A major area of interest in the field of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) is the potential for mobile phones to increase the efficiency of agricultural markets in the developing world. Farmers in developing countries currently face a number of obstacles in getting their production to market, key among which is a lack of information (on prices, weather, best practices, etc.). The recent rise of mobile phone coverage and low-cost handsets provide a way to get pertinent information into the hands of farmers in a cost-effective and timely fashion.
So far, one of the main ways that NGOs, governments, and private firms have attempted to improve farmers’ access to information is through Market Information Systems (MIS). Broadly defined, these are systems that collect, analyze, and disseminate price information to farmers, traders, and other market actors. Such systems have been widespread in developing countries since the 1980s, but were largely found to be ineffective in the past.
Recently, a “second generation” of MIS has emerged, which takes advantage of new information technologies – in particular mobile phones and SMS services – to improve upon data collection, increase accessibility, and even promote interactivity among users. Mira Slavova’s MMD4D blog has a comprehensive list of these systems, along with brief summaries of their offerings.
These new MIS look extremely promising in terms of the value they can provide to smallholder farmers, and anecdotal evidence is supportive of their positive value (MobileActive.org has a nice summary of these findings). However, rigorous evaluations of these systems are still lacking, leaving a gap in the ICT4D research agenda that will be increasingly important to fill as the presence of second-generation MIS continues to grow.