National Bureau of Economic Research Conference: Call for Papers

Transforming Rural Africa

NBER Research Conference -- Call for Papers

February 28 – March 1, 2019

Sub-Saharan Africa is in the early stages of agricultural productivity growth and structural transformation. Agriculture’s share of GDP and of employment have declined in recent decades across the continent and uptake of modern agricultural inputs has expanded along with rural communications and transport infrastructure, though slowly and unevenly.  These trends have vast implications for the continent, especially for the region’s poorest individuals, who are concentrated in rural regions and most of whom base their livelihoods in agriculture. Given that the World Bank projects 80% of the world’s extreme poor will be in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, the transformation of rural Africa is of tremendous global importance.

Africa’s structural transformation process has, to date, largely involved its still-low-productivity agricultural sector, and it has tended towards non-tradable services.  This pattern stands in contrast to the structural transformation in many countries on other continents, which involved a move toward manufacturing.  The African trajectory risks high urban poverty and growing rural-urban inequality.  Inequality has indeed increased in about half of sub-Saharan African countries, and the extent of the increase is strongly associated with the degree of urbanization.  How can policy promote a transformation with broad and inclusive benefits?  Policy levers that influence the nature of the transformation include instruments that influence the expansion of the non-tradeable service sector vis-à-vis manufacturing, as well as instruments that bolster productivity growth and stability of the smallholder agricultural sector.

To explore the determinants of structural transformation and the impact of various policies on it, the NBER will host a research conference in Cambridge, MA, on February 28-March 1, 2019.  This conference is made possible by the generous support of the African Development Bank (AfDB).  The conference will bring together researchers who offer a range of perspectives on the structural transformation underway in rural Africa, and will especially emphasize micro-scale evidence from households and firms. Suitable research topics include, but are not limited to, electrification, raising agricultural productivity, industrialization, increasing transportation infrastructure and regional connectedness, gender inequality, rural access to finance and factors that influence the quality of life for African people.


The conference will be organized by Chris Barrett (Cornell), Michael Carter (UC-Davis and NBER), Hanan Morsy (AfDB), Abebe Shimeles (AfDB), Tavneet Suri (MIT and NBER), and Chris Udry (Northwestern and NBER).  In keeping with the constraints that apply to all NBER research, papers and presentations may not include any policy recommendations or normative statements.  Papers presented at the conference will be eligible for distribution through the NBER working paper series. Presenters will need to provide an executive summary of up to 1000 words prior to the conference.

Researchers are invited to submit their papers through the NBER website no later than midnight EDT on Thursday, November 1, 2018.  Authors must provide a complete paper to be considered for the conference; abstracts will not be considered.  Proposers with and without NBER affiliations are welcome. Papers by researchers from Africa-based institutions, early career scholars, and from researchers from groups that are under-represented in the economics profession are especially encouraged. Decisions about which papers will be included on the program will be announced in early December, 2018.

NBER will cover the hotel and economy class travel cost for one author per paper and will pay a modest honorarium to the authors of each paper selected for inclusion on the program.  All co-authors are welcome to attend the conference; space permitting, other participants are also welcome.  The NBER provides breakfast and lunch each day. Anyone interested in attending the meeting, but who does not have a paper to submit, may click here. Please direct questions about this project to the NBER Department (