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Information technology mitigates effects of climate events in the developing countries
This is a part of a series of blog posts leading up to this year’s World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, where GHI will release its 3rd Annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report™ on October 17. Please join us!
Severe drought conditions in the U.S. and in locations across the world are having a ripple effect on global food prices. For the estimated 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, higher prices can put basic foods out of reach, leading to malnutrition and potentially destabilizing already food insecure populations.
New technologies are coming online throughout the world that ease the effects of the multiple droughts by making information on agricultural markets available and transparent for both producers and consumers in the developing world. Smallholder African farmers, for example, are using mobile technology to access current market information, prevent price exploitation by speculators, and provide “warehouse receipts” to reduce post-harvest loss.
The Ghanaian company Esoko is one company that is producing this technology. Through a partnership with the International Finance Corporation and the Soros Economic Development Fund, it provides farmers with up-to-date crop prices via text message. Sara Maunda of Malawi can attest that without pricing information from an Esoko text message, she would not have made the 80-kilometer trek to the nearest town where she sold her crop for five times above what a grain trader in her own village was offering. Esoko’s SMS service also offers “warehouse receipts,” which reduce post-harvest losses by allowing farmers to protect surplus crops in storage facilities until they are sold.
Some recent technological advances are also helping mitigate consumer effects of climate events such as drought. GHI member company IBM is applying analytics to assess drought conditions, communicate threats, and trigger actions as drought conditions intensify. IBM notes that, “with advanced weather forecasting, topographic modeling and predictive analytics, we could anticipate flood, drought or pollution. We could say how urgently we need to respond, which areas might be affected, and which tactics to employ.”
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently unveiled a new tool designed to address the relationship between information barriers and fluctuating global food prices. The Food Security Media Analysis system compares international media coverage to global agricultural production and food price stocks to determine whether media coverage accurately reflects the global food situation. IFPRI cites the 2010 Russian wildfires as a case where a lack of factual information caused panic buying and export bans, driving up food prices.
Information technology provides transparency to market forces throughout the entire agriculture value chain. In doing so, it provides the efficiencies that result from farmers knowing where to find the cheapest input resources and get the best price for their goods, and help consumers by preventing the misinformation that causes panic and price spikes.