William A. Masters
Professor and Associate Head, Department of Agricultural Economics

Purdue University




 (click here for more photos)


I teach and conduct research on economic policy for food and agriculture, focusing on Africa.  Here are google-eyed views of where I work and what I’ve written.  Details below – but you may also want to go to contact info and curriculum vita (with links to publications and presentations).

I am co-editor of Agricultural Economics. (The other co-editor is Jerry Shively.)  Follow these links to submit a paper, submit a referee report, see our latest table of contents, or check out our journal information page.


Recent work of

general interest:

May 2010 farewell talk for the graduate students at Purdue

Apr. 2010 op-ed for Project Syndicate entitled “Planting the Seeds of Africa’s Growth

Nov. 2009 talk at the AfDB African Economic Conference on incentives for innovation

Oct. 2009 talk at the ADA Food and Nutrition Conference on world food markets

Jun. 2009 fun with economics on the Freakonomics NYT blog

Mar. 2009 World Bank book on Distortions to Agricultural Incentives in Africa

Oct. 2008 survey article for ATDFBeyond the Food Crisis in African Agriculture

Sep. 2008 food crisis talk at Columbia: a short (8-minute) video



News and info.:


Subscribe to the mailing list for events on international development at Purdue.

Teaching and Course Materials






The second edition of Economics of Agricultural Development is now out (as of March 2010), for undergraduate courses in agricultural development, world food and resource use.  Click here to read the first edition’s review in ERAE, order the second edition or request a review copy.



Current courses


AGEC 340 – International Economic Development (Spring 2010)

AGEC 640 -- Agricultural Policy (Fall 2009) 



Current Research Projects and Working Papers




Proportional prizes

to reward



A new way to stimulate innovation, by offering cash payments to innovators proportionally to the value of new technologies adopted by farmers, as documented by data from controlled experiments and farm surveys.  

         An IFPRI Discussion Paper, Accelerating Innovation and associated slides explain and motivate the idea in terms of the history and economics of prize contests in other fields.  A forthcoming article in Journal of Public Economics provides formal test of entry and performance in contests with proportional as opposed to winner-take-all prizes.  An earlier journal article, Paying for Prosperity: How and Why to Invest in Agricultural R&D for Africa motivates the idea in terms of what’s needed for poverty alleviation in Africa.  Here is a fun example of using proportional prizes to keep golf players competitive, and a serious proposal for a “health impact fund” using proportional payments for health.  The prizes initiative is also documented in a separate page on this website.










for infant foods


A new way to improve child nutrition, by lowering the cost of the high-density complementary foods needed during the crucial period from 6 to 24 months of age. 
         This idea was tested using a market experiment in Mali, whose results were published in journal articles in AJAE and Food Policy; as well as an unpublished French version (
Amélioration de la Nutrition Infantile), with press coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education.   The idea is also described in a 20-minute video aimed at high school economics classes.



Distortions to agricultural



A new book and companion dataset on farm and food policy in Africa, part of a larger worldwide World Bank project led by Kym Anderson.  You can browse the Africa book online here and here , or download the whole book and the data.  

         Here is my econometric analyses of the political economy of agricultural policy and a set of presentation slides. One bottom line message is this quote in the New York Times on the relative roles of various countries’ trade and other policies. 


Physical geography and technology


Differences in agroecological conditions can help explain productivity, and hence guide development policy. 

        My latest work on this is a paper and presentation slides entitled “Geography and Economic Transition”, with Mesbah Motamed and Raymond Florax.  This builds on my earlier work to develop a dataset on the prevalence of winter frosts, which might help people by providing a seasonal respite from pests, pathogens and disease vectors.  The possible role of frost in economic life was documented in a 2001 paper in Journal of Economic Growth  with additional results in a 2003 book chapter.   Initial publication was reported in The Times of London, the Toronto Star , the Indianapolis Star, ABC News, and The New Scientist website, plus a two-minute video news item produced by Science Central for ABC television.   To see for yourself, here is a map of frost prevalence in .pdf format.  The country-level data is here in Stata (.dta) format or Excel (.xls) format, or as a zip file of the underlying cell-level GIS data.



Other Projects





nutritional status

across countries


A new approach to comparing children’s nutritional status across countries and over time focuses on the extent of mild underweight, rather than the extreme cases that are usually monitored.  In a forthcoming article in Economics and Human Biology, we apply our new method to 130 DHS surveys covering 53 countries over the 1986-2006 and find some surprising results: changes in mild underweight provide a more useful signal of population health than changes in extreme underweight, in the sense that they are more closely correlated with child mortality and with various influences on child nutrition.








Market participation, productivity and welfare



A new study of over 10,000 farm households from Asia, Africa and Latin America reveals that lower-income farm households are typically net buyers of some foods but also net sellers of others; since the poor spend much of their income on food, the two turn out to be about equal.  As a result, in this paper on agricultural prices and farm income distribution we find that a general increase in all agricultural prices has a muted effect on the welfare of the poorest.  Those poorest farmers also devote a larger fraction of their production to home consumption (rather than commercial markets), and have lower farm productivity; we study the interaction between market participation and productivity, and find that some are less productive because they have limited market access, but more often the causality runs the other way: they participate less because they are less productive.







The  impacts of agricultural R&D

in Africa



New crop varieties and farming techniques have helped Africans overcome the effects of rapid rural population growth and limited market opportunities, but much more is needed.
         This work is summarized in presentation slides on new technology in African agriculture (a large 4 MB file), drawing on a decade of USAID-funded training workshops and case studies in West Africa, and led to this opinion column distributed by Project Syndicate.








Other things…



          Data for cross-country regressions, courtesy of Andres Garcia (updated May 2008)

Conference papers not for publication

          Policy measurement for trade negotiations and domestic reforms
          Climate and Development (with Jeffrey Sachs)
          Climate and Agricultural Productivity (with Keith Wiebe) 

Consulting reports and advisory work

          The Columbia University advisory project in Sao Tome and Principe (2003-2007)

          USAID report on agricultural biotechnology in West Africa (2005), and slides

          Abt Associates report on priorities for agricultural R&D in West Africa (2002)
          IFPRI paper on impact of seed-fertilizer starter packs in Malawi (2002)

          USAID summary of impacts of regional trade agreements in Southern Africa (2000)

          Abt Associates text on comparative advantage and agricultural trade (1995)
Workshops and panels I organized
Workshop on innovation in the life sciences at Columbia (May 2004)
          State of the Planet panel on food at Columbia (March 2004)

          Workshop on escaping the resource curse at Columbia (Feb. 2004)        

          Conference on agricultural productivity in the tropics at Harvard (Oct. 2000) 
          Invited-paper panels at AEA meetings (Jan. 2000 and Jan. 2001)



Other Links





Links to





Amanda Allbritton (The Innovation Group, New Orleans–formerly Hanoi Agric. Univ.)

Priya Bhagowalia (Faculty at TERI University, New Delhi)

Sophia Chiremba Anong (Faculty at Virgina Tech)
Timothy Dalton* (Faculty at Kansas State University)

James Edwin (Faculty at ISER, University of Alaska, Anchorage)

Monica Fisher** (Economist with IFPRI in Malawi)

Andres F. Garcia (Young Professionals Program in the World Bank)

Tomo Ishikawa (Economist with JICA in Kenya)
Andrew Jacque (Trade policy specialist with FAO in Trinidad and Tobago)

Michael Johnson (Research Fellow at IFPRI in Washington, DC)

Harounan Kazianga (Faculty at Oklahoma State University)

Fr. Steve Kuhlmann, O.P. (Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Columbia MO)
Nathan Loper (Economist at US Dept of Housing and Urban Development) [link to story]

Edward Mazhangara (Adjunct Faculty, Lansing Community College, Michigan)

Mesbah Motamed  (economist at ERS in Washington, DC)

Anthony Mwanaumo (exec. dir. of the Food Reserve Agency of Zambia)

Guy Ngeleza* (Postdoc at IFPRI in Accra, Ghana and Washington, DC)

Chewe Nkonde (Faculty at University of Zambia)

Annie Pelletier (Economist in California Dept. of Food and Agriculture)

Lisa Poley (Postdoc at Virginia Tech)

Ana Rios (Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC)

Diakalia Sanogo* (Senior program officer with IDRC in Dakar, Senegal)

Rafael Uaiene (Economist at IIAM, Mozambique)

* These advisees won our department’s outstanding dissertation award;

** … also won the best dissertation award from the American Agricultural Economics Association.








Past courses


AGEC 450 – International Agricultural Trade (Fall 2005)

AGEC 620 -- Computational Analysis of Markets and Policies  (Fall 2004)
INAF U4235 – Economics of Food and Agriculture (Spring 2004)








Photos and other stuff


Here is some photographic evidence on technical change in Africa, some other agriculture photos, a first-day-of-class slide show on African agriculture, and a 20-minute mini-lesson for high school economics classes.

One of my early teaching projects is I-TRADE, a simulation of neoclassical trade and growth for role playing in the classroom; another is Hands-On Econ, an interactive textbook for use in Russia in the 1990s. 

I’m an alumnus and a trustee of Deep Springs College, which you can see in a wonderful 7-minute video from 2009, an older documentary film from 2004, and articles in Le Figaro Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair (4MB), the Harvard Crimson, the Sunday Telegraph, the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, Salon, and a great piece in the Vassar Quarterly by my wife, Diane (with photo by me).  Here’s google’s satellite view of the place.

Here are some family photos; really curious visitors might be interested in my father's work, my brother’s work, and my mother’s co-housing project.

Last and least, here’s an 8-second sound clip of Ann-Margret’s musical tribute to my classmates and colleagues.




Department of Agricultural Economics | Download Acrobat Reader (free) | email me  


 last updated April 2010


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