Communications Technology in Low-income Countries


ICT, poverty reduction, distance education


Bangladesh, Laos, Peru, Uzbekistan


The development and spread of information and communication technology (ICT) is often touted as the harbinger of a new industrial revolution. International organizations suggest that the spread of and access to these new technologies should be viewed as an integral and primary element of a country's development strategy. Notwithstanding these views, and the increasing diffusion of ICTs, their role in promoting growth and development is not viewed unambiguously. Views on the usefulness of these technologies range from optimism about the opportunities they create to deep pessimism about the capabilities of developing countries to exploit these technologies to their benefit.

The debate on the role of ICTs in development suffers from a lack of convincing evidence and information. Recognizing this need, ZEF has launched a research program that aims to gather empirical evidence on the effects of these technologies, on rural incomes, productivity and welfare. Currently, studies are underway in Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India, Laos, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. First results indicate that people in rural areas can benefit considerably from the provision of telephone services. The presence of phones reduces the need for travelling and therefore the costs and risks associated with this method to gather information. Villagers can receive better information about market prices for their products. Furthermore, the exchange of information between relatives and friends abroad or in the national centers can be reinforced, leading to a stronger social cohesion and an increased flow of remittances. The example of the Grameen Telephone Project, in which poor women act as telephone agencies in their villages, shows that telephones also can be a business activity and a source of income in rural areas.

However, advanced ICTs, like E-mail and the Internet still play a minor role in rural areas. This is due the fact that, even the most basic telecommunication infrastructure are absent and that, adequate information is not available at all or only at prohibitive cost. Nevertheless, enterprises in developing countries start to engage increasingly in the use of advanced ICTs. Large and multinational enterprises pioneered the use but small enterprises are following on their heels, trying to realize the benefits of these technologies, i.e. the reduction of communication cost, increased flexibility and access a vast pool of information on most recent technologies and business practices.

Household research program:

  • Welfare effects associated with the spread and use of ICTs.
  • Effects of ICTs on the emergence of product and labor market in the rural areas.

Enterprise research program:

  • The demand for and the use of ICTs in the context of small and medium scale enterprise
  • The impact of the use of ICTs on the performance and competitiveness of small and medium scale enterprises in developing countries.

Institutions and related aspects:

  • Effects of ICTs on social capital and the functioning of governments and institutions.
  • The different options of delivery/provision of ICT infrastructure in rural areas of developing countries.

Country studies:

  • Researchers at ZEF are carrying out studies in specific country context. Countries that are under study at present include Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India, Laos, Peru and countries of the East African Community (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda).

Household surveys, enterprise surveys, quantitative analysis

Main Cooperation Partners

  • Prof. Abdul Bayes, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh
  • Dr. A. Bedi, Institute for Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • Dr. Owuraku Sakyi-Dawson, Agric. Ext. Department, University of Ghana, Legon. Accra, Ghana
  • Dr. K. Lal, Institute for Economic Growth, Delhi, India
  • Mr. Bounthavy Sisouphanthong, Director, National Statistical Center (NSC), Vientiane, Lao PDR
  • Dr. Maximo Torero, GRADE, Lima, Peru
  • Dr. F. Matambalya, University of Darussalam, Tanzania
Main Funding Partners


Further information

18.12.2002: Global Dialogue II :
"Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Rural Households and Small and Medium Enterprises"

16.12.2002: Global Dialogue I:
"Impact of Information and Communication Technologies on Rural Households and Small and Medium Enterprises"

20.02.2001: ZEF-Workshop on "Digital Divide"



von Braun, Joachim, and Maximo Torero (eds.): ICT for Economic Development and Inclusion of the Poor", forthcoming

Müller-Falcke, D. (2002): Use and Impact of Information and Communication Technologies in Developing Countries' Small Businesses: Evidence from Indian Small Scale Industry. Development Economics and Policy Vol. 27. Peter Lang: Frankfurt/M.

Romeo Bertolini: Telecommunication Services in Sub-saharan Africa - an Analysis of Access and Use in the Southern Volta Region in Ghana. Peter Lang Publ. Frankfurt, 2002.

Wensheng Wang: "The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on Farm Households in China". Peter Lang Publ. Frankfurt, 2002 (forthcoming).

ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy:

Seibel, S., D. Müller-Falcke, R. Bertolini (1999), "Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien in Entwicklungsländern", ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 4, Center for Development Research, Bonn, January 1999, 50 pp. ISSN: 1436-9931

Bedi, A. (1999): "The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Economic Development - A Partial Survey", ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy, No. 7

Bayes, A., von Braun, J. and Akhter, R. (1999): "Village Pay Phones and Poverty Reduction: Insights from a Grameen Bank Initiative in Bangladesh" ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy, No. 8

Lal, K. (1999): "Information Technology and Exports: A Case Study of Indian Garments Manufacturing Enterprises", ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 15

Heuermann, A. (1999): "Die Bedeutung von Telekommunikationsdiensten für wirtschaftliches Wachstum", ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 17

Torero, M. (2000): "The Access and Welfare Impacts of Telecommunications Technology in Peru", ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 27
F. Matambalya and S. Wolf (2001): "The Role of ICT for the Performance of SMEs in East Africa." ZEF-Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 42

Report: "Information and Communication Technologies for Development: Present Situation, Perspectives and Potential Areas for German Technical Cooperation in Peru, Lao P.D.R., Vietnam, Tanzania and Uganda".

ZEF has done research on this theme in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The focus is on strategies, policy reform and choice of technologies that serve the poor.

Duration of the Project

until 09/2005


  • Dr. Maja Micevska (project leader)
  • Nurullo Makhmudov
  • Ellen Pfeiffer


Dr. Maja Micevska


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