My research primarily focuses on the implications of customary tenure systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, including for agricultural investment decisions and political behavior.  

Working Papers

Decentralization of Land Governance and Election Behavior in Burkina Faso, Laura Meinzen-Dick [under review]

I study politicians' responses to the decentralization of land governance in Burkina Faso. To what extent are politicians motivated by private rents versus a concern with constituent welfare? I develop a theoretical model and test its implications using municipal elections during the experimental pilot phase of a land governance decentralization reform. I find that additional political parties contest elections in municipalities slated to receive pilot-phase local land offices, although voter turnout is lower than expected and elections do not become meaningfully more competitive. After implementation and documentation of land rights, both parties and voters behave similarly to their control municipality counterparts. By examining heterogeneity in political responses according to different tensions emerging from customary land rights systems, I argue that politicians are not only driven by their own private rents, but also demonstrate a policy-centric focus on constituent welfare. This speaks to a trade-off inherent in decentralization: despite potential efficiency gains and increased accountability to local citizens, more localized government could be more vulnerable to elite capture, so the motivations of those elites are important.

Customary Tenure and Agricultural Investment in Uganda, Laura Meinzen-Dick

In this paper, I incorporate the social dynamics of land rights into a model of agricultural investment with a binding liquidity constraint. This allows for nuanced predictions about how farmers respond to changing land pressures under different tenure regimes. As land pressures increase, liquidity constraints should relax, but local elites may face more incentive to expropriate customary land for sale to outsiders. If farmers begin to worry about elite expropriation, this could impact their investment decisions. Do farmers under-invest in long-term agricultural inputs on customary parcels as land pressures rise? In order to empirically test the implications of this model, I use data from a survey I conducted in 2019 of 2,189 farmer households in Uganda. I look at heterogeneous responses to rising land pressures between customary and freehold land for a variety of investments. I find that long-term input use, particularly tree planting, responds to rising land values more strongly on freehold land than on customary land. Elite incentives to expropriate rise along with land pressures, causing tenure insecurity on customary land, and this attenuates the impacts of increased liquidity. This divergence in input use between freehold and customary parcels is also present (to a lesser extent) on short-term inputs, contrary to the model's predictions. This may be driven by changing cropping patterns; however, the difference in responses is stronger for long-term inputs such as trees, which can be attributed to the tenure-security effect.

Examining the Distributional Effects of School Quality on Student Outcomes, Colin Lilly and Laura Meinzen-Dick

Value-added modeling is a popular approach for evaluating school and teacher effectiveness. Previous research focuses primarily on average treatment effects, finding a positive relationship between education quality and student outcomes. We estimate quantile treatment effects of school quality and find heterogeneity in the impact on long-run student outcomes, with worse off students disproportionately benefiting from gains to school quality. These effects differ by sex.

Tenure Insecurity and the Continuum of Documentation in a Matrilineal Customary System, Helder Zavale, Laura Meinzen-Dick, and Hosaena Ghebru

In this paper, we document patterns of land tenure insecurity in a matrilineal region of Mozambique. Using data from a survey of nearly two thousand agricultural households in two regions of Mozambique, we explore the gendered sources and covariates of tenure insecurity that stems either from private land disputes or collective expropriation (by government or large-scale land investors). We find that overall, nearly half of respondents report experiencing collective land tenure insecurity, as compared with only 12.5% reporting individual tenure insecurity. We further distinguish patterns between principal males, their female spouses, and principal females, finding that principal males feel the least secure about their collective and individual rights, a surprising finding compared with the majority of evidence from (patrilineal) Africa. Secondly, we make use of the fact that in several of the villages surveyed, the government carried out a variety of land rights documentation interventions, including a simple community delimitation, individual parcel demarcation, and full certification of rights. This continuum of documentation efforts allows us to see how well different interventions match the existing forms of tenure insecurity, and what is needed to address fears about losing land. Indeed, individuals in villages which received formal land certificates appear no more secure than those who merely had their rights demarcated in a less formal (and much less costly) process. Finally, we probe the heterogeneity in responses to documentation programs by gender and marital status, where it appears that men are most strongly impacted by government action. This paper fills a crucial gap, by empirically documenting gendered patterns of customary tenure and insecurity in a matrilineal system (15% of societies in Sub-Saharan Africa practice matrilineal kinship, according to the Ethnographic Atlas), as well as by contributing to a literature that aims to fit land rights documentation interventions to the needs of the community and most effectively enhance tenure security. 

Work in Progress

Strengthening Women Smallholders' Resilience to Agricultural Shocks for Enhanced Income Diversification and Empowerment in Uganda, Florence Kyoheirwe Muanguzi, Susan Kavuma, Brenda Boonabaana, Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, Losira N. Sanya, Nargiza Ludgate and Laura Meinzen-Dick

Co-opting Co-ops: Targeting a Subsidy for Agricultural Inputs in Uganda, Samuel S. Bird, Michael Carter, and Laura Meinzen-Dick


Women's Empowerment and Property Rights, Cheryl Doss, Laura Meinzen-Dick, and Ruth Meinzen-Dick

Community Based Fisheries Management in Indonesia, Amanda R. Lindsay and Laura Meinzen-Dick

Peer-Reviewed Publications

The Influence of Sociocultural Factors on Women Smallholder Farmers' Empowerment in Uganda. Brenda Boonabaana, Florence Kyoheirwe Muhanguzi, Losira Nasirumbi Sanya, Laura Meinzen-Dick, Susan Kavuma, Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, Nargiza Ludgate, and Pius Okello. Chapter in Women and Smallholder Farming: Addressing Global Inequities in Agriculture, Carolyn Sachs and Paige Castellanos (eds). Burleigh Dodds Science Publishers, forthcoming.

The Meanings of Resilience in Climate Justice: Women Smallholder Farmers' Responses to Agricultural Shocks in Uganda under the Spotlight. Florence Kyoheirwe Muhanguzi, Brenda Boonabaana, Losira Nasirumbi Sanya, Susan Namirembe Kavuma, Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, Nargiza Ludgate and Laura Meinzen-Dick. Agenda.  2023.

Replacing Iron-Folic Acid with Multiple Micronutrient Supplements among Pregnant Women: Costs, Impacts, and Cost-Effectiveness. Reina Engle-Stone, Sika M. Kumordzie, Laura Meinzen-Dick, and Steve Vosti.  Annals of the New York Academy of Science. 2019 May, 1444(1).

Transitioning from Distribution of Iron-Folic Acid Supplements to Multiple Micronutrient Supplements for Pregnant Women. Reina Engle-Stone, Steve Vosti, Laura Meinzen-Dick, and Sika M. Kumordzie. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019 3 (Supplement 1).

Other Publications

The Gendered Nature of Land and Property Rights in Post-Reform Rwanda. Kelsey Jones-Casey, Laura Meinzen-Dick, and Alfred Bizoza. USAID LAND Project Report. 2014 May.

Graduate Student Researcher

Impact Evaluation of the Agriculture Cluster Development Project, World Bank/DIME, Michael Carter (UC Davis ARE), & Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Uganda

Shifting from Iron-Folic Acid to Multiple Micronutrient Supplements: Cost, Benefit, and Cost-Effectiveness Estimates, Steve Vosti (UC Davis ARE) & Reina Engle-Stone (UC Davis Nutrition)

Associations between Market Characteristics and Child Health: Insights from the iLiNS Site in Burkina Faso, Steve Vosti (UC Davis ARE) & Jenni James (Crunch Pack)

The Nexus between Gender, Collective Action for Public Goods, and Agriculture: Evidence from Malawi, Nancy McCarthy (Lead Analytics) & Talip Kilic, World Bank