Friday, September 14, 2007

I need a phone call

Today one of my students sent me an article on a development project in Africa to provide cellular phone service to 79 villages in 10 African countries. The article begins by discussing how cell phones will help education and health care. I’m skeptical about the returns for cell phone service in terms of education. Where cell phones seem to be the most important are for local entrepreneurs. The article discusses taxi drivers and laborers using the phone to find jobs. However, I think cell phones are even more important for local farmers who can use them to check sale prices in various markets and so they can call around to find the best price for fertilizer. This is because without a phone in rural Africa it is hard to tell when you are getting a good price. On Tuesday in my Development Economics class we will discuss the big push model. In that model entrepreneurs will not start new businesses until enough other people start them. For example, if there is a taxi driver and there are only poor farmers without enough money to pay for a taxi, the taxi business will not be profitable. The taxi drive needs there to be other business men/women to drive around. As Jeffery Sachs, the lead economist on the project and friend of Bono, suggests you need a holistic approach.

Thanks Evelin for the article.

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