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Land Distribution and Wealth

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Student Researcher Connects Poverty with Access to Clean Water

Gibson and Gitar  
Assistant Professor Gibson Nene and Bret Gitar  
Economics student Bret Gitar recently conducted research to measure factors that correlate with poverty in 14 countries in Southern Africa. His work received some significant attention. A paper he worked on with his teacher, Gibson Nene, “The Effect of Land Reform on Poverty: The Case of Southern African Development Community (SADC) Countries," was published in the journal Economic Papers: A Journal of Applied Economics and Policy in March 2014. Nene, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics, and Gitar also presented their work at the Western Economic Association Convention in San Francisco in the summer of 2012.

Gitar, an economics major planning to graduate in December 2015, said his research is just one tool for economists, governments, and non-profit organizations interested in finding a lasting solution to poverty. To understand land distribution in Southern African countries, one must look at history. "During the European colonization of Africa hundreds of year ago, access to clean water was taken away from the people living on the land," said Gitar. Nene and Gitar's findings on the impact of land reform on access to clean water will assist officials working to alleviate poverty.

Gitar and Nene examined the impact of two types of land reform on access to clean water: market based and expropriation. Market based reform is the “willing buyer and willing seller” method, which is a similar to the way land is bought and sold in the U.S. Expropriation is where the government steps in and claims land to re-distribute. They were surprised to find that land transfer through expropriation had a slightly higher impact on alleviating poverty than the market based method. Even more significantly, their results showed that poverty was not alleviated in the 14 countries through land reform for the period 1990–2007. Some of the factors preventing gains in wealth were the impact of HIV/AIDS and the high number of urban residents.

"I enjoyed working with Bret on this research," said Nene. "Bret was self-driven throughout the research project and asked a lot of questions which helped him understand the challenges involved in the research." Nene said any motivated student who is interested in a topic will find research fun and rewarding. "I encourage undergraduate students at UMD to consider working on UROPs on areas that they are interested in and emulate the example set by Bret Gitar," said Nene. 

Gitar is one of the dozens of UMD students who participate in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) every year. His path to the UROP began when he became a member of the UMD’s Economics Club. He continued with the group and served two years as vice-president. The group attended the Minnesota Economics Association Convention where he met professional economists and learned about the wide variety of specialties within the field. He also worked as a teaching assistant for Nene, gathering research, conducting a literature review, and working with the collected data. 
"It was great working with Gibson," said Gitar. "He guided me through the whole research process from start to finish.” Gitar was good at formatting data in economic models to produce clearly understood results. "The research was a major influence on my college career," Gitar said. When Nene and Gitar presented at the Western Economic Association conference, Gitar was hooked. "I was the only undergraduate at the conference," he said. "The topics were exciting." Gitar's next step was to apply for the UROP on on land reform and its relation to poverty.
Gitar landed a paid internship at Blue Water Capital Advisors, an investment advisory firm in Duluth. He has applied to schools across the U.S. and Canada and hopes to get a master’s degree in developmental economics. 

By Courtney Salmela and Cheryl Reitan, October 2014.

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