UNCTAD’s “Information Economy Report 2007-2008 – Science and technology for development: the new paradigm of ICT”, analyses the current and potential contribution of information technology to knowledge creation and diffusion. It explores how ICTs help generate innovations that improve the livelihoods of the poor and support enterprise competitiveness. The report examines how ICTs affect productivity and growth and reflects on the need for a development-oriented approach to intellectual property rights in order to enable effective access to technology. ICT has also given rise to new models for sharing knowledge and collective production of ideas and innovations, known as “open access” models, which often bypass the incentive system provided by intellectual property rights.
The Report presents a current cross-section of themes and analysis that aim to inform and enable governments to understand the policy challenges and opportunities. The analysis identifies important areas of concern and best practices necessary for the formulation of targeted policy decisions to support and accelerate ICT diffusion. In particular, the Information Economy Report 2007-2008 addresses the following issues:
- Trends in ICT access and use consisting of basic ICT indicators and an analysis of how ICTs impact on enterprises in developing countries;
- The ICT producing sector and the emerging South examines the role of the sector from the perspective of South-South trade, while exploring issues of the relationship between ICTs and employment, FDI and outsourcing;
- Measuring the impact of ICT on productive efficiency through a case study of Thailand confirms that developing countries can benefit as much as developed ones from increasing ICT use;
- ICT, e-business and innovation policies highlights the need for balance between policy stability and flexibility to meet the needs of evolving ICTs and feedback from policy implementation;
- E-banking and e-payments explains the potential of ICTs to improve overall business efficiency and assist in bringing SMEs and micro-enterprises into the formal economy;
- ICTs for the poor are discussed within the scope of the increasing use of mobile telephones and supportive policy measures and the potential of telecentres to promote livelihoods by providing access to relevant information and business opportunities to rural and poor populations.
The report illustrates ICT contributions to poverty reduction by focusing on two examples: the use of mobile telephones for conducting micro-business in Africa and the creation of telecentres for the benefit of poor communities.
Mobile telephony is rapidly progressing in the developing world. In Africa, there were 50 million new mobile subscribers in 2006, and in 2007 the total number of mobile subscriptions reached an estimated 200 million. This means an average of more than 20 active cell phones per 100 persons. Mobile telephony has practically replaced fixed lines in many countries.
Its flexibility and ease has led to its widespread use in business transactions, most particularly by very small firms or micro-businesses, the report says. Basic, up-to-date information on prices and the weather, for example, often was not easily available in the past in Africa and Asia. Farmers and fishermen in India and Senegal now use mobile phones to get information on the weather and market prices which have a practical effect on short-term decision-making, such as when and where to sell produce. Small farmers in Uganda share their knowledge about agricultural production, and micro-businesses in Kenya gain access to credit by using mobile phones.
Telecentres such as Pallitathya in Bangladesh and the Partnerships for E-prosperity for the Poor in Indonesia are providing farmers with valuable knowledge on combating crop insects and improving breeding techniques. E-Choupal in India is a commodity services programme supporting farmers through information “kiosks” that provide real-time information on commodity prices along with customized agricultural knowledge, a supply chain for farm inputs, and a direct-marketing channel for farm produce.