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April 5, 2007

Scientist sheds light on agriculture and economic development, humans and their environment

Gerald Shively
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Gerald Shively's research has taken him all around the world, from the Philippines to Vietnam and Malawi.

In these disparate places, Shively, a Purdue University professor of agricultural economics, has uncovered commonalities in humans' relationship with agriculture and the environment, and shown that - with sensible policies - technological advancements can foster more sustainable development.

In his trademark project, for example, Shively demonstrated that the introduction of an irrigation system in a remote, lowland area of the Philippines indirectly led to less deforestation by creating jobs for nearby upland residents who otherwise would have cleared forest.

His research, which has implications "for the design of strategies that improve agricultural productivity and the welfare of farm households while preserving the environment," as one of his peers said, has earned him the 2006 Agricultural Research Award from the Purdue College of Agriculture.

During the presentation of the award on Thursday (April 12), Shively will give a talk entitled "On Fields and in Forests: An Economic Tale of Agricultural Development and Tropical Deforestation." The award ceremony will take place at the Dean's Auditorium in Pfendler Hall and will begin at 2 p.m., with a reception to follow at 3:15 p.m.

Shively's research has examined the economics of agriculture in coffee plantations, rice paddies and corn fields around the world, and how decisions at the household level can influence, and may be influenced by, the global economy. For example, his work in Malawi concluded that the introduction of improved maize seeds created more opportunities for farm work while reducing forest use.

Shively entered his field of research as a doctoral student at Wisconsin in 1991. Prior to that he earned a master's degree in economics and spent two years traveling on a shoestring throughout South and Southeast Asia. It was during these travels, he said, that he saw firsthand the problems faced by rural low-income people in developing countries.

"In retrospect, this voyage was an important part of my growing awareness of problems related to economic development and the critical role of agriculture in fostering development," he said.

Shively pursued his international interests at Wisconsin, where he went to work researching the economic habits of the rural poor whom he had seen so much of as a traveler. He identified an area of the Philippines to study and landed funding for his research, with grants and fellowships from the Fulbright program and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, among others.

Shively completed his doctorate in 1996 and became an assistant professor at Purdue the same year, where he has produced more than 30 articles and brought in millions in funding for his research. Besides publishing widely, Shively has won his department's undergraduate teaching award, mentored graduate students who have produced two nationally-recognized theses, and become the current co-editor-in-chief of Agricultural Economics.

Shively said he considers this most recent award to be a credit to the "international mindset" at Purdue and throughout the Hoosier state. 

Shively grew up in Ohio and attended Boston University for his master's and undergraduate degrees in economics, graduating magna cum laude.

The Agricultural Research Award is given annually to a Purdue School of Agriculture scientist who has completed a doctoral degree within the past 15 years. The recipient is chosen on the basis of research excellence and contributions made to agriculture, natural resources and the quality of life for Indiana citizens.

The honoree receives $1,000, which is funded by the Charles Gutherie Patterson Memorial Endowment and the Matthew Morgan Hamilton Fund. In addition, $5,000 is awarded to support the recipient's research.

Shively has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and from private industry, among other sources.

Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765)496-2050,

Source: Gerald Shively, (765)494-4218,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

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