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Final Theses

We offer supervision for students that show interest in our offered topics and ongoing research on both the bachelor and master levels. If you are interested in writing a final thesis under supervision of our working group, please make sure to read the following document before contacting us:  

Information/advice for your final thesis

Please note that we are a relatively small research group and at times we might therefore be unable to satisfy all requests for thesis supervision!

  • Bachelor Thesis Topics

    Even though we are a relatively small research group, we receive numerous requests for bachelor thesis supervision. Unfortunately, the recent amount of requests forced us to follow somewhat stricter principles in accepting students for a bachelor thesis with our research group.

    Thus, bachelor students are kindly expected to formulate at least a basic exposé of an original topic idea that is also expected to be thematically related to the topics covered in our bachelor courses and seminars.

    Additionally, we encourage students to attach a voluntary plagiarism check to their bachelor thesis. Such services are e.g. provided by Scribbr or Plagscan.

  • Master Thesis Topics

    Master students are also encouraged to propose original ideas. However, we like to incorporate master students into our research projects by encouraging them to write their master theses on topics related to those projects. Here you can find a list of currently available topics:

    The role of mental models in determining smallholder farmers’ agricultural water management in India.

    This thesis shall explore whether differences in mental models including system understanding, attitudes and norms have an influence on individual and collective water management of smallholder farmers in India. For assessing this relationship, empirical data can be used which were collected in the BMZ-funded project on Scaling up experiential learning tools for sustainable water governance in India led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The project examines the effectiveness of experiential learning approaches in creating awareness and receptivity to changing water management practices. The project’s theory of change assumes that influencing mental models through experiential learning can trigger behavioural change. The objective of this thesis is to assess in a first step whether differences in mental models can explain different behaviour already prior to the interventions. Data from 2350 individuals in 472 habitations of three states in India can be used for assessing this question. The data contain site and individual level information on different aspects of mental models, institutional factors, management practices, and relevant control variable.

    Working on this topic would require to synthesize theoretical concepts related to mental models in the context of behavioural change. It would further entail econometric analyses of the medium size data set.

    The thesis would be a valuable contribution to the aforementioned project. A publication at least as an IFPRI working paper is desired. The research group Sustainable Use of Natural Resources will facilitate the application for a scholarship of the Council for Tropical and Subtropical Agricultural Research to support this research. For more details, please contact Dr. Thomas Falk,

    Migration and the sunk cost effect

    The consequences of climate change are forcing many to move away from the places they live at. Floods, sea level rise, and heavy winds are threatening people living in exposed areas. At the same time, studies find a low willingness of people to move away from their current location. Among the reasons named in the literature are place attachment, fear of a new, unknown place, and lack of resource. One further factor possibly reducing the willingness of people to move away might be the resources and time already invested in the land they are living at. While from an economic viewpoint these costs invested in the past should be irrelevant for decisions concerning the future, this may not be the case in reality. This discrepancy is labeled “sunk cost fallacy”. We conducted survey in a highly exposed area in southwest Bangladesh to test this possibility. The research questions to be worked on in this topic are:

    (1)   What are the determinants of the decision to migrate internally?
    (2)   What role do sunk cost play in the decision of people to (not) move to places safe from future consequences of climate change [e.g. floods, erosion, sea level rise]?

    Exposure to environmental hazards, migration, and poverty

    Exposure to environmental hazards such as floods, erosion, and heavy winds deprives affected of their resources. Often people with lower resource in the first place are more vulnerable to environmental hazards as they have less possibilities to protect themselves and may settle to cheaper areas with higher risks. In this way, environmental hazards may contribute to a self-enforcing dynamic making it impossible for those affected to improve their economic situation, i.e. be trapped in poverty. To explore this possibility, a survey in a highly exposed area in southwest Bangladesh was conducted. The research questions to be worked on in this topic are:

    (1)   How does exposure to environmental hazards affect peoples well-being?
    (2)   What are the effects of migration on the social network, psychological well-being, education, etc.?

    Chronic poverty and agency

    In economic theory it is assumed that people can get trapped in poverty and be unable to escape from there without help from outside (a push). Hence, it is assumed that in such a situation of self-enforcing poverty people lose their agency to improve their economic situation. To test whether individuals in chronic poverty do actually feel a reduced sense of agency regarding their economic situation survey in a highly exposed area in southwest Bangladesh. The survey included items to allow a measure of chronic poverty, as well as sense of agency. The main research question of this block is:

    (1)   Do people classified as being trapped in poverty feel reduced agency?
    Beyond these self-stated perception data, ways to measure and operationalize actual agency of participants. Therefore, this master thesis topic also contains a data search task to answer the question:

    (2)   Do people classified as being trapped in poverty actually have no agency?

    Negotiations in a climate summit

    The dominant social theory for explaining and predicting outcomes in climate negotiations but, more importantly, also in designing frameworks for international collective action on climate change in recent years has been game theory especially non-cooperative game theory such as the prisoner dilemma. Game theory assumes that the involved parties act fully rational, according to their best self-interest and given their assumed conflict of interest behave uncooperative. Yet, we do not know whether negotiators indeed implicitly or explicitly follow the game theoretical logic. We conducted an online survey with delegates of a major climate summit. Potential research question of this master thesis could be:

    - Do delegates view climate negotiations as zero-sum game (i.e. prisoner dilemma)?
    - Do they act strategically when formulating their NDC?
    - Does economic theory on negotiations reflect delegates actual negotiation behavior?
    - What important heterogeneities are there between delegates from different countries or different disciplines?

    The long-term impacts of rural electrifcation programs using solar technology

    In light of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative, which stipulated the goal of achieving global universal electrification until 2030, large-scale solar electrification projects in rural areas of developing countries become more and more attractive. This is because of solar energy's double appeal as it produces no emissions in energy generation and also is a relatively cheap way to give electricity access to people who live in more remote and poorer areas of the developing world. As part of the SUFI research project, our group conducted a large-scale household survey in rural Sindh, Pakistan from late 2020 to early 2021, with which we hope to learn more about long-term impacts and future implications of large-scale solar electrification campaigns. We are eager to incorporate our master students in our research projects directly and give them the possibility to work on fresh data from the field within the scope of their master thesis.

    Potential research questions that could be tackled include:
    - Analysing the long-term socioeconomic impact of a large-scale solar electrifcation program using quasi-experimental methods with household and village level data
    - Identification and analysis of the barriers (financial? cultural?) standing in the way of a more widespread acceptance and use of solar electricity among rural households
    - How does prior (positive or negative) experience with solar home systems affect future purchasing decisions regarding such systems?
    - What role do socioeconomic and cultural factors play and how do they affect local preferences regarding solar electrification?
    - In how far does user experience and satisfaction with solar electricity differ from other electrification forms typically used in rural electrification programs (e.g grid extension)?

    The long-term effects of conservation efforts in Mozambique

    The main drivers of deforestation in low- and middle-income countries located in the tropics is agriculture, often by smallholder farmers through slash and burn practices (Hosonuma et al., 2012). Thus, ecosystem service providers are mainly smallholder farmers managing the forests. In this thesis, the aim is to assess the long-term impact of a terminated big-push asset-building PES scheme (2005-2015) located in the buffer zone of the Gorongosa National Park (the GNP exists in its current form since 2008) in Mozambique. First, the big push asset-building PES scheme not only offered individual payments for agroforestry adoption to farmers, but also community REDD+ payments, and had a general development component with job opportunities for local people. Second, the GNP  is not simply a protected area as humans have been living in and around the park for centuries and currently about 200.000 people live in the park’s buffer zone. The GNP is the biggest employer (eco-tourism) in the region and assists local communities by providing development assistance (health, education, farming, CBNRM) that is compatible with conservation goals to generate a ‘win-win’ situation.

    Asset-building PES focus on providing incentives for restoring or generating additional ecosystem services. Such PES rest on the assumption that temporary incentives help to overcome high initial adoption costs of more sustainable land-use practices such as agroforestry or forest plantations. Thus, once adopted these land-use practices are profitable and should generate sufficient incentives to be maintained (Pagiola et al., 2016).  Similarly, the activities by the GNP should enable people to better sustain their livelihoods. However, such integrated conservation and development initiatives have struggled to achieve their goals, at least in terms of improving well-being (Blaikie, 2006; Fletcher, 2012; Schnegg, 2018) and the evidence suffers from a lack of large empirical studies (Poteete & Ostrom, 2008). We conject that the combination of PES and GNP activities could help overcome the struggles in enhancing people’s livelihoods.

    The thesis will evaluate several long-term aspects of the terminated asset-building PES project (SCCP). In particular, the aim is to apply a quasi-experimental design to evaluate the impacts of the SCCP with regard to two major criticisms concerning PES:

    1.      Environmental effectiveness with respect to deforestation and carbon sequestration. (using remote sensing data)
    2.      Crowding-out of intrinsic pro-environmental values and social norms of smallholder farmers, communities’ capacities for collective action, economic and environmental agency, and self-efficacy. (using survey data)

    Working on this topic would require familiarizing with the literature on the impacts of (asset-building) PES and joint development-conservation interventions. It would require econometric analyses of the survey data and remote sensing data (preferably done in Stata).

    For further information on this topic, click here.

    The role of narratives in conservation

    This thesis shall explore whether different conservation narratives, e.g. protecting nature goes hand in hand with social and economic development leading to a win-win situation or not (tradeoffs), affect attitudes of smallholder farmers toward the Gorongosa National Park (GNP) in Mozambique. For assessing this relationship, survey-experimental data can be used which were collected as part of the larger DFG funded project IMPACTED (The impact of terminated Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) on carbon stocks, deforestation, collective action and intrinsic motivations for conservation). The project investigates the long-term impacts of a terminated PES program in the buffer zone of the GNP by combining remote-sensing analysis of forest cover changes before, during and after the PES program was implemented with socio-economic survey data from PES participants and non-participants collected in 2022. The objective of this thesis is to assess whether differences in conservation framing, and legacy motivations affect (i) honesty towards the GNP, (ii) donations to NGOs that work on protecting nature and economic development, and (iii) conservation attitudes and economic / environmental agency. Experimental data from 738 individuals across four treatment conditions (control, win-win, trade-off, legacy) from 30 communities located in the buffer zone of the GNP in Sofala region in Mozambique can be used for this thesis. The cleaned data set contains individual level information from two incentivized tasks (honesty and donations), as well as several scales to measure attitudes towards conservation, economic and environmental agency.

    Both PES and GNP may strengthen people’s agency by raising economic and conservation aspirational capacities through enhanced self-efficacy and locus-of-control by exemplifying that trade-offs between conservation and development goals can be overcome by integrative interventions. Evidence shows the importance of internal constraints such as lacking capacity to aspire (helplessness, lack of choices) in shaping economic behaviors such as cropland expansion (Silva et al., 2018) which could be counteracted by project interventions that strengthen perceived self-efficacy (see Wuepper & Lybbert (2017)for an overview).
    Working on this topic would require synthesizing theoretical concepts related to narratives in the context of conservation and nature protection. It would require econometric analyses of the experimental data (preferably done in Stata).

    For further information on this topic, click here.