Digitally removing the middleman for development: Trouble brewing in East African tea?

On the Global Development Institute blog, I outline some research done exploring digitalisation of the tea sector in East Africa. The findings were recently published in a book chapter inthe MIT Press book “Digital Economies at Global Margins”

How do new digital technologies enable firms to develop? One process often highlighted is disintermediation, where digital technologies allow firms to “cut out the middleman”. Exploring the Kenyan tea auction we suggest that these ideas need to be rethought. Digital technologies bring change, but may lead to more challenging conditions for smaller firms.

For more details, see the GDI blog

Policy to Support Digital Trade & the Digital Economy

This new post of the DIODE network blog outline some recent working papers by Shamel Azmeh and myself exploring digital trade cases in more detail

The global economy is experiencing important technological shifts with the rise of digital technology a key driver. These changes are likely to intensify in the coming years with new technologies that are emerging such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and autonomous vehicles.

For developing and emerging economies, the digital economy provides an opportunity to achieve economic and technological catching-up through using digital technologies and building capacities. But, technological shifts may also widen the technological divide with advanced economies weakening the position of developing economies in global value chains and making ongoing catching-up efforts ineffective.

To explore these issues further, we have recently be undertaking research which aims to offer direction in terms of constructing overall policy strategy in developing and emerging economies, in partnership with the Global Economic Governance Africa project, focussing on South Africa.

For more details see the DIODE network blog

“Falling Through the Net: The Role of Small and Medium Tourism Businesses in Digital Value Chains”

This is a short interview I did for Tourism Watch on our work on Digitalisation of the Tourism Sector in East Africa

With the installation of fibre optic cables in East Africa, internet connectivity got a lot better and cheaper. On one hand, this has facilitated the expansion of larger international tour operators and hotel chains into East African markets and allows them to better manage and control local suppliers. Due to cheap and reliable forms of digital communication local East African SMEs do not just compete with one another, but with global players as well. In our research we found, that large international tour operators were able to cut out some Kenyan and Rwandan ground handlers and intermediaries as they are able to communicate with the service providers directly online.

Full interview on Tourism Watch (German version)

Short article: The Digital Trade Agenda and Africa

The new edition of Bridges Africa, which is a well-regarded online publication focussing on international trade and Africa, is on e-commerce and digital trade.

Shamel Azmeh and I wrote an article for thise special issue entitled ‘The Digital Trade Agenda and Africa’

Digital technologies and data flows are increasingly the subject of provisions in trade negotiations. How do African states position themselves in these discussions in order to expand their digital economies and support digital industrialisation?

In this article, we discuss recent trends towards regulating broader aspects of digital technologies and data flows through international trade rules. Given the growing importance of digital technologies and data, these changes are likely to shape the future directions of digital economies, industrialisation and structural change in Africa. Yet, at present there has been little consideration of the specific challenges that African countries face.

Read the full article is available on the Bridges Africa site. The article has also been translated into French

Measuring innovation amongst marginal producers

I have a new blog post on the Sheffield Institute of International Development (SIID) blog entitled “Measuring innovation amongst marginal producers: Implications of evidence-based policy”.

In it, I discuss a recent paper that looks at how to measure and better understand small-scale innovation amongst marginalised groups

Research on innovation in the global south has increasingly highlighted the importance of continuous, small-scale innovation for small producers and farmers – be that an adapted machine or an improvised farming technique. Stemming from such research, there have been calls for innovation policy to better consider such activity, to ensure that innovation does not just support large industries but also the development of marginal groups.

…In a recent paper, ODI economist Aarti Krishnan and myself developed a new approach to measuring small-scale innovation; we then use this approach to explore innovation in value chains in the Kenyan horticulture sector.

See the full article on the SIID blog

Digitalisation, small firms and value chains

This week UNCTAD released their flagship Information Economy Report 2017. With growing global digital connectivity and technologically-driven global markets, it is appropriate that it focuses on ‘Digitalization, Trade and Development’.

The report provides extensive outline of the latest thinking on issues including future automation technologies, online work and a consideration of what jobs and skills are important in this changing economy. See full report here

IER cover

Information economy report 2017

I was involved in contributing a background paper for this report on the digitalisation of small enterprises in developing countries and the impacts on trade which supports Chapter 3. I think it is one of the first analysis that attempts to provide a sectoral perspective on this topic, linking between digitalisation and small firms through analysis of ‘value chains’ in each sector. Continue reading

Digital trade and Brexit

This is a short article for the comment blog of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI). It explores the growth in focus on digital trade within trade deals and reflects on what this means for trade deals related to Brexit.

The balancing act of Brexit and digital trade

As the UK leaves the EU it risks a potential ‘digital cliff-edge’. How it navigates its way through global tensions around digital trade rules will orientate the shape of the economy for years to come

This article stems from a wider project exploring the political economy of digital trade, with a particular focus on developing and emerging nations

Big data and development in India

I recently wrote a short article on the blog of the Sheffield Institute of International Development (SIID). It outline some of the pilot work I’m currently involved with on Big Data and Development

…We’re seeing a growth of interest in using more data in development, and notably large and complex “big data” to help solve development problems. Indeed, we can say that the infrastructures now being built to support big data are likely to become central to how we make development decisions in the future.

How will such data infrastructures shape our thinking about development over the next decade? What types of limitations and biases might they embed? How should they best be designed and implemented? It is these questions that we looked to explore in a recent project exploring big data use in India.

See the full article of the SIID blog

The TPP and the digital trade agenda

I’m happy to share new working paper titled ‘The TPP and the digital trade agenda: Digital industrial policy and Silicon Valley’s influence on new trade agreements‘, written by Shamel Azmeh and myself.

In the paper we explore the growing focus on data and digital information flows in new trade deals such as the TPP, and explore some of the motivations behind this trend.

For a more accessible outline, see the medium article we wrote

One of the most commented upon elements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the inclusion of new rules around digital information flows and digital data. In particular, we have seen civil society and technology commentators criticising some of the rules within the agreement — on source code, data localisation and intermediaries — that they suggest will be detrimental to a secure, open and competitive digital sector.

What has been less discussed is the reason why these rules are part of such an agreement. We suggest that many of the problems identified so far are purely collateral damage emerging from the main goal of digital clauses of the TPP — an aim by Silicon Valley to nip in the bud the expansion of ‘digital protectionism’ (or what we prefer to call ‘digital industrial policy’!).

Short paper: Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Our previous conference paper ‘Geographies of Information Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa’ has now been published in The African Technopolitan, a bi-annual magazine published by the African Centre of Technology Studies (ACTS) on science, technology and development.

The January issue which includes quite a number of interesting articles on ICT in Africa can be downloaded here (PDF).