Job Market Paper

Can a Rule-of-Thumb Tool Improve Fertilizer Management? Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh

This paper demonstrates high returns to a simple rule-of-thumb tool to help farmers manage use of fertilizers, suggesting considerable scope for productivity gains through better management of inputs. The green revolution led to significant improvements in rice yields in South Asia, through the adoption of high-yielding varieties and the increase of inputs including fertilizers. Although adoption of fertilizers has been high, farmers may still fail to use it efficiently. In a field experiment in Bangladesh, I provide treatment farmers with a simple rule-of-thumb tool (leaf color chart) to improve the timing of fertilizer applications for urea, a popular nitrogen fertilizer. I find that treatment group farmers reduce urea use by 8% and that yields increase by 7% on average, suggesting there is significant scope to improve urea management. Results show that farmers apply urea too early in the season, during a period when it is likely to be wasted, and that farmers at all levels of urea use can save urea without sacrificing yields. Farmers who performed better at baseline have the largest gains from treatment. Cost-effectiveness estimates suggest that each $1 spent on this intervention produces a return of $9 through a combination of savings of urea and higher revenue.

Working Papers

How does Child Labor respond to changes in Adult Work Opportunities? Evidence from NREGA

This paper studies the impact of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in India on schooling and employment outcomes for children. We use several rounds of nationally representative cross-sectional data and panel data for three states from the National Sample Survey (NSS) in India. The NREGA offers 100 days of guaranteed work to adults from rural households with the intention to help households smooth consumption during lean agricultural seasons. Providing employment opportunities to households can affect intra-household allocation of time and resources by changing income and bargaining power. We use the phased roll out of NREGA to different districts and measure the difference-in-difference between districts that received the program early relative to those that received it later. In our analysis we look at the impact on children when adults take-up NREGA work. On one hand, additional income in the household can increase resources spent on children's education and reduce child labor. However, if wages in the economy increase or adults take-up new jobs, child labor could increase. Our results show an increase in time spent on education for younger children and an increase in time spent working outside the household for older children.


Islam, M., & Hoddinott, J. (2009). Evidence of intrahousehold flypaper effects from a nutrition intervention in rural Guatemala. Economic Development and Cultural Change57(2), 215-238.

Case, A., Paxson, C., & Islam, M. (2009). Making sense of the labor market height premium: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey. Economics letters102(3), 174-176.

Ardington, C., Case, A., Islam, M., Lam, D., Leibbrandt, M., Menendez, A., & Olgiati, A. (2009). The impact of AIDS on intergenerational support in South Africa: Evidence from the Cape Area Panel Study. Research on aging.

Research in Progress

“Are Gains from a Simple Intervention Sustained? A Follow-up on Agricultural Outcomes in Bangladesh

In a previous study, I find large returns to a simple rule-of-thumb tool to improve the management of chemical fertilizers in the season after the intervention. This study explores whether the gains are sustained two years following the intervention and if there is any evidence for spillovers. (Funding received from Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative)

 “Soil Testing as a Solution to Imbalanced Fertilizer Use? A Field Experiment in Bangladesh

 Evidence from Bangladesh suggests that farmers may overuse some fertilizers while they underuse others, which can have negative consequences for soil health over time. This behavior by farmers may be driven by information constraints on the nutrient profile of their plots or poor understanding of fertilizer needs of different crops. This project examines whether providing fertilizer recommendations based on plot-specific nutrient characteristics can promote balanced use of fertilizers and lead to productivity gains by farmers. (Funding received from USAID/Development Innovation Ventures)