Information and Economic Efficiency in Practice in the Pacific!

Please humour me and allow me to slip into the language of economic theory for a second (debates on the relevance of the logic of homo economicus in the Pacific region aside).  For markets to be efficient, ergo, all welfare gains from trade to be used up, one fundamental requirement of welfare economics is that all consumers and producers in the market have perfect, up-to-date information about prices of goods and inputs.  Imperfect and incomplete information lead to inefficient outcomes in which we could be distributing our resources to give people greater welfare benefits.  In English: farmers won’t get cheated by unscrupulous middlemen if they know they can get a better price for their crops just down the road.  This is a simplification but the intuition is that better price information allows more people to get a fair price and less people to benefit unfairly through unnecessary localised monopoly.

The following story from the SPC web site is an exciting demonstration of how SPC is helping, with UNCTAD and the EU, to address this principle in practice through a number of initiatives.

These initiatives remind me of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (see here or if this doesn’t work, here, and this fascinating documentary from PBS) which was set up in 2008 by an inspiring Ethiopian woman, a former World Bank Economist by the name of Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin.  It is designed to connect farmers to markets and offer them better market information.  Likewise, per the story below, the SPC-supported, UNCTAD-run system INFOCOMM aims to:

“enable people to request price information for agricultural products via text messaging and facilitate interaction between buyers and sellers, in particular in commodity networks”.

See the full story below.

Improving efficiency of agricultural markets in the Pacific through the use of information technology 
Improving efficiency of agricultural markets in the Pacific through the use of information technologyInoke Ratukalou, Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Land Resources Division, has called on agricultural market information experts from the region to work with SPC and international organisations to establish new market information systems using information and communication technology.With assistance provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre under the European Commission’s All ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP), SPC is working to improve the quality and consistency of market information supplied to stakeholders such as small farmers, farmer organisations, wholesalers and exporters and to facilitate greater market participation. In particular, SPC is working to establish Web- and mobile phone-based mechanisms to disseminate information and reach farmers, including those in the most remote areas.SPC, in collaboration with UNCTAD, facilitated a workshop on the establishment of a subregional agricultural market information system (MIS). The workshop took place on 17–19 August 2011 and included participants from Fiji, Samoa, PNG, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

The main goal of the workshop was to introduce market information services that provide useful market access information to agricultural market participants and to outline further steps towards the creation of the subregional MIS. Easier access to market information and more up-to-date information will assist these stakeholders in making more informed decisions.

Improving efficiency of agricultural markets in the Pacific through the use of information technology

During the workshop, the INFOSHARE system – developed by UNCTAD within the framework of the AAACP programme and tailored to the needs of the Pacific region – was presented. The use of the system on the national level will enable stakeholders in the agriculture sector to access timely market price information for a range of different crops, via the Web. Trade at Hand, developed by the International Trade Centre (ITC), complements INFOSHARE and makes it possible to assume direct marketing operations via mobile telephone use.

At the workshop UNCTAD also officially launched the new version of INFOCOMM, a Web portal focusing on commodities. Developed under the AAACP programme, INFOCOMM aims to make available to various stakeholders free, structured, concise, objective and regularly updated commodity market information. These services enable people to request price information for agricultural products via text messaging and facilitate interaction between buyers and sellers, in particular in commodity networks, assisting trade and transactions. In addition, Trade at Hand enables also makes it possible to transfer market information to and from databases, including market information system platforms. According to Mr Ratukalou, these initiatives complement the e-agriculture concept endorsed by the Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services in 2010.

‘For years, the agricultural industry has explored ways of making improvements in agricultural procedures and technologies to increase productivity,’ said Mr Ratukalou. ‘Market information systems and the possible use of INFOSHARE and Trade at Hand systems using cell phones and computers throughout the Pacific offer just such opportunities.

‘With the use of information and communication technology, we are hoping that our stakeholders will have access to relevant information that can bring about a positive difference in the quality of life of our farmers and strengthen local and national economies,’ he said.

Mr Ratukalou encouraged the participants to take this opportunity to share their thoughts and provide feedback on the implementation and of the market information system and its future use. The workshop was funded by the European Commission through the AAACP programme.

For more information, please email anjum [at] spc.int

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