A new phone-based technology is changing the way that farmers and entrepreneurs in Tanzania reach each other.
Billions of people in developing countries across the world now have mobile phones, but they often lack good ways to find each other. The implications are both widespread and profound: farmers sell crops at a loss, inventories are over-stocked in one area but under-supplied somewhere nearby, and aspiring entrepreneurs go out of business for lack of new customers. Now, a team led by UW policy specialist Brian Dillon will develop, launch, and evaluate a USSD telephone directory that will allow users to search for the contact information of both formal and informal businesses close to them. USSD is a platform that works on even basic phones. Through the new platform, users get responses to simple queries such as, “Nearest fertilizer store” or, “Cow doctor in Dodoma.” Since a pilot version of the project launched in Tanzania last August, tens of thousands of users have already made use of the directory, and nearly 12,000 entrepreneurs and businesses have registered to be listed.