Visiting Scholar: Nadia Cuffaro

Published on May 1, 2018

This semester, the Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs is hosting visiting scholar Nadia Cuffaro! She is a development economist at the University of Cassino, Italy in the Department of Economics and Law, working on issues of food and agriculture. In addition to teaching as a professor, she has also worked as a development economist at the United Nations. After her tenure there, she continued working with the UN as a consultant, in addition to working as a consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has its headquarters in Rome. She stopped by the SGPIA offices to chat with us a little bit about her work and her experience in New York City.

Her recent research interests include large scale land investments in developing countries; and the regulation of markets for credence goods, such as the ethical and environmental attributes of goods, with focus on food products. Her recent projects on land grabbing used quantitative data analysis and found that forests are often targets for land grabs, and explored the risk for a development path based on land concentration and inequality. She is also interested in the intersection of food, agriculture, consumers and corporate responsibility. For example: what is the role of the consumer with fair trade products, when consumers cannot see what is happening on the side of production?

Professor Cuffaro kicked off her time at SGPIA by giving a lecture titled “Land Scale Land Acquisitions: land rights, inequality and sustainability” in Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr’s course “Food, Global Trade and Development.” (The two know each other from their time working at the United Nations.) Professor Cuffaro’s talk gave a broad overview of her research topics, highlighting issues such as land rights, indigenous claims to land, and the challenges of standards and consumer-trust in the food product and agricultural industry.

A native of Rome, Cuffaro was working at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a consultant when the organization began working on a new project – a Code of Conduct for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in land. This was a complicated process, involving navigation between conflicting rights and claims to land. There’s a risk in the investment, especially when you take into account uncertain property rights and the claims of indigenous people. She brings up the example of United Colors of Benetton, an Italian company who owned thousands of acres of land in Argentina. When the indigenous people sued for rights to the land, the Argentine courts ruled in favor of Benetton – but this created a PR issue for the brand. Complex issues such as these got Cuffaro increasingly interested in the issues of land rights, development, land grabs, industry standards, and food and agricultural issues.  

And for fun? Nadia has lived in New York in the past, so she’s happy to be back. She’s looking forward to seeing the David Bowie show at the Brooklyn Museum and has been enjoying New York’s restaurants. “I study food,” she joked. “But as an Italian, I am also a foodie.”

For students who are interested in land, agriculture and food studies, Cuffaro recommends the Land Matrix, an open-source data base on land deals as a research tool. In addition, she recommends utilizing the Social Science Research Network (where many of her own papers and writings are published as well) for research and access to papers not published in major journals.

Professor Cuffaro would be pleased to meet with faculty and students to discuss her work and research. Her email is


If you would like to read some more of Cuffaro’s work, see a selection of her recent publications:

Conigliani C.,  Cuffaro N.,  D’Agostino G., (2018) Large-Scale Land Investments and Forests in Africa, Land Use Policy;

Cuffaro N. and D’Agostino G., (2017) Land Inequality and Growth: Meta-Analysis and Relevance For Contemporary Development In Africa,;

Cuffaro, N.  Di Giacinto M. (2015) “Credence goods, consumers’ trust in regulation and high quality exports “, BAE, Bio-based and Applied Economics, Firenze University Press;

Cuffaro N., Giovannetti,G. Monni S., (2013) “Foreign Acquisitions of Land in Developing Countries. Risks, Opportunities and New Actors”,  QA – Rivista dell’Associazione Rossi-Doria N. 2