Thinking some more about the geographic scale of different agricultural markets has led me to consider how information availability and pricing might differ between them. Mobile phones are still a fairly rare commodity in rural Rwanda (outside of the towns), and if some set of extremely poor farmers were only selling extra produce hyperlocally, it seems that perhaps prices would either be set in total isolation from regional or national prices, or might be determined exclusively by a few people with mobiles. (I wonder if outside information would be convincing in this scenario – if the phone guy says to the farmer, “this cassava is 5 francs cheaper in Nyamata,” would the farmer accept this as a negotiating tactic, or assume that he’s lying? Perhaps it’s connected to how easy it is for the phone guy to actually access the cheaper cassava in Nyamata – the credibility of his threat.)
Then again, even with mobile technology to help information access along, its helpfulness still seems fundamentally predicated on A) physical mobility and B) social networks. Information about great prices in a town up the road will be less useful to a farmer if he still can’t reach it easily, and receiving the information in the first place is still connected to one’s actual social network (and ability to pay for airtime, of course). I wonder if the differing availability of mobiles to rural residents of different socioeconomic statuses may actually increase the vulnerability and exclusion of the poorest of the poor, rather like differing levels of access to microinsurance might actually push healthcare farther out of reach of the poorest.