Ag Econ Graduate Student Spotlight: Emiliano Lopez Barrera



Emiliano Lopez

“As a first first-generation college graduate in my family, I had a long journey to get to Purdue. When I received the admissions offer from the Ag Econ department, it was really a no brainer.”



“As a first first-generation college graduate in my family, I had a long journey to get to Purdue,” says Emiliano Lopez, a Ph.D. candidate in the agricultural economics department at Purdue. Originally from La Paloma, Uruguay a small town on the East coast, Emiliano moved to Montevideo, the principal and capital city, to pursue undergraduate studies at the Universidad de La República (UdelaR). After graduating with a bachelors in Economics, Emiliano took a position as a consultant for the Interamerican Development Bank at the Central Bank of Uruguay.

In 2014, in an effort to expand his career, Emiliano moved to the U.S. to pursue master’s degree in Agribusiness an Applied Economics at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo. There under the supervision of Dr. Juan Murguía, he learned about using applied micro econometric tools to generate knowledge that helps farmers and stakeholders through the supply chain to make data-driven decisions. That experience and his desire to broaden and deepen his knowledge on economics and agricultural economic issues, led him to Purdue.

“I was keen to learn more in the areas of International Trade and International Development and when I started to explore different options, Purdue stood out above the rest. Besides being a top University, Purdue has a world class Agricultural Economics Department, it is one of the top ten agricultural economics programs in the country and is well-known for its work in International Trade and Development. When I received the admissions offer from the AgEcon department, it was really a no brainer.”

Since accepting his offer at Purdue, Emiliano has stayed busy. His research explores the trade-offs and synergies arising out of the competing demands on the planet’s finite resources (such as water, land, clean air, biodiversity etc.), as well as potential pathways for sustainable development in the coming decades.

“In my view, few problems could be more challenging and pertinent to global affairs than those posed by the contemporary linkages between human diets, health, and environmental sustainability” he says. “Particularly, I am focused on understanding how future patterns of global food consumption will affect human health, and how the agricultural changes needed to support the ongoing global nutrition transition will affect the environment.”

Given their complexity, answering many of these inquiries often require the integration of multiple disciplines and have led him to explore, learn, and even borrow from other disciplines. “By nature, I am a curious person, I really enjoy this process that frequently leads me to learn things from different fields. I consider that might be one of my best qualities as researcher, as it makes me very versatile on the research methods I use when addressing different questions.”

For example, Emiliano recently published a paper on consumer’s food waste, co-authored with one of his Purdue advisors, Dr. Thomas Hertel. In this study, they were interested in examining how consumers’ food waste would likely look like as we move towards 2050. Addressing this topic required that the team use a combination of different research methods like, nutrition modeling to impute uneaten calories at consumers’ level, econometric modeling to characterize the demand for food that ends up wasted, and global economic modeling to explore the potential implications of food waste reductions on food security and environmental sustainability, and its interactions with international trade policies.

Emiliano presenting his work at a conference
Photo caption: Emiliano presenting his work at the AAEA Meeting in Atlanta, 2019

Currently Emiliano is in his final year of the Ph.D. program and is wrapping up his dissertation, “Three Essays on the Global Food Economy Towards 2050” which examines the global food economy towards 2050 by exploiting econometrics and modelling tools. Dr. Thomas Hertel and Dr. Gerald Shively are his advisors. He’s trying to determine how future patterns of global food consumption affect human health and how will the agricultural changes needed to support the ongoing global nutrition transition affect the environment. To do this he’s must find the relationship between income and food waste, as well as the association between increases in food energy supply and changes in Body Mass Index (BMI) across countries and time. He’s already had the first essay published in a top tier journal, Food Policy.

In addition to finishing his dissertation, Emiliano is preparing to enter the job market and is prioritizing academic opportunities during his job hunt. That means taking advantage of teaching opportunities.

“Over the past years I have assisted Dr Thomas Hertel as Teaching Assistant and Lab instructor in his graduate course AGEC 528: Global Change and the Challenges of Sustainably Feeding a Growing Planet, which I highly recommend. The course seeks to address the global sustainability challenges within an economic framework but drawing on a wide range of disciplines. Every year the course bridges on the challenges on teaching economics to graduate students with a wide range of backgrounds, from the schools of Engineering, Liberal Arts, Science, Agriculture and Technology, etc. Since my main goal is on develop a career in the academia, I am trying to take advantage of any opportunity of increasing my exposure to teaching.”

Emiliano standing in front of a green screen in the Krannert Building
Photo caption: Emiliano recording economic concept modules for Indiana high school students

In recent months, he has also been developing a set of modules designed to bridge the challenges of teaching economic topics to K-12 (high-school level) students in Indiana. It’s a set of 5 to 6 modules framed in the context of global challenges posed by the agriculture-environment-health trilemma. The team just finished their first module. The materials will be used by high school teachers in their instruction leading up to Youngs World Food Prize competition in Spring 2021. Emiliano hopes the modules will help motivate students to team up and participate in the competition.

Emiliano has recognized that given the pandemic, the job market is unusually slow this year, but he’s staying optimistic and exploring opportunities in global organizations like the World Bank, IDB, and FAO. One day, he hopes to be able to return to his home country, share what he’s learned, and make a difference in his community. But realizes that might take a little while. “If I find a job in the U.S. and settle down for a while, the chances of returning home are reduced, but who knows, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

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