Back into Poverty

Increase in food prices has pushed back into poverty at least 100 million people in 2008 and, according to the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (here, p. 60),

erase at least four years of progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 target for the reduction of poverty. The household level consequences of this crisis are most acutely felt in LIFDCs [Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries] where a 50% rise in staple food prices causes a 21% increase in total food expenditure, increasing these from 50 to 60% of income. In a high income country this rise in prices causes a 6% rise in retail food expenditure with income expenditure on food rising from 10 to 11%. FAO estimates that food price rises have resulted in at least 50 million more people becoming hungry in 2008, going back to the 1970 figures.

According to the World Bank (here) this means that between 200,000 and 400,000 more children will died every year for malnutrition until 2015.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

WikiPrices

Erik Hersman, has recently created a site called Africa Signals. And it is not just a site: it is a wiki site. The site aims to collect and share mobile phone and Internet rates across Africa. (I have found about this site here)

Now. In my experience, one of the many reasons that makes poor a poor farmer is coping with a non-functioning market (I said it two posts ago). So I can just imagine how helpful would be to have a tool to make market work better.

Creating a wiki page to collect and share the price of one particular agricultural product in one particular time in one particular place would be great. But succeeding in integrating such a site with the mobile phone network would be even better.  How to do this? The government of Rwanda is moving in the very same direction without creating a wiki site. (It is difficult to imagine a government managing wikis). But bureaucracy is not something we usually associate with the words efficiency and effectiveness, especially in poor countries. And in any case we do not really need a government to make a site like this work.

Just think about a wiki site collecting and sharing data through sms. Actually Twitter, without the wiki interface, is doing it right now. So, think about a farmer receiving a message with updated price information the night before market day and, on this information, taking his/her decisions. And think about a farmer sending via sms the price information to the wiki site after leaving the market.

We can imagine the farmer to pay for the sms he or she receives and, on the contrary, we can imagine sending sms back to the site to be completely free.  And we can imagine some volunteers to be the administrators of the site (just like Wikipedia).

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Information Flows on Mobiles

The idea to use mobile phones (here and here) to help economic development in the most remote corners of the world is fascinating and definitely smart. For one thing, mobile phones have already reached the Bottom Billion. In 2007 there were 45 subscribers per 100 inhabitants in the developing countries. That means that we can now expect to have one mobile in every family. Everywhere. As well in communities where services like water, electricity, hospitals, schools or transportation are still far away.

What poor people mostly need are functioning institutions. And market is one of these. If market is not working, farmers will pay higher prices for what they buy and got less money for what they sell.  Moreover they could buy or sell at the wrong time and possibly in the wrong place. In the words of the government of Rwanda,

the success of these farmers has been greatly affected by lack of access to pricing information. Many times, farmers speculate what crops to grow and what prices to charge at harvest. Some farmers depend on middlemen to dictate the prices and in most cases the latter exploit the former. For any farmer to earn a decent living from agriculture, easy access to information on market prices is of paramount importance.

Making information flows on mobile phones could

empower farmers to enable them make more informed market pricing decisions and ultimately more successful farming.

The idea of mobile banking goes in the same direction: making a  service so critical for development accessible to almost everyone. That will not end poverty, but  will probably make the task easier.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

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RSS r-bloggers.com

  • Handling & Sharing PCAPs Like a Boss with PacketTotal
    The fine folks over at @PacketTotal bequeathed an API token on me so I cranked out an R package for it to enable more dynamic investigations work (RStudio makes for an amazing incident responder investigations console given that you can script in multiple languages, code in C[++], and write documentation all at the same time... […]
  • Code and Data in a large Machine Learning project
    We did a large machine learning project at work recently. It involved two data scientists, two backend engineers and a data engineer, all working on-and-off on the R code during the project. The project had many interesting and new aspects to me, among them are doing data science in an agilish way, how to keep […]
  • RQuantLib 0.4.8: Small updates
    A new version 0.4.8 of RQuantLib reached CRAN and Debian. This release was triggered by a CRAN request for an update to the configure.ac script which was easy enough (and which, as it happens, did not result in changes in the configure script produce...
  • Rcpp 1.0.1: Updates
    Following up on the 10th anniversary and the 1.0.0. release, we excited to share the news of the first update release 1.0.1 of Rcpp. package turned ten on Monday—and we used to opportunity to mark the current version as 1.0.0! It arrived at CRAN ov...
  • wrapr::let()
    I would like to once again recommend our readers to our note on wrapr::let(), an R function that can help you eliminate many problematic NSE (non-standard evaluation) interfaces (and their associate problems) from your R programming tasks. The idea is to imitate the following lambda-calculus idea: let x be y in z := ( λ […]

RSS Simply Statistics

  • 10 things R can do that might surprise you
    Over the last few weeks I’ve had a couple of interactions with folks from the computer science world who were pretty disparaging of the R programming language. A lot of the critism focused on perceived limitations of R to statistical analysis. It’s true, R does have a hugely comprehensive list of analysis packages on CRAN, […]
  • Open letter to journal editors: dynamite plots must die
    Statisticians have been pointing out the problem with dynamite plots, also known as bar and line graphs, for years. Karl Broman lists them as one of the top ten worst graphs. The problem has even been documented in the peer reviewed literature. For example, this British Journal of Pharmacology paper titled Show the data, don’t […]
  • Interview with Stephanie Hicks
    Editor’s note: For a while we ran an interview series for statisticians and data scientists, but things have gotten a little hectic around here so we’ve dropped the ball! But we are re-introducing the series, starting with Stephanie Hicks. If you have recommendations of a (junior) person in academics or industry you would like to […]

RSS Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science