On February 12 and 13, the Second Annual CTED Conference took place in Abu Dhabi, titled: “Enhancing Economic Development through Technology: Focus on Africa and Other Developing Countries.”

Food Security is one of CTED’s main research areas and was therefore also the subject of one of the panels at the 2012 CTED Annual Conference in Abu Dhabi. Read below CTED PhD student Giorgia Romagnoli’s post on the Food Security Panel.

For too long the global debate on food in developing regions has focused uniquely on food security as an emergency. Indeed the collective image associated with food security is that of big food containers, moving slowly on bad roads, protected by soldiers and often unable to arrive on time to the designated destination. We know today that, while important, emergency aid is not enough. Long-term solutions have to be found from within the affected regions. The panelists presented a rich series of great innovations that have the potential to ensure food security in a sustainable way.

Jenny Aker spoke about the incredible diffusion of mobile phones in the developing world (80% of African families have access to a phone) and of the great potential that this small tool can have (mobile banking, access to information, communication about climate emergencies and health monitoring just to name a few). Isaac Boateng from Esoko, explained the benefits of diffusing price information to help farmers decide what, when and where to sell. The idea is that more information about crop prices can empower farmers in the bargaining process. More so, knowing prices in different locations and periods enables farmers to cope with the extreme volatility of food prices. To give this idea scientific foundation and boost our understanding of how more information leads to better marketing, Nicole Hildebrandt presented results from a randomized control trial that CTED is conducting in the Volta region of Ghana. At the conference Nicole talked about the results of the baseline survey which shows that many farmers consider information as a valuable and often too scarce resource. She also spoke about the importance of running a correct randomization and controlling for spillovers, showing how economic research and RCTs can provide rigorous and grounded evidence and lead policy makers to solutions that really work. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, the founder of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, talked  about the importance of assuring that markets are able to connect buyers and sellers  scattered all over the country in a reliable and cost-effective way. If there is a food shortage in some area of the country, prices will go up in that area. If farmers from other parts of the country are informed, and effective national markets exist, their own produce will flow into the emergency regions, and this will prove much faster and effective than international food containers. Finally, Doug Gollin talked about important innovations in biology and biogenetics that can make certain crops suitable to areas where they could not grow before.

There is nothing less appropriate than the image of an endless line of international food containers for the future of Africa. Technological and institutional innovations are helping reach the ultimate goal of ending famine in Africa from within and for good.