9 Mar 2021

New researcher at CMI: Jon Einar Flåtnes

What has insurance got to do with climate change adaptation strategies? More than you might think. Our new senior researcher Jon Einar Flåtnes studies how financial products like credit and insurance can protect farmers from the negative impacts of climate change.

Jon Einar received his Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California, Davis in 2015 and his B.A. from Macalester College in 2005. Before coming to CMI, he was an Assistant Professor of Development Economics in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at the Ohio State University. Prior to pursuing his Ph.D., he worked as Senior Model Validation Analyst at GMAC ResCap, a mortgage finance company.

What are your main research interests and background?

-My primary research focus is on climate change adaptation, resilience, and poverty, particularly among rural populations in the Global South. While my initial research interest was in rural credit markets and microfinance, my focus quickly evolved to include agricultural insurance. To date, I have explored topics such as social and conventional collateral in group lending schemes, the effect of climate change on insurance demand, optimal design of index insurance contracts using remote sensing data, and complementarities between insurance and other technologies, among other things.

My research interests are continuing to shift towards studying other climate change adaptation strategies, such as migration, climate-smart agriculture, and reforestation.

What got you into this field of research?

-Ever since I took a development economics course in college, I have been interested in development, and microfinance, in particular. But it was not until I started working with Prof. Michael Carter at U.C. Davis that I truly developed a passion for research on rural poverty. During my third year of graduate school, I was invited to join a project to evaluate the impact of a large credit/insurance intervention in Tanzania. When doing field work for this project, I gained a deeper understanding of the variety of challenges facing households in rural communities. Since then, my research agenda has been partially formed by talking to farmers, community members, and local stakeholders, such as banks and insurance companies.

Why CMI?

-My passion for conducting challenge-driven and policy-relevant development research in an interdisciplinary environment is what attracted me to CMI. CMI is unique in that it combines academic excellence with a focus on making an impact on policy and practice, and I am excited to be part of CMI’s effort to bolster its climate change adaptation research.

What are your professional goals?

-I would like to strike a good balance between publishing high-quality academic research and being engaged in work that can have tangible impacts on people’s lives. I am particularly interested in conducting research that can help people better prepare for and cope with climate change, as it disproportionately affects households in low-income countries. While my research to date has mostly focused on financial products, such as credit and insurance, I am excited to explore other climate change adaptation initiatives. My ultimate goal is to produce high-quality research that can help us better understand how, when, and where different adaptation strategies may be effective, so that policymakers can implement the most appropriate technologies and initiatives in the places that need these the most.

How can your research contribute to solve global challenges?

-Climate change is one of the greatest threats to the livelihood of people throughout the Global South, and designing evidence-based policies and programs that can help people cope with the challenges brought on by climate change is critical. In one project, we have shown that bundling drought-tolerant maize seeds with crop insurance allows farmers to quickly bounce back from drought shocks, which otherwise could have long-lasting negative effects.

In another project, that we are just launching, we are hoping to understand whether revenue insurance, which is meant to protect households against both crop failures and price fluctuations, can improve the resilience of not just farmers, but also other community members who depend directly or indirectly on agricultural production and food prices.

Would you like to share a fun-fact about yourself?

-I was validating subprime mortgage models in the years leading up to the 2007-2009 financial crisis, and I sometimes get asked if I helped contribute to the collapse of the economy. While I like to think I played no part in it, I did gain a pretty unique perspective and understanding of the factors that led to the crisis, which I’d be happy to share with anyone interested!