Conflict Causes Coffee Drinking

Over at the European Comission’s Micro-Level Analysis of Conflict (MICROCON), scholars have been working through the impact of war on long-term decision making. In Burundi, war causes increased sustainable farming and agricultural portfolio diversification. According to Eleonora Nillesen and Philip Verwimp’s “A Phoenix in Flames? Portfolio Choice and Violence in Civil War in Rural Burundi”:

The paper demonstrates that contrary to the conventional idea that wars are “development in reverse” war can change people’s paradigms and leave them less myopic then before. Using three unique household and community samples from Burundi we find that households exposed to high levels of violence during the Burundi war are increasingly likely to have portfolios shifted towards more sustainable, and more profitable activities than others. We also find that income shares from export crop farming are larger for those living in previously violent areas although results are confined to the cross-sectional models.

Why is this important you might ask?

Studying portfolio decisionsprovides insights into future development paths. If, for example farmers indeed revertback to subsistence agriculture and grow crops that require low inputs (such ascassava) but that are also prone to diseases and yield low returns, households may notbe able to escape poverty and the country may face a high risk of falling back into acycle of violence. If, on the other hand violence induces more profitable investmentsand (or resulting from) increased cooperation and trust, economic and institutionaldevelopment may be accelerated and Burundi’s prospects of sustainable peace aremuch higher.

Check out the full working paper here.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Conflict Causes Coffee Drinking

  1. I love seeing researchers take a more nuanced view of conflict. Challenging the “development in reverse” paradigm is especially important given the historical role that conflict has played in political development.

    But I worry that this research suffers from two big problems. First, I’m skeptical about the external validity of such a study — i.e. do these conclusions apply to other conflict situations? Conflicts are incredibly unique in their causes, impacts, resolutions, etc. How effectively can we generalize from one to another?

    Second, the “so what do we do about it?” question. Even if conflict can have positive effects, we would never encourage conflict. What we need to know is what (if anything) any given actor can do to increase those positive effects, either during the conflict or afterward.

    I have to confess that I didn’t read the paper in full. I gave it a cursory glance. Maybe the authors address these issues?

  2. grant

    Absolutely great points. I think you have questions of external validity in any type of study – quantitative or qualitative – and particularly in policy recommendations cultivated by local NGOs or international agencies. The paper doesn’t try to make the claim that what was found here should apply to other countries, but if you buy some of the assumptions (which are debatable), it might be.

    On a similar note, finding the balance between micro-level studies and macro-level cross country regressions in order to understand what causes conflict is tricky. Many of the measures now used are pretty bad and fail to capture a lot of rich information at the cross-country level, and many of the micro-studies don’t offer any information that is useful in generalizing. The primary issue is that we’ve got a lot of bad data and conflicts are difficult to understand. So, you do the best with what you have and you choose the studies, papers, and research that resonates with the methodologies or findings you believe in (hopefully the former before the latter).

    To your second point, what should we do about it, the authors do address the policy implications. These types of findings should ultimately direct how a government subsidizes/taxes the coffee industry and what should be focused on in reconstruction efforts. Definitely worth a read on those points.

  3. Nice blog! Only problem is i’m running Firefox on Debian, and the site is looking a little.. weird! Perhaps you may want to test it to see for yourself.

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