Economic Development

Children on a hillside in Africa

Cornell has a global reputation for leadership in economic development scholarship and outreach. From muddy-boots work in developing country agriculture, to the development of seminal theories and empirical methods in the social sciences, to the discovery of break-through technologies that improve lives and livelihoods, Cornell has long encouraged leading-edge research and action to benefit the least fortunate in our world. We foster cross-disciplinary and cross-border learning essential to help guide public and private decision-makers at local, state, national, and international levels as they strive to help struggling families enjoy sustainable improvements in standards of living. ACSF continues this tradition of rigorous scholarship to the practical challenge of expanding spheres of prosperity in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

Contact Wendy Wolford, ACSF Faculty Director for Economic Development.

image of apples on the stem

Learn about ACSF's AVF research grants and research performed by ACSF Faculty Fellows

Key Campus Partners: Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research,
Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise
, Center for the Study of Inequality, Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development, Cornell Population Program, Institute for Computational Sustainability, Institute for the Social Sciences, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies



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Topics: Biodiversity and Development | Climate Change Adaptation | Community Empowerment
Crop and Livestock Growth | Food Systems | Human Health | Jobs and the Workforce
Pro-Poor Financial Systems | Social Entrepreneurship | Water Management

Biodiversity and Development


Locations rich in endemic species largely overlap with low-income rural areas, inextricably linking rural development and biodiversity conservation concerns.  Cornell faculty work on issues such as ecoagriculture, reconciling wildlife conservation and rural development, or marine protected areas in China, Kenya, Mexico, Panama, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, etc.

Climate Change Adaptation

Villagers waiting by muddy pool in Africa

Several research teams investigate different aspects of adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in the low-income tropics, ranging from energy-related issues in Latin America, to livestock and maize systems in east Africa, to corals and coastal livelihoods in the Caribbean. More than 100 faculty work in the climate change arena.

Community Empowerment

African community gathered for a celebration

The institutional arrangements by which communities allocate scarce resources and set and enforce rules shape the development experience.  Many Cornell faculty study the institutions of development, from local institutions of land tenure and community groups, to national political economy and multinational institutions.  China, Ghana, India, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, are sites of current activity.

Crop and Livestock Growth

Researchers examining crop

Cornell has long been a key player in sustainable productivity growth in developing country agriculture.  Work ranges from plant breeding for stress tolerance and nutritional enhancement, to intellectual property, to improved natural resources management in agriculture, all in varied agroecosystems. 

Food Systems

African villagers gathered at a market

Cornell researchers and students are actively engaged in identifying how changes in food marketing chains – e.g., the rise of supermarkets and contract farming – can be shaped so as to better benefit the poor.  This includes work with farmer groups and marketing cooperatives, with agro-input dealers, and with small-scale fertilizer and seed suppliers in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Nicaragua, and Tanzania.

Human Health

Cute kids near forest

Faculty from diverse disciplines explore issues related to health and nutrition behaviors, HIV/AIDS, public health interventions, the linkages between agriculture and health (e.g., aflatoxin, micronutrient insufficiency), maternal and child health, etc.  Work is going on in Afghanistan, Haiti, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Jobs and the Workforce

Protesters with Green Jobs signs in DC

The Cornell Global Labor Institute in the ILR School, co-authored a groundbreaking study on green jobs, for the United Nations Environment Programme. The report highlighted the positive connections between stabilizing the climate and job growth, indicating that green jobs will need to be scaled up dramatically in order to address climate change and the employment crisis.

Pro-Poor Financial Systems

Cornell researchers help local business development in Africa

Cornell is at the forefront of research to develop index-based insurance products both for retail-level commercial distribution to poor herders and farmers and for pre-financing of emergency response by humanitarian organizations.  Other Cornell researchers are working on the design, financing and evaluation of microfinance enterprises in the developing world. Work is currently underway in China, India and Kenya.

Social Entrepreneurship

Cornell researchers help local business development in Africa

Cornell faculty champion the practical application of innovative and sustainable approaches to entrepreneurial activities that benefit society in general and the poor in particular. These activities combine our strengths in the natural and social sciences, business and engineering to champion the practical application of innovative and sustainable approaches that benefit society in general, and the poor in particular. This works spans the globe, from Brazil, China, India, Kenya and Mozambique, to Senegal, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Water Management

Water pump in muddy stream

Cornellians work on increasing access to sustainable and safe water supplies for poor and vulnerable communities, and to improve the efficiency and equity of water use through both institutional, policy and technological innovations at sites including Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Honduras, and the Philippines.