EPIC Spotlight: Amy Farmer

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Dr. Amy Farmer has seen the struggles of undeveloped countries. She thinks students should see them, too. And then do something about it.

Farmer, director for the Office of Global Engagement at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, says she was motivated to get students involved in bettering impoverished communities after seeing conditions firsthand following visits to Peru and the African countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe. “As an economist, I would look at the conditions as the lack of opportunities,” she says.

Now, each summer, through the U of A Walton College Study Abroad program, Farmer takes Walton College students to Dangriga, Belize, for three weeks. Then, she takes another group to Nampula, Mozambique, for four weeks. “I felt compelled more from a personal level that students need to experience the world – and not necessarily their own,” Farmer says.

Partnering with other University of Arkansas colleges, the students combine their knowledge and skills to make lasting improvements.

Farmer says some in Dangriga, with about 9,000 residents, were leery of the group at first. They had seen many organizations come to help their communities, only for them to never return. Yet, each year, students come back, effecting change, whether it be resurrecting a business destroyed by fire, helping an entrepreneur with a business plan or getting someone a small business loan. The engineering students help with water purification and with building gazebos and wheelchair ramps. Health students may assist with diabetes testing and hospice care, Farmer says.

“We have friends there,” Farmer says. “They look at us as a friend.”

In Nampula, Mozambique, which has a very high unemployment rate, students help with a poultry farming business called Novos Horizontes. Investors created the business to help local people set up their own farms as a means to alleviate poverty and provide a nutritional food source. The students help farmers design water purification systems to keep chickens healthy and address any other of the farmers’ needs. The farmers often have chicken houses made from bamboo and thatch and without electricity. With no plumbing, many must haul water from the river. Yet, they’re working hard and succeeding, Farmer says.

Farmer says she would like expand the study abroad projects to Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam. “I think it’s just another part of the world where significant development is happening,” she says.

These experiences have given her students an edge in a global business world, Farmer says. Others, following graduation, have continued with humanitarian efforts. “I have had a lot of student who have gone into the Peace Corps,” she says.

Farmer has been an economics professor at Walton College since 1999 before assuming her current role with the Office of Global Engagement. She has taught both graduate level and honors undergraduate level courses.

Her research often focuses on the bargaining system. She says, for example, she has found that if people are willing to settle a conflict, such as with a court case, they usually follow through with what they agreed upon better than a judge’s ruling.

“Economics is, really, about how people respond to incentives,” she says. “It’s not just about the economy.”

Farmer’s work has been featured in publications such as Journal of Legal Studies, American Law and Economics Review and the Journal of Business.

She says the University of Arkansas fosters a great environment for both teaching and research. “The Walton College is a very collegial, productive place to be,” she says.