INTERVIEW with Catherine Araujo Bonjean: "A tremendous openness to the world"

Published on July 28, 2023 Updated on September 4, 2023

on the March 18, 2022

Interview with Catherine Araujo-Bonjean, Deputy Director from 2014-2020.

Interview with Catherine Araujo Bonjean: "A tremendous openness to the world"

What prompted you to study economics at CERDI? 

I am CERDI's Auvergne native! I grew up in Clermont-Ferrand. I joined CERDI to study development economics. In fact, more than economics, it was the prospect of learning more about the African continent that motivated me. It corresponded to my childhood dreams. My thesis focused on the formation of prices paid to coffee, cocoa, and tea producers. I entered the world of raw materials from upstream, from the production side. It gave me the opportunity to go to Madagascar, Ivory Coast, and Kenya. This world of raw materials is fascinating. lt is a world of booms, crashes, bankruptcies, scandals, fortunes for some, and great poverty for others. Cocoa, chocolate, cotton, it' s bewitching and exciting. I continue to work on agricultural issues, though I have broadened my focus to food systems related to climate change. The response to the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the world' s agriculture, which I could summarize by: producing more and better to feed a growing population while preserving natural resources, is to be sought not only on the supply side, but also on the demand side - the processing and marketing of agricultural products. .

What could you have done outside of CERDI? 

I have never asked myself that question. For some, CERDI is a springboard for professional engagement in the service of international or local development in the world of business, banking, finance, or associations. For me, CERDI is the gateway to Africa, but also to Latin America and Asia. As in the TV series, when I pass the CERDI door, I am teleported to Bamako, Abidjan, Dakar, or Manaus, and in the evening, I go home! lt is also true that I can no longer find the return door and that my research takes over everything; that is part of a researcher' s job. 

Why is it beneficial for CERDI to be in Clermont-Ferrand? 

CERDI has strong roots in Clermont-Ferrand and is proud of it. That is part of its identity. To paraphrase Alexandre Vialatte, I would say that development economics is at home in Clermont Ferrand. Just as the Michelin company is in Clermont-Ferrand, CERDI could not be elsewhere because, at heart, it is a human adventure. CERDI is the story of two economics professors: Patrick, an Auvergne native, and Sylviane Guillaumont. They founded CERDI in 1976 in Clermont Ferrand. This was the first joint research unit, between the CNRS and a French university, dedicated to development economics. We are celebrating the 45th anniversary this year, perhaps on Zoom with virtual Champagne. 45 years old is a grand old age for a research institute, it is not common. I hope that my successors will celebrate the centenary. 

What are the advantages of CERDI? 

I see two main advantages. First, the broad range of specialties covered by CERDI researchers, from macro to microeconomics, including international economics, monetary and financial economics, environmental economics, health, etc. and, of course, agricultural economics. This diversity of competences within the same institute is an asset and an important factor in enriching each other' s work. 

Second, the very close link between research and teaching. Ail the lecturers at the Université Clermont Auvergne School of Economies are members of CERDI. Conversely, almost all of the CERDI researchers are involved in the courses of the School of Economies, that is the Senior professional diploma in development economics and the Master' s degrees specializing in development economics. This results in a cross-fertilization process between teaching and research, beneficial to young people in training and a factor of innovation in the research carried out by curious young minds. 

Where do the students come from? 

Our students come from Clermont Ferrand and all over France. Many come from preparatory classes for grandes écoles, in particular ENS Cachan preparatory courses in Rennes, Paris, Toulouse, Lyon, Montpellier, etc. They arrive at the start of the third year of their bachelor' s degree and stay until the end of their Master' s degree, or even until their PhD for some. Many students also come from developing countries. We have a very strong demand from young people from African countries to join our courses from L3 (last year of bachelor's degree). We also host, in continuing education, executives from the administrations of Southern countries, who come to Clermont to undertake a Master's degree in Economic policy management (GPE), for which I am the current head. This training program has been labeled a "Partner Program" by the Japanese Government and the World Bank, which have supported it since its creation in 1994. lt also benefits from the support of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. lt is one of France's leading courses in terms of strengthening the capabilities of economist public executives in developing countries, in particular the French-speaking countries of sub-Saharan Africa. 

In this adventure, what have been the regrets, successes and surprises? 

Regrets, none. At least 16 successes and soon 3 more: PhD students who have defended their thesis and are now working at the World Bank, AFD, INRAE, and IFPRI, for instance. Surprises: every day! 

Does your work influence decisions? 

Auvergne natives are characterized by their modesty, which prevents me from answering your question. More seriously, most of the research conducted at CERDI is applied research. So, indeed, one of our objectives is to contribute to the development of public policies. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say to what extent my research has contributed to the evolution of public choices. Sometimes we are right too soon; this was the case of a work on agricultural taxation, which did not find an audience at the time of its publication, but which is back in fashion today. Sometimes, work that has remained in the working paper state is taken over by others and escapes us completely; this is the case of a research on land ownership rights in the Brazilian Amazon. In other cases, the results are not heard, because they are contrary to expectations and end up directly in the bin!