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New Federal Program Targets Global Poverty

A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor will oversee a new $10 million federal program that will support a wide range of projects aimed at understanding and curbing poverty in developing nations.

The project, the Assets and Market Access Collaborative Research Support Program (AMA CRSP), represents a major effort by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to address this serious global issue.

“This program is focused on [finding] the right kind of economic policies to alleviate rural poverty,” says Michael Carter, professor of agricultural and applied economics in the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, who will direct the program.

The five-year, multipronged research effort pairs American scientists with researchers in developing nations to study and help tackle barriers faced by the world”s poorest individuals when it comes to achieving economic prosperity and stability. After undergoing a competitive selection processes, approximately 10 major research projects will be funded by this program.

“It”s my responsibility to make the research useful and make it actually influence public policy either in the United States or in multinational organizations – like the World Bank – where they really set the agenda,” says Carter. “In addition, I will be working on several pilot projects where we will implement research on various innovative policy interventions and then evaluate their impact and effectiveness in real-world situations.”

For the past five years, Carter has administered a similar project funded by USAID, known as BASIS CRSP. Among other things, findings from this earlier program have shed light on the effectiveness of microfinancing schemes to help poor farmers in Guatemala capitalize on new export opportunities. Another study focused on “poverty traps” in Ethiopia – the economic level below which Ethiopians are unable to lift themselves out of poverty and thus become permanently dependent on aid.

These past and future USAID research projects may one day lead to the redesign of current aid policies. That outcome motivates Carter.

“If you are working at the bottom level of the income distribution in poor countries, you see a world where there is so much material stuff, but there are so many people with so little,” says Carter. “You just see that and you think, ”We can make this better.””