This week John Sutter has an interesting piece on CNN.com which teases out mobile app developers formidable contributions to solving some of Africans biggest problems. Sutter focuses on the problem of opaque markets in information while discussing the common experience facing the average farmer in Africa---farmers rarely reap the benefit of high market prices as they are hedged out by a profiteering middleman. Without access to information about market prices, farmers often find themselves without the tools or the gumption to demand more money for their offering. For mobile developers, however, the fix was easy---just create a simple, straightforward application for exchanging market information via the mobile phone. At the end of April, farmers in Kenya will benefit from just such an innovation. Through, a text message-based system that lets farmers send questions to a computer, a machine will match up farmers' queries with a database of information about local dairy markets -- and then spit answers back in 140 characters or less. Thus, ensuring that farmers get their fair share.
What's brilliant and novel about such applications is that they are simple, accessible and affordable. Most are funcitonal on the average phone and can be downloaded for less than $25 --which is pretty Exciting.