Individuals from poorer countries are using modern information and communication technology devices to raise their incomes and living standards at a surprising rate, according to a new report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report presented numerous examples from developing countries showing that it was not just the use of mobile phones and similar devices that was helping the poor, but that there has been a large increase in micro-enterprises based around the cell phones industry. Examples of this include selling air time, carrying out repairs and maintenance and spreading important and timely information.

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Consequently, UNCTAD is urging governments and investors to capitalise on these grassroots developments by promoting policies that encourage and expand these activities. Its rationale is that more general investment in telecommunications industries in poorer nations can help many emerge from poverty.

The report said: “Governments can provide information through phone and ICT [information and communication technologies] networks that can help the poor make better economic decisions.”

Examples suggested by UNCTAD include enabling fishermen to sell their catches for the highest prices to advising farmers on when they should bring their crops to market.

UNCTAD has argued for years that investment and development in communication networks can only have positive results in eradicating poverty, and published other reports highlighting the 'digital divide' that separates poor and wealthy nations.