Last month I attended the NASA-sponsored International Space Apps challenge here in NYC, and collaborated with a team to produce CERES, a commodities pricing tool for rural communities in the developing world. From the brief for the challenge we chose to work on:
[B]etter understanding of market prices could help improve the incomes of smallholder farmers if resources are put in place to assist with responses to demand and price sensitivity ... In order to achieve large returns, rural growers therefore need to be able to contribute to and access evolving price indexes that can accurately reflect sale prices and reveal where demand is greatest.
Over the course of the weekend we developed a working solution for a regional commodities price index that could be populated and downloaded by local farmers using SMS and text messaging, in order to cope with the data restrictions in rural areas lacking internet or smartphone access. In addition, a front-end dashboard is able to quickly display pricing information online for locals, governments or bureaucrats who may have a vested interest in information regarding agricultural production.
There is also some very good empirical evidence that demonstrates how price transparency derived from increased mobile coverage in rural areas can lead to more efficient markets with higher profits for producers and lower prices overall for consumers, suggesting that a tool like CERES can have dramatic effects on local economies.
Our team was one of the two winning solutions from the New York event, putting us in the global judging along with teams from twenty-four other cities. See our video about CERES and the write-up for our project here. Since the challenge, we've been working with Opportunity International - Nicaragua, who are interested in deploying the solution on the ground.
A new pricing data visualization I have been working on is above, and you can play with a live version here (may take a minute to load).