals to travel to farms, diagnose plant sickness, and train farmers on disease prevention. Plantwise’s clinics allow farmers to come to them, saving time and money for the program. The clinics also collect and monitor geographic data about plant disease outbreaks. “They are like the CDC in the United States—the plant doctors record and report the number of diseases that occur,” Winters said. “Now we know if there’s a new outbreak of a plant disease, and the government can respond.”  

Evaluating for Efficacy
Winters hopes that his research—both on African cash transfers and on the Plantwise program—will ultimately impact African countries’ policies. By using data to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, governments can decide what is working and what is not. “The levels of poverty in Africa have been so high for so long that something needs to be done,” Winters said. “Hopefully these programs will impact the way governments are doing things, and improve the well-being of the population.”