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Nakasone Uses Technology, Teenagers to Reach Farmers

Eduardo Nakasone

In rural areas of developing countries, information can move slowly. For farmers in those countries, this speed has consequences for their business decisions.

“Fifteen years ago, farmers had to go to the market to find out market price. There was really no other way,” says Eduardo Nakasone, assistant professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) departments of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) and Media and Information.

Things have gotten better for rural farmers in developing countries since then, but there remains room for improvement. That is what much of Nakasone’s research addresses

Nakasone arrived at MSU in 2015 with a joint appointment in AFRE and Media and Information. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru, after which he got a job at the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), where he retains a research affiliation. He went on to receive his master’s and doctoral degrees in agricultural and resource economics from the University of Maryland.

Nakasone’s research investigates how information affects household choices through the use of information communication technologies (ICTs). It runs the gamut from seeing how videos might encourage children to take iron supplements when they log on to the Internet, to determining how soap operas might help train female Latin American microentrepreneurs.

Much of his research involves agricultural extension—investigating how the availability of certain information impacts the decisions made by farmers in rural areas of developing countries.

“Getting this timely market price information—which is costly to acquire in a rural area of a developing country—how does that change their sales behavior?” Nakasone says in describing his research. For example, do they change their bargaining behavior or the markets where they choose to sell?

“Ultimately, the question is: Are they better able to get good prices for their crops, which translates to better income and better household welfare?” he says.

How best to deliver this information is one of the issues Nakasone is exploring. While ICTs have proven useful in a number of contexts, Nakasone acknowledged that some situations preclude effective use of the technologies.

“You’re trying to get agricultural extension by computer to a 60-year-old head of household in a rural area of a developing country who has never seen a computer in his entire life? Good luck with that!” Nakasone says.

One answer to this problem that Nakasone is investigating is how to use farm children as messengers of useful information.

“Governments in developing countries are increasing both computer and Internet access in public high schools. That is a trend that’s been going on for a while,” Nakasone says. “What if you could give the extension advice to high school teenagers?”

So his research group developed a way to provide relevant agricultural advice to some teenagers and then they check in with the teenagers’ parents a year later to see if their practices change.

“[We asked:] is the information being transmitted from teenagers to their parents? And then, are parents changing their behavior? And then finally, does that lead to better household welfare?”

Nakasone says he is particularly happy to do this work in MSU’s environment of easy cross-department discussions and abundant international research.

“I have the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with people from two departments, so that’s really inspiring,” Nakasone says. “You’re constantly bombarded by ideas from people who are doing really, really neat work.”

– Marie Orttenburger via College of Agriculture and Natural Resources website

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