Prior to starting her first year of university study at Middlebury College in Vermont, Leah Bevis visited Africa for the first time --- Malawi. She returned to work in Uganda after her first year at Middlebury, then after her second, and so-on.
“By the time I got to my senior year, I realized that I wanted to keep working in Africa, and to work in development,” Bevis says.
After finishing her undergraduate degree in geography she moved to Uganda to work with a public health NGO called Uganda Village Project. However, her time in the international development arena left her with more questions than answers.
“It struck me that, often, development NGOs were running programs because the donors liked them, or because they seemed like the only feasible programs, or because one guy once said that the program was effective… I felt there was a real lack of solid, research-based evidence behind many programs. So I went into economics to ask the deeper questions, in order to inform development policy in sub-Saharan Africa and more broadly,” she says as a now practicing development economist.
Bevis focuses on the linkages between biophysical systems and human systems in her research, most of which has been conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa.
During her graduate work at Cornell, she examined linkages between soil fertility, soil and crop minerals, and human health and welfare. She has looked at soil degradation and farmer choices in Uganda, examining how soil fertility effects plot-level productivity, and also how farmers invest differentially in their soils according to various dimensions of soil fertility. She has also examined the role that soil zinc plays in shaping crop zinc content, and how trade patterns move crop zinc across markets in Uganda, driving eventual consumption of zinc by consumers.
“I study intersections between development, human health and welfare, and biophysical resources. Biophysical resources are a key constraint on human productivity and welfare in most rural, developing countries --- and often, they are also non-tradable. If you have poor soils, you’re likely stuck with them. So what are the implications?” Bevis explains.
While at Cornell, Bevis specialized in development economics, econometrics and food systems.
Bevis was hired under Ohio State’s Discovery Themes initiative, and in particular as a researcher in the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), which seeks transformational solutions for global food security. She was attracted to Ohio State in part because she felt that the university, through the Discovery Themes Initiative, was excited to support the interdisciplinary nature of her research.
“At Cornell, I worked with soil scientists, nutritionists and crop scientists. A lot of my research interests are broadly interdisciplinary, intersecting with many other academics who also study food systems. I hope and believe that the InFACT program will facilitate collaboration with researchers in other Ohio State departments,” Bevis explains.
“From the very beginning this job was at the top of my list. The department has also been great. AEDE’s collegiality really sold me– I had a good feeling about the people here from the start,” she says.
Bevis is currently working on designing her teaching curriculum, which will include a seven-week module for the department’s PhD program focused on development economics. “I really enjoy teaching,” she says. “Working with students is fun. It’s also challenging. And it makes you look more broadly at things, which is only good for your own research.”
In her PhD module she hopes to create a class that is tool-oriented and fairly heavy in econometrics. She aims to situate the class in development economics literature and rely heavily on development datasets.
Bevis was raised in Hawaii and when she’s not sitting at a computer running regressions, or in the field, she’s often found upside-down doing yoga, acro-yoga or aerials. And, as a food and farm policy specialist, she of course enjoys all things food in her free time, from gardening to cooking to exploring her new city’s farmers markets.