Data And Development

The 2021 World Development Report. one of the annual flagship reports of the World Bank, is focused on the theme of "Data for Better Lives" (released in March 2021). The WDR is one of the flagship reports of the World Bank, and it is always a nice mixture of big-picture overview and specific examples. Here, I'll focus on a few of the themes that occurred to me in reading the report. 

First, there are lots of examples of how improved data can help economic development. For many economists, the first reaction is to think about the dissemination of information related to production and markets. As the report notes: 

For millennia, farming and food supply have depended on access to accurate information. When will the rains come? How large will the yields be? What crops will earn the most money at market? Where are the most likely buyers located? Today, that information is being collected and leveraged at an unprecedented rate through data-driven agricultural business models. In India, farmers can access a data-driven platform that uses satellite imagery, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to detect crop health remotely and estimate yield ahead of the harvest. Farmers can then share such information with financial institutions to demonstrate their potential profitability, thereby increasing their chance of obtaining a loan. Other data-driven platforms provide real-time crop prices and match sellers with buyers.

Other examples are about helping the government focus on improved and more focused provision of public services: 

The 2015 National Water Supply and Sanitation Survey commissioned by Nigeria’s government gathered data from households, water points, water schemes, and public facilities, including schools and health facilities. These data revealed that 130 million Nigerians (or more than two-thirds of the population at that time) did not meet the standard for sanitation set out by the Millennium Development Goals and that inadequate access to clean water was especially an issue for poor households and in certain geographical areas (map O.2). In response to the findings from the report based on these data, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the sector and launched the National Action Plan for the Revitalization of Nigeria’s Water, Sanitation and
Hygiene (WASH) Sector.

Other examples are from the private sector, like logistics platforms to help coordinate trucking services.

These platforms (often dubbed “Uber for trucks”) match cargo and shippers with trucks for last-mile transport. In lower-income countries, where the supply of truck drivers is highly fragmented and often informal, sourcing cargo is a challenge, and returning with an empty load contributes to high shipping costs. In China, the empty load rate is 27 percent versus 13 percent in Germany and 10 percent in the United States. Digital freight matching overcomes these challenges by matching cargo to drivers and trucks that are underutilized. The model also uses data insights to optimize routing and provide truckers with integrated services and working capital. Because a significant share of logistics services in lower-income countries leverage informal suppliers, these technologies also represent an opportunity to formalize services. Examples include Blackbuck (India), Cargo X (Brazil), Full Truck Alliance (China), Kobo360 (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Uganda), and Lori (Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda). In addition to using data for matching, Blackbuck uses various data to set reliable arrival times, drawing on global positioning system (GPS) data and predictions on the length of driver stops. Lori tracks data on costs and revenues per lane, along with data on asset utilization, to help optimize services. Cargo X charts routes to avoid traffic and reduce the risk of cargo robbery. Kobo360 chooses routes to avoid armed bandits based on real-time information shared by drivers. Many of the firms also allow shippers to track their cargo in real time. Data on driver characteristics and behavior have allowed platforms to offer auxiliary services to address the challenges that truck drivers face. For example, some platforms offer financial products to help drivers pay upfront costs, such as tolls, fuel, and tires, as well as targeted insurance products. Kobo360 claims that its drivers increase their monthly earnings by 40 percent and that users save an average of about 7 percent in logistics costs. Lori claims that more than 40 percent of grain moving through Kenya to Uganda now moves through its platform, and that the direct costs of moving bulk grain have been reduced by 17 percent in Uganda.


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