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Agrarian violence: A background story
Every paper has a story. Not the one that is told in the paper, no. The untold one. The story that made the paper happen. This one is about my recently published article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics where we find evidence of seasonal violence in the croplands of Africa.
I recently tweeted a thread where I summarized the paper, so I will live you to it. This post is about how I came by the research idea.
It was the early days of the pandemic, which gave us a lot of time for thinking, and a lot to think about. So, I was musing about my adolescent years, which I spent in a country that used to be part of the Soviet Union.
When the USSR collapsed, every possible social issue one can think of came out. The civil war that followed made arms accessible to many. All the ingredients were in place for conflict and violence. Indeed, robberies and abductions became part of daily life for many years.
My musings often involve times when I visited my grandparents in the rural part of the country. And it occurred to me that most acts of violence took place in autumn or winter. This is when farmers realize their harvest.
And then it dawned on me that there was something very specific about these crimes. They followed the seasonal pattern of agricultural income. A systemic pattern to such violence was very plausible, but I needed to externally validate this thought process.
So, I dove into the literature, and lo and behold, I found that I was not the first to think about this issue. I was onto something.
A further investigation of the literature revealed that most studies examined annual data. But agriculture, unlike other sectors of the economy, is seasonal. And the seasonal pattern cannot be examined using annual data. So, I realized, the seasonality of agrarian conflict was a niche direction of research I could pursue.
This direction involved combining two strands of literature. One is agricultural shocks, which I have investigated in different contexts. The other is conflict and violence, which was a relatively new element in my program of research.
After more than two years of writing and rewriting, and multiple rejections and resubmissions, the paper found a fantastic home, and I could not be happier about it.
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