From Chincha, his small hometown town in the coastal region of Peru, Luis Peña-Lévano went to Zamorano University, an international school of agriculture in Honduras. In the course of earning an undergraduate degree in food science, he completed a four-month internship in Purdue’s Food Science department. At the end of his studies in Zamorano, he was recognized as the valedictorian of his class. Then international agricultural trade and finance caught his attention. “It was fascinating to me how the networking of the whole world can affect outcomes based on decisions in different places,” he says. “I’m passionate about seeing how everything works collectively.” His newfound interest took him from food science to agricultural economics, and to a master’s program at the University of Georgia. As he completed the program, Octavio Ramirez, department head of agricultural and applied economics at UGA, suggested that he take a close look at Purdue’s highly respected Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP)—the center for a well-known computable general equilibrium (the GTAP model) and its global database. Peña-Lévano says this was instrumental in drawing him back to West Lafayette in August 2012 to begin doctoral studies in international agricultural trade and subsequently, to do research relating this area to climate change and energy.
“My dissertation research evaluates the economic benefits and costs of mitigating climate change,” Peña-Lévano says. “Specifically, we are asking what are the consequences of using a specific method to reduce greenhouse gases. In my first essay, we are evaluating the economic consequences of using forest as a mitigation tool.” The results have immediate applicability. For example, if an aggressive forest sequestration subsidy puts forests in competition with agricultural land, production could decrease and food prices could increase, he explains: “Such policies could actually become a threat to food security.” That outcome could cause developing regions to be reluctant to negotiate climate change mitigation because they would receive the most damage. Peña-Lévano’s research thus suggests the need for investment in adaptation technology such as more climate-resilient varieties to lessen effects of climate change.
Peña-Lévano’s work has to date earned two Purdue fellowships (Ludwig Kruhe and Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship), the Purdue Climate Change Research Center grant, and three awards from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA). He received four more AAEA awards in Extension and agribusiness case studies competitions in the last three years. He is quick to credit his advisors, Wallace Tyner, James & Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics, and Research Associate Professor Farzad Taheripour. “They have helped me to develop as a professional person,” Peña-Lévano says. “They are more than advisors; they are my mentors. Even if I had the potential, they refined my ideas.” Other professors have become friends and mentors as well, and he appreciates the multicultural and supportive nature of his department. “I would describe it as ‘united,’’ he says.
Peña-Lévano expects to complete his Ph.D. in May 2017. He hopes to find a faculty position at a U.S. university that will allow him to continue working with climate change and international trade. In his spare time he enjoys working out, running, and listening to music.