We (and DAN?) frequently think of solutions through the lens of our own positions in life, our urban-centric experiences. But we all need to eat. You'll generally agree that food/meat/etc production is laborious work. In our target MENA nations, often producers of food, crops, natural products, arts etc feel overworked, underpaid, exploited, stuck in poverty. They feel at a disadvantage versus buyers & middlemen.
Target groupsChange makers and Public sector officials
Food production/availability is increasingly dominated by companies and "large players." But, for many marginalized rural residents in the Arab world, who are supplying their nations and others with foods, natural or traditional products, and often eking out livelihoods the old-fashioned way, the prices they negotiate for their productions are often uninformed. Their profits may be marginal, or even negative at times!
PTI (Power Trade Information) is a digitalization initiative to empower the rural/semi-urban producers and brokers of foods, commodities, crafts, etc with current pricing information, geographical trends, weather and crop forecasts, etc. Also, tips on farming and animal care practices, equipment sharing/rentals, loans, etc. Via mobile internet, SMS texting, other channels. Empowering people to earn fair market prices for what they produce, or what they buy, improving their economic security!
Without access to fair price info and price trends, anyone selling (or buying) can get shortchanged. Information is money to the big players. But often, illiterate or digitally-illiterate folks do not know how/where to access such information, or how to apply it well in their daily selling/buying transactions, in budgeting, etc. They guesstimate, rely on the word-of-mouth, or let their desperation dictate their price. Producers, artisans, craftspersons, small-time traders... need our help!
Which field and which area?
Digital information & markets. Help users stay informed about the local markets, pricing, the weather, the regional economy, the economic forecasts.
Agriculture and livestock farming. Locally-relevant best practices in agriculture, animal farming. Basic financial planning Social and economic inclusion.
Relevant to Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt: with rural poverty, stagnating productivity of traditional farms, economic unpredictability/turmoils, digital illiteracy, unawareness of internet's power.
Effects of the problem
Without support for farmers and rural goods producers, rural communities will collapse. Exacerbating the rural-to-urban migration into cities that already have high un/underemployment.
Deepening the food crisis in the target countries, and the people's vulnerability to food price fluctuations. The World Bank estimates that, already, about half of the food consumed in the MENA region is imported.
Rural stagnation shall drive more migration to the cities, overcrowding, crime and unrest, because the cities aren't creating enough jobs to absorb the population influx.
Except for Lebanon, this contest's target nations have over 2/3rd of their poor living in rural areas. According to the World Bank, certain parts such as Upper Egypt, have "chronic rural poverty." The situation is worse in certain social groups, such as households headed by women, the landless, farm laborers, illiterate farmers who have stuck with inefficient agriculture or animal husbandry practices, etc.
PTI (Power Trade Information) will empower the rural/semi-urban producers and traders of foods, commodities, etc with current pricing information, geographical trends, forecasts, etc for local, district, and extended markets. Also, weather and other data. This will enable them to get fair market prices for what they produce, improve their lives, and - hopefully - help maintain the rural/farm population that is so important (and yet overlooked) for a nation's food supply and economic stability.
Additional Slide - 1
For our team, an exciting aspect of PTI is that it can become financially-self sustaining. How? Because PTI's functionality can be scaled well beyond the agricultural sector. PTI's design DNA will enable it to tear down the walls of information disparities, and to connect buyers and sellers. Thus, PTI can scale into a B2B platform (think of an Arab equivalent to Alibaba China)! When businesses pay for PTI access, it can be forever free for smaller farmers, rural producers, etc.
Additional Slide - 2
Initial development costs for PTI shall be borne by supportive international and country-specific organizations. Our experience suggests that such organizations might include the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the Ashoka.org (see https://www.changemakers.com/ ), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the WTO (for such purposes, its trust fund has received EUR 25 million over 15 years from Germany alone), the German govt (see www.bmz.de ), etc. We can offer more advice, too, if asked.
Additional Slide - 4
The PTI app shall provide reliable and comprehensive pricing information and other relevant information, through a combination of market data, crowdsourced price data, expert tips on improving yield and productivity, etc. It shall be useful for selling and for buying. In general, for trading in commodities, crafts, livestock, etc. It shall contain simple tools for planning ahead, for budgeting (e.g. calculating costs of fertilizer needed, for specific acreage and specific crop), for understanding historical and projected data explained through simple terminology. Ideally, the app can operate in low-bandwidth mode if needed, for example by using short text messaging to send queries and receive information. A tutorial will be available in-app. Local stores or other users may help new users get comfortable, and a phone support may be provided.
Additional Slide - 5
"For too long, information, opportunities, and resources have been constraints, they need to be the bridges." -Sharad Sagar
We can talk all day about making digitalization awesome, but our work will be incomplete if we do not take into account the needs of those who provide food and other crucial products for society. Particularly in land-rich Egypt & Morocco, the number of people engaged in agriculture has decreased in the last few decades, without any significant reduction in the numbers of families in poverty and/or facing food insecurity. In the meanwhile, unemployment remains high, and unskilled people keep leaving the agriculture sector because it seems like a 'dead end road' to them. Prior to ambitious plans about changing such people's lives through online education, new skills, online shopping, arts, digital engagement, etc, let's give them a chance at a better livelihood - through timely and needed information (= power!). PTI: the digitalization they truly need NOW.