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Virginia Tech economists to investigate effects of Vietnamese off-farm income on nutrition

Nagoya University Professor Tadashi Sonoda meets with Associate Professor Susan Chen and graduate student Minkyong Ko.
Tadashi Sonoda, right, sits with Susan Chen, center, and graduate student Minkyong Ko to discuss project plans.

An applied econometrician, a food and health economist, and a graduate student from the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics are joining forces with a colleague from Nagoya University in Japan, Professor Tadashi Sonoda, to investigate the effects Vietnam’s increased off-farm income has on nutrition, farm yield and efficiency, and overall family health.

Vietnamese farm households have experienced rising off-farm income over the past decade as the trend for migrant urban workers to send part of their paycheck back to their home farm communities has steadily increased. Likewise, globalization and economic growth have made off-farm work increasingly available in rural areas.

“This trend has to have some effect on farm households, but the question is, ‘What kind of an effect? And how much of an effect?’” said applied econometrician and Virginia Tech Assistant Professor Ford Ramsey, a co-investigator on the project.

While Vietnam has large data sets that contain multi-year information on income, migration, and farm operations, little analysis has been conducted to discover the relationship between off-farm income and health.

Households either invest off-farm income back into the farm and receive an indirect health benefit from the resulting increased production efficiency and yield, or they use increased off-farm income for direct consumption.

“Either way, farm households benefit,” said Ramsey. “But knowledge gained from this research will allow us to identify the specific ways that Vietnamese farm households optimize production and how household welfare can be improved through market-based policies.”

Ramsey previously worked with Sonoda on a project that examined factors that affect permanent exit from farming in Japan. He sees this collaboration as the next step in continuing their research partnership and establishing a relationship between their respective universities.

“As we build this partnership, we hope to discover more opportunities for future agreements and projects between Virginia Tech and Nagoya University – a top seven national university in Japan,” said Ramsey.

Sonoda recently visited Virginia Tech for the first time to meet the rest of the research team and devise a plan for the remainder of the project. Sonoda met with Virginia Tech Associate Professor Susan Chen, who will offer expertise on nutrition and health aspects of the project, and graduate student Minkyong Ko, who is working with Chen and Ramsey, and will focus a portion of her dissertation on health and nutrition in Vietnam.

The data set the team will use, the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey, is widely comprehensive has been collected over multiple years by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam. This breadth of data will allow for more detailed and robust economic and statistical analyses. The team plans to present preliminary hypotheses and results at an upcoming conference in Washington, D.C.