2017-2018 Undergraduate Research: Blog Post #1

Working title: The Relationship between Global Food Commodity Prices and Local Hunger: Volatility, Price Spikes, and the Global Hunger Index

This research project seeks to examine the relationship between global food prices and local hunger. Understanding this connection has been recognized as a valuable asset to reducing food insecurity in both local service programs for the poor and hungry (i.e., food banks), as well as supply chain management of global food programs (i.e., the United Nations World Food Programme). Within the last decade, world food markets have portrayed rising and more volatile prices, cutting into poor families’ household spending on vital goods and services and forcing them to reduce their number of calories consumed. It can also affect their nutrition by leaving them with no choice but to shift to lower quality and less micronutrient-dense foods (von Grebmer et al. 2011).

Dr. Tekula and I were also awarded the Undergraduate Student-Faculty Summer Research Grant and are continuing our research throughout the academic year. We are examining how volatility and price spikes in global food commodities are related to local hunger levels. For our data on hunger, we are using The Global Hunger Index, containing data from the past 26 years for the 118 hungriest countries. For our data on food commodity prices, we are using data from Commodity Systems Incorporated to analyze trends in the market.

As a student, I am extremely excited about playing a key role in building a research project from start to finish and learning all the critical steps in between. I expect to enhance my skills in data analytics and attention to detail throughout the course of the project, as well as the ability to research and identify quality journal articles. We will continue to perform regression analyses in Stata and Excel in order to test our research questions, as well as explore additional online journals to grow our literature review section. I am looking forward to continuing my work with Dr. Tekula!

Student-Faculty Summer Research- Blog Post #2

Since my last blog post, Dr. Tekula and I have made significant progress in our research. As previously mentioned, our two main sources for our data are The Global Hunger Index (GHI) and Commodity Systems Incorporated. Through Commodity Systems Incorporated, we were able to look at indicators related to the volatility of prominent food commodities, such as corn, wheat, orange juice, and soy meal. Such indicators per commodity include the daily volatility measured over a 1 and 5-year trailing return from holding the commodity future and abnormal volatility, which is a continuous indicator measuring how high recent volatility is compared to long-run volatility for a commodity. As for the GHI, Dr. Tekula and I ran into a small issue with collecting the data. We discovered that The Global Hunger Index reports began being published annually by The International Food Policy Research Institute IFPRI in 2006. Prior to that, they calculated their scores using data from sources such as UNICEF, The World Bank, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Seeing as we wanted our data to go as far back in time as possible, we decided to construct our own dataset by pulling information from each Global Hunger Index report. After cleaning the data, our final dataset includes 131 countries, eight years of GHI Scores, the prevalence of undernourishment in children and adults, under-five mortality rate, and child wasting and stunting over the past 21 years.

Additionally, I have spent a large portion of my time researching scholarly journal articles related to our topic and learning an immense amount of information. I came across authors who have conducted research similar to ours, yet not identical, making it a valuable resource of information to add to our literature review. For example, some focused on the micro-effects of surging food prices in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America. Reading in-depth studies that have focused their analysis on a specific region has provided me with an advanced understanding on how the spikes in food prices may directly impact local hunger, but also how the effects may be different per geographical region. These scholarly articles also give us a method to follow for our methodology section.

While Dr. Tekula and I are still in the process of making our final conclusions, I have been experimenting in Stata and Excel with the data. After taking into consideration the fact that countries vary in size, I created a weight for each country in STATA, depending on their population. Using the United Nation Population Division database, I was able to match our 131 countries with its population size to produce weighted and unweighted GHI scores for each country. This gives us a more accurate picture of the average GHI score per country when comparing it to the volatility indicators.

This research opportunity has been extremely beneficial and exciting for me, as I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge on a wide variety of topics that truly interest me. I have accomplished the goals that I set for myself in my previous blog post, such as gaining confidence in my research skills and exposure to new methods to conducting effective research in the future, as well as more practice in Stata and Excel. I truly believe that this paper, once completed, will be a phenomenal piece to showcase my skills and interests to potential employers as I prepare to enter the job market in May. Most importantly, I have sincerely enjoyed working closely with Dr. Tekula throughout this summer. Her expertise, guidance, and support have greatly benefited me, both personally and professionally. I look forward to concluding this project with Dr. Tekula and presenting our findings at events such as Research Day.

Student-Faculty Summer Research: Blog Post #1

Working Title: The Relationship between Global Food Commodity Prices and Local Hunger: Volatility, Price Spikes, and the Global Hunger Index

This research project seeks to examine the relationship between global food prices and local hunger. Understanding this connection has been recognized as a valuable asset to reducing food insecurity in both local service programs for the poor and hungry (i.e., food banks), as well as supply chain management of global food programs (i.e., the United Nations World Food Programme). Within the last decade, world food markets have portrayed rising and more volatile prices, cutting into poor families’ household spending on vital goods and services and forcing them to reduce their number of calories consumed. It can also affect their nutrition by leaving them with no choice but to shift to lower quality and less micronutrient-dense foods (von Grebmer et al. 2011).

Dr. Tekula and I will be examining how volatility and price spikes in global food commodities are related to local hunger levels. For our data on hunger, we are using The Global Hunger Index, containing data from the past 26 years for the 118 hungriest countries. For our data on food commodity prices, we will use data from Commodity Systems Incorporated. As a student, I am most eager to learn how to efficiently collect, clean, analyze, and present our data and findings, as it is excellent practice for myself to continue developing my analytical skills, and to learn how to begin to turn my curiosity about relationships in economics, politics, and social justice, into publishable empirical findings. I have already performed data collection in Excel, which we will continue to work in, as well as either R or Stata.

I believe that this project will help me gain confidence in my own research methods and continue to conduct meaningful research in the future. It gives me the opportunity to not only contribute to research efforts in reducing global chronic hunger, but also exposure to one of the fields in which I am the most interested in pursuing a career in, as I have a passion for international poverty and economic development. I will be able to use this project as a valuable piece to showcase my skills and interests to future employers and graduate schools. Finally, this project is giving me the opportunity to engage with experienced professionals in this field, as I have already had the opportunity to speak independently with leaders at the UN World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute in regard to material for our project.

Sources:
von Grebmer, K., M. Torero, T. Olofinbiyi, H. Fritschel, D. Wiesmann, Y. Yohannes, L. Schofield, and Constanze von Oppeln. (2011). 2011 Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger: Taming Price Spikes and Excessive Food Price Volatility. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.