I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Davis. I am interested in how people make decisions in the face of risk and uncertainty, and my research in that area is driven by my desire to identify policy, technologies, and practices that increase food security.

Laura Paul

email: lpaul@ucdavis.edu




My research agenda is motivated by questions of how farmers make decisions in the face of risk and what tools are available to best mitigate those risks. In the future, I will address how environmental uncertainty and the heterogeneous risks of transportation and storage shapes investment decisions among crop choice and agricultural practices.

My research contributes to the literature on technology adoption to increase food security and income stability. Risk-mitigating technologies are important for farmers around the world who face uncertainty on many fronts. In my job market paper, I focus on drought risk in East Africa and an agricultural technology with stochastic advantages: Drought-Tolerant Maize. The tools I use in my dissertation, for example, mapping high resolution climate data to on-farm trial data and simulated yield estimates, give me a strong foundation for spatial analyses of climate change in any context.

I am an AMA Innovation Lab Researcher.

Drought Tolerant Maize in Tanzania

Improved seed technology has the potential to improve quality of life for farmers in developing countries through increased yields and greater resilience to adverse climate events. However, adoption of improved seed technology is low, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa. My job market paper addresses the puzzling disconnect between promoted advantages and low adoption rates. I identify hurdles to adopting drought-tolerant maize because of challenges to learning and updating. This work is part of a larger randomized controlled trial evaluating the complementarity of index-based insurance with drought tolerant maize seed. This project is important in rural Tanzania, as many farmers neither have access to improved seed nor have the financial tools to consider risky new approaches. My research shows that the cultivation of drought-tolerant maize can stabilize household productivity and reduce food insecurity; however, those who could most benefit from the technology might be the slowest to adopt it—indicating the potential for effective policies to create large gains in welfare for farmers.

My AMA Innovation Lab Spotlight covers the partnerships I developed to scale bundled index insurance and drought-tolerant maize in Tanzania.

Drought-Tolerant Maize Response to Precipitation: Evaluating On-Farm Trial Data with High Resolution Climate Data

Drought is a primary cause of crop failure, which has severe economic and welfare consequences for farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa. Improved crop varieties, such as drought-tolerant (DT) maize, can provide substantial improvements in yield level and variance. Low uptake of DT maize may be explained by the difficulty of observing benefits of DT technology by a given farmer in a given season. This paper assesses the performance of DT maize in On-Farm trials and in randomly selected households to investigate how the return to the DT trait varies from more and less controlled environments. This analysis first evaluates DT maize in comparison with other varieties without that trait. DT maize indeed has a significant 10% yield gain, on average. Further, DT maize is less sensitive to drought than comparison varieties. However, there exists significant heterogeneity in the protect effect of the DT trait. For low-performing farms, those with poor soils and agronomic practices, the protective effect is reduced in magnitude and statistical significance. When a similar analysis is conducted with randomly selected farmers in Tanzania, there is no evidence of a protective effect.

My AAEA 2017 poster on drought-tolerant maize response to precipitation in East Africa uses on-farm trial data from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Health Savings Behaviors in Burkina Faso: Results from a Framed Field Experiment

This paper explores household asset allocation under risk using the portfolio choice framework. Using simulations and data from a framed field experiment conducted in Burkina Faso, I find that the introduction of the risk-free savings instrument increases welfare for those at the bottom of the wealth distribution. In arid agricultural settings, households often have little access to resources to respond to negative shocks. Allocation strategies are important for household asset accumulation and policy for development of financial tools and institutions.

CGAP Working Paper link, and our working paper: Resilience and health shocks.

Burkina Faso

Subjective Expectations of Rice Price in Madagascar and Agricultural Productivity

For agricultural households, every economic decision bears some amount of risk, or the possibility of an adverse outcome. Decision makers use available information, including knowledge about risk, to determine their expectations of the future: uncertainty can weigh heavily in decisions. In the case of agricultural households, production and market risk and uncertainty can have real consequences for decisions. Understanding expectation formation and effects is crucial for successful development policy. Using household survey data collected in 12 villages across six communes around Lac Alaotra in Madagascar in 2004, I analyze the relationship between rice price expectations and labor input decision making.

Duke Journal of Economics Vol. XXV, Spring 2013

Job Market Paper

Hurdles to Adoption of Drought-Tolerant Maize

Abstract: Traditional varieties of maize frequently fail due to drought pressure in East Africa, yet farmers are slow to adopt new drought-tolerant varieties. One reason is that both the risk and returns from adopting drought-tolerant maize depend on irregular exogenous weather outcomes. A farmer’s adoption decision is based on his subjective beliefs about the likelihood of drought and the crop response to drought stress. Updating such beliefs is a slow process because severe drought can mask the trait advantage, and droughts that showcase this advantage are less frequent than drought in general. Drought-tolerant maize can improve household welfare through increased yield stability and income security, yet there is not widespread adoption. I develop a learning model to show the role of expectations in the adoption decision explaining the limited uptake under normal learning conditions. Then, combining rich household survey data with high-resolution climate and yield data, I give empirical evidence on adoption behavior, suggesting that if improved varieties are a useful intervention, uptake must be supported by promotion activities and risk mitigating tools such as crop insurance.

Here are my slides for the AAEA 2018 Risk and Uncertainty Lightning Session.



My teaching approach emphasizes the connections between my students, the content, and the real world. I illustrate material by using practical examples, with particular attention paid to translating cutting-edge academic research to a level appropriate for the class.

Click here for my full teaching statement.


Laura Teaching Class Photo

Intermediate Microeconomics

In 2017, I was the instructor of record for Intermediate Microeconomics, an upper-level core course for the Managerial Economics major (my ARE 100B syllabus). Click here for the summary of my evaluations. Here are selected comments from my students (full scan of all comments here). I have also been the Teaching Assistant to Intermediate Microeconomics with Kristin Kiesel as the instructor. My TA Teaching Evaluations are available here.

Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum vitae is available here.