Picture rural Ghana: Orange-brown yam fields with hand-piled dirtmounds stretch for miles in any direction, a silent testament to the fat that half the country’s population makes its living from agriculture. The farmers wait for rain; the yams need it – but for all of its life-giving properties, it complicates life when it comes, carving deep gullies into dirt roads and bringing anopheles mosquitoes and their bellyfuls of the malaria parasite, which kills nearly one million people annually.
The developing world is tightly intertwined with the environment. Indeed, the U.N. calls ecosystems “the GDP of the poor,” because of the dependence this portion of society has on the environment. Now consider just how many people this portion represents: more than half of the earth’s population earns less than $3,000 per year. With paved roads, financial metropoles and first-world medical care it’s easy to forget how visceral our connection to the environment is. But our task as environmentalists–understanding the complex relations between humans and the environment–cannot be accomplished without a close look at the developing world.
Though academic articles within the discipline can be daunting, two excellent, accessible books covering development economics research have been released this year. Written in a narrative style, Karlan and Appel’s More than Good Intentions and Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics summarize key developments in the past decade. The authors are all involved in two cutting-edge development research organizations: Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). IPA and J-PAL have pioneered the use of randomized controlled trials, methodology borrowed from medical trials that has brought the rigor of hard science to development research.
Important reading for all environmentalists.