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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Cell phone powered agriculture...

We know that that cell phones can dial out poverty. We also know that Zambian farmers are being powered by SMS. Now, a new paper has created a model that predicts that cell phones will increase traders' reservation prices and the number of markets over which they search, leading to a reduction in price dispersion across markets:

The results provide evidence that cell phones reduce grain price dispersion across markets by a minimum of 6.4 percent and reduce intra-annual price variation by 10 percent. Cell phones have a greater impact on price dispersion for market pairs that are farther away, and for those with lower road quality. This effect becomes larger as a higher percentage of markets have cell phone coverage. We provide empirical evidence in support of specific mechanisms that partially explain the impact of cell phones on market performance. Robustness checks suggest that the results are not driven by selection on unobservables, nor are they solely a result of general equilibrium effects. Calculations of the four-firm concentration index suggest that the grain market structure is competitive, so the observed reductions in price dispersion are not due to greater market collusion. The primary mechanism by which cell phones affect market-level outcomes appears to be a reduction in search costs, as grain traders operating in markets with cell phone coverage search over a greater number of markets and sell in more markets. The results suggest that cell phones improved consumer and trader welfare in Niger, perhaps averting an even worse outcome during the 2005 food crisis.

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