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AAEA Trust Profile: David Kaczan

AAEA Trust Profile is a new bi-monthly series following up with AAEA Trust sponsored scholarship, fellowship and grant winners. This issue features David Kaczan, a PhD student at Duke University. David received the Luther G. Tweeten Scholarship in 2011 while attending the University of Alberta. The Tweeten Scholarship provides support for graduate student research on socioeconomic problems of Africa, especially addressing issues of food, population, and environment that affect economic development, poverty, and food security. David’s research proposal that won him the scholarship was designing an incentive scheme to promote biodiversity conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania.

How did winning the Tweeten scholarship help you accomplish your research and field work in Tanzania?

The Luther G. Tweeten Fund, along with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the University of Alberta, provided greatly appreciated funding for my Master’s thesis fieldwork. This fieldwork explored the potential for the use of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) to reduce deforestation in the East Usambara Mountains of Tanzania.

The East Usambara forests are one of the world's most significant hotspots of biodiversity but face considerable threats from deforestation due to smallholder agriculture and timber harvesting. Non-government organizations are exploring the use of PES as an option to reduce land clearing in the area. Under the supervision of Dr. Brent Swallow and Dr. Wiktor Adamowicz at the University of Alberta, I firstly considered how a PES program should be designed to improve participation. I used a choice experiment to quantify farmers’ preferences and willingness to accept values, and compared those values to land use opportunity costs. Secondly, I considered the more fundamental question of just how appropriate PES is as a conservation tool given the pre-existing conservation attitudes of farmers. I used a framed field experiment to test for the possibility of motivational crowding – the detrimental interaction of intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation – under different types of hypothetical conservation policies.

I spent four months living in villages around my study site, surveying farmers and organizing experiment sessions with the help of enumerators. The Tweeten Scholarship provided valuable assistance towards covering the many logistical costs involved. My research won the AAEA Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award in 2012 and is published in Ecological Economics.

What is your research direction while you are currently completing your PhD?

In 2012, I started a PhD in Environmental Economics at Duke University. I am currently working on a pre-candidacy research project with the Nicholas Institute, investigating the interaction of environmental markets and incentive programs. Certain agricultural land use choices, for instance, can simultaneously provide multiple environmental services, each tradable (in principle), in a different market or program. Doing so may lead to greater provision of environmental services but may lead to challenges of non-additionality. Under the supervision of Dr. Alex Pfaff and Dr. Brian Murray I am undertaking a theoretical analysis of situations in which such credit stacking is likely to be beneficial. I expect to begin dissertation research this summer.

What lead you to pursue agricultural and environmental economics?

I grew up spending my holidays on my family’s farm on the east coast of Australia, and developed a keen interested in agriculture and the environment in the process. I was introduced to economics during my undergraduate studies, where I came to appreciate its rigorous, empirical approach to the development of environmental policy. I believe agricultural and environmental economics offers a means to understand some of the biggest changes currently facing the planet and its people – such as climate change, deforestation, migration, rising incomes and inequality – and offers powerful tools to adapt to and manage these changes for the better.