Our first comparative case bringing together findings from fieldwork (by Jenna Burrell and Elisa Oreglia) among rural farmers in Hebei and Shandong provinces in China and fishermen and fish traders at Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga in Uganda. The working paper is titled “The Myth of Market Price Information: Mobile Phones and Epistemology in ICTD.”

A brief summary of the paper is below:

The notion that farmers use mobile phones to acquire market price information has become a kind of shorthand for the potential of this technology to empower rural, low-income populations in the Global South. We argue that the envisioned consequences of ‘market price information’ to market efficiency with benefits at all income levels is a kind of myth. This myth frequently promulgated by mass media outlets such as the Economist, is also the subject of serious discussion among scholars. The idea has become a kind of boundary object recast within the epistemic cultures of economics, computer science, policy work, and development expertise. We draw from our ethnographic work (among rural agriculturalists in China and Uganda) to offer four alternatives to this myth.

We propose the following four assertions countering this myth, that:

(1) information on prices is not necessarily scarce
(2) market prices are often irrelevant or subordinate to other factors in trade related decision-making
(3) improvements in market efficiency realized by the mobile phone may not stem from the better circulation of market prices
(4) obtaining market prices is often not the most valued application of the mobile phone in trade

For further details please download the paper.