Image Credit: Samantha Watters
Earlier this month, the UMD Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics (AREC) made a splash in their field by becoming the first ever agricultural department to host the BREAD Conference, the premiere conference in development economics. A total of 80 professionals, including fellows and affiliates of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD), researchers, presenters, faculty, students, and guests gathered for a rigorous discussion of the latest research in development economics, a field dedicated to improving economic and social conditions in developing countries through the study of behaviors and trends that impact health, sustainability, and economic growth. Since the majority of our population growth is occurring in the developing world, agriculture and resource economics is a key concern. With AREC having one of the top graduate programs in agricultural & resource economics in the country, hosting the BREAD conference establishes AREC and UMD as central to the advancement of development economics.
BREAD is a non-profit organization that promotes education, research, and scholarship in development economics and holds a conference twice a year to gather together the top minds in the field. By hosting the 37th BREAD Conference, AREC assembled these leaders, named affiliates or fellows of BREAD for their instrumental contributions, on UMD’s campus. “These are the thought leaders in developmental economics,” said Ken Leonard, associate professor with AREC and the lead organizer of the conference, along with Jing Cai, assistant professor with AREC, Sebastian Galiani, professor in economics, and Susan Parker, professor in the School of Public Policy.
Dean Beyrouty of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources opened the conference with some remarks about this influential group of economists. “Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live, and that’s really what you’re talking about here with research in economic development. We deal with that certainly in our college, not just with the economics and working all around the world in developing countries, but also dealing with food security, water security, climate change, issues that you deal with on a day to day basis through your research and education. We need to be taking leaps forward and doing remarkable things, and that is why the minds that are gathered here are so impressive and important. You are the thought leaders when it comes to research in economic development, and translating this all around the world.”
And some of those top minds are right here on UMD’s campus. Jing Cai and Pamela Jakiela of AREC are both affiliate members of BREAD. Across campus, Jessica Goldberg, associate professor in economics, is an affiliate member, and Sebastian Galiani, professor in economics is a fellow, both with the College of Behavioral and Social Science.
The conference acts as a major networking and collaboration opportunity for attendees, with a pre-conference session for junior faculty and presenters designed to encourage feedback on their work. Presenters may be up and coming, but the crowd of colleagues are highly published and often reviewers for some of the premiere journals in development and economics. Selection to present is highly competitive. This year, BREAD received 193 papers submissions, with only 7 chosen to present at the conference, and 4 additional pre-conference presentations.
Jing Cai, assistant professor with AREC, organized the pre-conference session as a two-time BREAD presenter and two-time pre-conference presenter and affiliate of BREAD. “Because the BREAD conference has high quality attendees, the most important benefit of presenting is that one can get great comments to improve the paper,” said Cai. “Moreover, it's a great opportunity to let influential people in your field get to know you and your work. One can also meet with other junior faculty at the conference to establish potential collaboration.”
A. Mushfiq Mobarak, professor of economics at Yale University and an alum of UMD kicked off the conference with his latest work in the illegal fishing and sales of hake fish in Chile, which is critically threatened by overfishing. “Development economics, which is the study of why some countries remain poor while others are rich, is an extremely important field of inquiry in the economics profession,” said Mobarak. “Hosting one of the premier global conferences in this field puts Maryland front and center on the research map. Personally, as a UMD alum (PhD, 2002), it was wonderful for me to see this field of research thriving among Maryland faculty and graduate students.”
Leonard was thrilled to host at UMD. “Just to be in the room and hear so many smart and dedicated people arguing about the work and discussing all the different aspects of the research is exciting to see. I wanted to make that happen at UMD, but I also wanted for them to see us.”
And it seems in that regard, the conference was an overwhelming success. “It was one of the best I have been to and I really enjoyed visiting the beautiful Maryland campus,” said Robin Burgess, Executive Committee Member and Incoming President of BREAD.
“In organizing this conference,” reflects Leonard, “we learned why only large programs have hosted the conference in the past. However, AREC kept focused on being welcoming and showing off our beautiful campus, and at the end of the day we were able to put on a very well-received conference. Participants were particularly happy with the inclusive and focused format and enjoyed being able to walk among the different venues in such a beautiful campus. In the end, it turned out that competent staff and highly dedicated graduate students are what it takes to play in the big leagues.”
The Department of Economics, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the School of Public Policy, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Maryland Population Research Center provided generous support.