October 23, 2006
Cellphones Boosting Incomes Of Poorest In India

Cellphones are enabling poor fisherman in India to get far more market information so that they can sell their catches for much higher prices.

"Hallo!" he shouted, struggling to hear over the big diesel engines of his 74-foot boat, Andavan. "Medium sized! Medium sized!" he said, estimating the haul for a wholesale agent calling from port, who had heard by cellphone from other skippers that Rajan had just set his nets.

Minutes later Rajan's phone rang again -- another agent at a different port.


"One element of poverty is the lack of information," Prahalad said. "The cellphone gives poor people as much information as the middleman."

The fisherman Rajan says his income has at least tripled since 2000 to $150 per month and that cellphones have enabled him to get the information he needs to make the middlemen who buy his fish to pay much more for them.

Poor people in India use cellphones in many occupations.

For less than a penny a minute -- the world's cheapest cellphone call rates -- farmers in remote areas can check prices for their produce. They call around to local markets to find the best deal. They also track global trends using cellphone-based Internet services that show the price of pumpkins or bananas in London or Chicago.

Indian farmers use camera-phones to snap pictures of crop pests, then send the photos by cellphone to biologists who can identify the bug and suggest ways to combat it. In cities, painters, carpenters and plumbers who once begged for work door-to-door say they now have all the work they can handle because customers can reach them instantly by cellphone.

Computer networks are going to enable small numbers of sharp experts and smart software to boost the productivity of billions of people around the world. What we are seeing now with cellphones and search engines such as Google is just the beginning of what is coming. Computers will provide much more useful answers than we can get from looking at pages dug up by current generation search engines.

While I think search engines and the growing size of the internet are an enormous boon current search technology still seems crude. I spend many hours every week doing searches looking for answers to questions. But the ways that searches can be phrased are much too crude. I want to say things like "Only show me pages with tables of information that have have entries which are names of foods and a column which is potassium or magnesium". I end up having to look at lots of pages that do not have the format I'm looking for before finally finding a couple that do.

This stage of search technology is going to give way to much smarter methods of looking for answers. The smarter search methods are going to enable non-experts to do tasks that currently only experts can do. If you can get very quick answers to questions you can do many more tasks. Getting answers is going to become much easier and quicker. As the answers become easier to come by labor productivity will rise dramatically.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 October 23 11:02 PM  Comm Tech Society

Vince said at October 24, 2006 9:11 PM:

Nice to see some economy-type articles again... for awhile I was wondering if all we futurists cared to talk about was extending our crappy lives. Let's live better, not just longer.

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