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Shelf Life Matters: Research of Enduring Quality and Influence

The best measure of the quality of development research is its enduring impact, both academically and in the field. By these criteria, the work of Gershon Feder, of the World Bank’s Development Research Group, stands out.

Three Decades of High-Impact Agricultural Economics Research

Recognized as a leading expert on the evaluation of extension impact, Gershon Feder has made path-breaking contributions in the fields of land policy, the economics of technology diffusion, and farmer behavior under uncertainty.

Alain de Janvry, a former professor of his at Berkeley, where he earned his PhD in 1976, notes that “the excellence of his scholarship has been the anchor of his impact on real world development in his World Bank career.”
 Gershon Feder
                                                                                                                       Gershon Feder

Feder was recently made a Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA) in recognition of his extensive contributions to agricultural and development economics. Such fellowships are given in recognition of lifetime work to scholars who have written extensively and uncovered new areas of knowledge, whose work has had practical impact and has been cited frequently for many years.

Diffusion of agricultural innovations in developing countries

The AAEA distinction follows the selection of Feder’s work – twice –for Publication of Enduring Quality from the AAEA. He received this most recently in 2005 for “Adoption of Agricultural Innovations in Developing Countries: A Survey”, written with colleagues Richard E. Just and David Zilberman, and published in January 1985 in Economic Development and Cultural Change.

The latter article has become one of the most cited papers in the agricultural economics literature. Even before it appeared in a professional journal, the working paper version was so widely circulated that it was listed in Books in Print 1986, the only working paper that has so far been thus listed.

Exploring the economics of land tenure security

Feder’s career began more than three decades ago when he graduated from Tel Aviv University with a BA in Economics and Development Studies. He has worked on analyzing the effects of formalization of land tenure, originally in Thailand, an effort that sparked a whole line of research by different scholars, culminating in a World Bank Policy Research Report, Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction, written in 2003 by Klaus Deininger.

The traditional thinking about formalization of land rights was mostly from an administrative point of view,” says Feder, “I was interested in the economic impact of such formalization. When farmers have no title with which to prove the land is theirs, they get lower prices for their land and risk usurpation of the land. As a result of the tenure not being secure, they don’t invest much in their land.

“An impact on real world development”

Feder’s way of looking at land tenure security earned him an award from the AAEA for Quality of Research Discovery in 1988, and this work would have far-reaching practical impact. The Bank, which in the 1980s had only a few projects on enhancing land administration and registration, built up over the next 15 years a very large portfolio of such projects. While in FY 1990-94 only three stand-alone land projects were approved, this number increased to 19 ($700,000 ) and 25 ($ 1 billion ) in the 1995-99 and 2000-2004 periods, respectively. Following the lead of the Bank, other donors are now addressing land issues much more vigorously in their programs as well.

Other Bank researchers gain recognition

Other World Bank staff have also been made Fellows of the AAEA in recent years. Kym Anderson, Lead Economist of the International Trade Team of the Development Research Group was made fellow in 2004, mostly in recognition of work done before he joined the Bank in 2004. In 2003, it was Derek Byerlee, now Senior Adviser, Africa Technical Families, based in Addis Ababa.

In earlier years, Uma Lele, Hans Binswanger and Jock Anderson (all retired) were similarly honored.

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