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Research project The Marketplace Activity Index

Towards real-time economic monitoring in remote and conflict-affected regions using satellite imagery

Despite global progress in reducing extreme poverty, stubborn pockets remain, predominantly in remote and conflict-affected rural areas. A fundamental challenge in eliminating these outstanding pockets of extreme poverty is that remoteness and conflict also constrain our ability to collect data on economic conditions. This, in turn, limits our ability to target humanitarian assistance and to understand which interventions most effectively reduce poverty. Remote sensing can help overcome this challenge, because data can be collected consistently over time and space regardless of ground conditions. However, existing approaches to monitoring economic activity using remote sensing data either do not perform well in poor rural areas or do not capture short-run changes in economic conditions. We will scale up a new tool, the Marketplace Activity Index (MAI). The MAI exploits high-frequency, high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor weekly open-air markets. These markets are hubs of economic activity in rural areas throughout the developing world. We will map 25,000 marketplaces across 20 countries, home to 75% of the world’s extreme poor, and assemble a dataset tracking 8 years of weekly economic activity data at each marketplace, making all outputs freely available online. In doing so, we will develop the first high-frequency, real-time measure of economic activity in remote rural areas, opening the door to advances in our understanding of how to eliminate extreme poverty.

Project members

Project managers

Jakob Svensson


Institute for International Economic Studies
Jakob Svensson

Anna Louise Tompsett

Assistant Professor

Institute for International Economic Studies
Anna Tompsett


Tillmann von Carnap-Bornheim

Graduate Student

Institute for International Economic Studies
Tillmann von Carnap