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SAGA PROGRESS REPORT (12/05-12/06) &


SAGA is now beginning its sixth year, chronologically. Due to funding shortfalls, however, we are only three-quarters into the activities envisaged in the overall Cooperative Agreement. Despite our disappointment with the severe cut-back in funding, we continue to engage in a wide range of activities and have made significant strides toward SAGA’s objectives of high quality poverty research, institution strengthening, and policy outreach. This report familiarizes and informs USAID and others about our progress and plans. While this brief report provides considerable insight and a synopsis of much of work conducted under the SAGA project during the previous year, the reader is strongly encouraged to consult this website: This will provide a far more comprehensive and complete picture of our activities and accomplishments.

In research, 264 papers have been prepared under SAGA, many of which uncover surprising findings that will alter the way policy makers need to think about key issues:
  • In education, research on Senegal indicates that, controlling for a child’s level of schooling, having better educated parents or enjoying the advantages of being in a wealthier household have only modest or inconsistent (across tests) benefits for academic performance of 14-17 year olds. Therefore, efforts to enroll and keep in school children from less advantaged backgrounds will contribute significantly to closing not just schooling gaps themselves but also the substantial skill gaps that exist between these children and more affluent children. Preliminary analysis of 8-10 year olds in Madagascar also suggests at best limited effect of parental education once the effects on school enrollment are accounted for.

  • In health service delivery, research from Madagascar reveals severe inadequacies in infrastructure: for example, only 53% had electricity, and only 60% had an adequate source of water (tap or pump), and less than 38% of facilities have supplies of drugs adequate to their needs. Furthermore, direct observation of health practitioners (by doctors carrying out this part of the survey) suggests that standard treatment protocols are often, even typically, not followed completely. For example, in only about one fifth of the centers did practitioners note lethargy in their patients.

  • On HIV/AIDS, we examine changes in behaviors that put people at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Specifically, we look at the age at first sex, abstinence, the number of sex partners, and the use of condoms. We find some reduction in risk behaviors are seen for each of the behaviors studied, for both men and women. Particularly noteworthy is that for the case of condom use among men and women with persons other than co-habitating partners. Among the behaviors examined, the least progress has been made in terms of increasing the share of abstinent women.

  • On decentralization, we highlight the importance of a conducive and receptive socioeconomic environment at the local level as a precondition for successful decentralization, and more specifically focus on the social networks, informal groups and community-based organizations that can act as a vehicle by which administrative authority is effectively devolved to local level institutions and through which the potential for abuse can be either checked or fostered. Because so much of the outcome of decentralization experiences appears to turn on the pre-existing condition of meso-level informal institutions, what we term as the “social economics of development” becomes a crucial determinant of performance. Decentralization cannot be introduced into an information or capacity vacuum. Communities must have the wherewithal to impose standards and demand accountability and performance from local leaders. Communities must also have internal mechanisms to effectively resolve intracommunity conflicts and disagreements.

  • In the area of risk, vulnerability and poverty dynamics, our work on asset dynamics in southern Ethiopia indicates a pattern consistent with the notion of a poverty trap. Unpacking the overall dynamics, one finds that two factors account for the apparent existence of poverty traps: (i) adverse rainfall events – drought – that causes severe herd loss, and (ii) lower herding ability among a subpopulation of herders. These dynamics have strong implications for the design of herd restocking programs and also point to important holes in social safety nets within the Boran community, such that the likelihood of external transfers to poor households crowding out private transfers appears very low.

SAGA is building capacity in partner institutions to conduct high quality research, to raise funding for research, and to raise their national and international profiles. Prominent examples are:
  • In pursuit of the capacity building objective of Economy of Ghana Network, ISSER and Cornell held this year a “Northern Roadshow” for the Northern Region, Upper East Region and Upper West Region of Ghana. (See We took a group of persons from ISSER and the Economics Department at the University of Ghana as well as international resource persons from outside Ghana, to the North for discussions at local academic institutions, and high level regional government officials.

  • SAGA co-sponsored a training workshop organized with the Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) at the University of Cape Town, for National Treasury in South Africa. A variety of issues were covered, ranging from the theory and proactive of the measurement of poverty and inequality, to labor market and trade-related poverty issues and social security. The workshop was attended by staff who work on these issues from National Treasury and the Presidency. In addition, a roundtable discussion on a social security system for South Africa was attended by officials from these departments, as well as Statistics South Africa and the Department of Social Development, among others.

SAGA researchers and our partner institutions are reaching out to promote the maximum level of policy impact in a variety of ways:
  • In the period January-October, 2006, the SAGA website registered 455,031 hits, and there were 122,985 downloads of SAGA publications. The use of the website continues to grow; in 2005, the total number hits for the same period was 269,260 with 65,936 downloads of PDF files.

  • SAGA researchers have been working with the African Economic Consortium and the Hewlett Foundation preparing research and training materials that examine the link between reproductive health and economic performance and outcomes.

  • We have held 23 policy-oriented conferences and workshops, and we regularly engage policy-makers and stakeholders directly in our effort to promote evidence-based policy making.

The SAGA teams are also working hard to promote and foster engagement with our partners at USAID through a variety of mechanisms. For example:
  • Cornell researchers worked with the USAID mission in Madagascar where the most recent (2003/4) DHS indicated very sharp declines in rates of infant and under-five mortality compared with the previous survey from 1997. This is a very important gauge of changes in the country’s welfare as well as impacts of health policies, but many, including USAID-Madagascar and UNICEF-Madagascar, had concerns about the plausibility of the findings. USAID-Madagascar approached CFNPP to investigate these findings and assess the quality of the DHS data. The results of the report were discussed in consultations of USAID, the Malagasy health ministry, and others. In addition to leading to an accepted downward revision of the changes in mortality, the findings about sample representivity has prompted the engagement of consultants to redesign the sampling frame used for national surveys in Madagascar. (See

As we look to the future and the severe budgetary cuts to SAGA, we have only modest expectations in terms of accomplishments and activities for the next year. Our hope is that some funds will be identified to bring to fruition some of the final pieces of country-specific work that are in progress, and help finance the preparation of a synthesis volume that we have begun.







Schooling, Education, and Human Capital
     Schooling Attainment and Cognitive Ability
     Community Schools

     Institutional Analysis and Health Delivery Systems
     Infant and Under-five Mortality
     Poverty and Reproductive Health

Empowerment and Institutions
     Access to Social Services
     Land Tenure
     Political Liberalization, Decentralization and
         the Social Economics of Development

Risk, Vulnerability and Poverty Dynamics
Integrative Analysis
The Small Grants Program
SAGA Website
Conferences and Workshops and Related Publications
Direct Engagement of Policy Makers



APPENDIX I: Special issue for World Development (forthcoming 2007)

APPENDIX II: Decentralization and the Social Economics of Development – Lessons from Rural Kenya (Table of Contents)

APPENDIX III: Tentative Outline for Synthesis Volume

APPENDIX IV: Table of Contents for Poverty and Policy in Post-Apartheid South Africa

APPENDIX V: National Treasury Workshop on Poverty Reduction and Social Security Program

APPENDIX VI: Competitive Research Grants Program – Final Awardees [2005-2006]

APPENDIX VII: SAGA Website Statistics

APPENDIX VIII: Pastoralism and Poverty Reduction in East Africa: Conference Agenda and List of Participants

APPENDIX IX: SAGA Publications 12/05-12/06

APPENDIX X: SAGA Research in Print

APPENDIX XI: SAGA Conferences, Workshops, Presentations 12/05-12/06

Return to SAGA Progress Reports


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