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Citations for research about mobile phones and Kerala fishermen

Analysis of Google Scholar citations

The most cited papers on the theme of the use of mobile phones and the fisheries industry in the south of India are Jensen (2007) and Abraham (2007). The only other primary research papers we could find are from Sreekumar (2011) and Srinivasan and Burrell (2013), plus a dubious paper by John and Jubi (2013). Strangely, Jensen's paper is also the most cited ICT4D paper, yet no other research project has either confirmed, corroborated, or rejected Jensen's findings - which points to the sorry state of proper scientific research in this field. This document summarizes the top returns on a search done on the topic using Google Scholar in February 2014.

A browse through the first ten pages of Google Scholar with the search keywords such as “Jensen AND Kerala fishermen” and variations thereof shows numerous quotations of his paper. Interestingly enough, when two search events were conducted a week apart, the returning results were not the same. The first search event returned the source of Abraham in the number two spot, but not even among the first ten pages of the second search event. Google Scholar also returns BL Jensen, RT Jensen, and irrelevant publications such as a 1957 publication of Steeman and Jensen on potential fishery resources. These have not been included in the table below. Several other permutations of search terms were also used, but the results were more or less the same.

The dominant Google citations were Jensen 626 citations and Abraham 164 citations. Burrell and Toyama (2009) regard Jensen's paper as a classic in ICTD. It is fascinating that these two papers took off in such a viral fashion despite fundamental flaws in their papers. This indicates there is something wrong with ICT4D research - that hyped findings are accepted at face value, without scrutinizing assumptions, methodological tools, research paradigms and philosophical frameworks. But most devastating is that there is abundant data available on the fisheries industry. Even a superficial analysis of this data indicate that the conclusions of these authors are improbable. For example, the Kerala Marine Act of 1980 restricts boats types to fish only in assigned zones. Knowledge of this, and of fish species habitats should indicate that the fisheries is not as simple as presented by most authors. Add to that hay other data, such as the ownership status of craft among fishermen, and it is soon clear that without clear definitions, and explicating the context, any mention of fishermen is semantically empty, or vague.

In the tables below, only the first five returned pages are summarized, and duplicates of the same source are not shown. The quotes are from the primary Google return pages, and were not verified, nor were the complete text fragments in the primary sources consulted. Different citations from the same source are copied into the same table cell. They are reported here as background information, to indicate the extent to which especially Jensen was followed blindly.

Primary research

Author(s) Title Publication date Citations Notes and Brief quotes from Google Scholar
R Jensen The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector. 2007 627  
R Abraham Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India. 2006 163  
TT Sreekumar Mobile phones and the cultural ecology of fishing in Kerala, India 2011 13 “ had noted that mobile phones would make collusion “difficult to sustain since more transactions are conducted in private over the phone rather than through auctions on the beach that are easily monitored by others” (Jenson, 2007: 909),”

NOTE: Sreekumar also has a white paper published (available at, in which Jensen's surname is spelt wrongly as "Jenson"
J Srinivasan, J Burrell Revisiting the fishers of Kerala, India 2013 No citations yet in early 2014, as this is a recent publication ... congruence between the use of phones for price information gathering and arbitrage work described in interviews at our north Kerala site and Jensen's claims about ... of the phone, fishers would “just sell at the nearest landing site.”

Secondary research

The following publications returned as results on a Google Scholar search. All these publications refer to either Jensen, or mobile phones and Kerala, or both, but not a single one of these has done primary research on the topic. All authors accept, without scrutiny, the findings of mainly Jensen, and some of Abraham.

The authors are ranked by most citations in descending order.

Author(s) Title Publication date Citations Notes and Brief quotes from Google Scholar
J Aker, I Mbiti Mobile phones and economic development in Africa 2010 275 Jensen ... He shows that this leads to important welfare improvements for both fishermen and consumers; fishermen's profits increased by...
JC Aker Information from markets near and far: Mobile phones and agricultural markets in Niger 2010 97 In his analysis of the impact of mobile phones on the fisheries sector in Kerala, India, Jensen (2007) uses the max-min and CV as measures of price dispersion. Mobile phone coverage in Kerala was phased in by geographic
AT Rashid, L Elder Mobile phones and development: An Analysis of IDRC-supported projects 2009 78 Jenson's [sic] (2007) study on the fish prices in Kerala, India provides strong evidence of the ... exclusively on the impact of mobile phones on livelihoods of farmers, fisherman, and small ...
S Corbett Can the cellphone help end global poverty 2008 78 The New York Times, 2008 Robert Jensen, an economics professor at Harvard University, tracked fishermen off the coast of Kerala in southern ... effective than encouraging economic growth through commerce, also called “inclusive capitalism.” A cellphone in the hands of an Indian fisherman who uses ...
A Bhavnani, RWW Chiu, S Janakiram, P Silarszky The role of mobile phones in sustainable rural poverty reduction 2008 76 The use of mobile phones may reduce information asymmetries, enabling users to access arbitrage, market or trade opportunities that they otherwise would have missed out on. Jensen (2007) in a recent study of fishermen in the Kerala state
R Heeks Do information and communication technologies (ICTs) contribute to development? 2010 73 Credible cost-benefit analyses are disappointingly scarce but do suggest a positive return on investment can be achieved at both individual (Jensen, 2007) and community (Kumar, 2004) levels. ... Abraham R. 2007
H Lacohée, N Wakeford, I Pearson A social history of the mobile telephone with a view of its future 2003 72 One fisherman claimed that his profit on each eight-day fishing run in his trawler had doubled because he was now able to use his telephone to compare prices at Cochin with those at Quilon, a port 85 miles away...

NOTE: Like Jensen, this claim is made on the basis of a newspaper article by Raj - see details.
A Jagun, R Heeks, J Whalley The impact of mobile telephony on developing country micro-enterprise: a Nigerian case study 2008 59 All interviewed buyers and intermediaries owned their own mobile phone
S Mittal, S Gandhi, G Tripathi Socio-economic impact of mobile phones on Indian agriculture 2010 52 Jensen found that the introduction of mobile phones decreased price dispersion and wastage by facilitating the spread of information, which made ...
J Burrell, K Toyama What constitutes good ICTD research? 2009 42 ... the fishing industry in Kerala, India (Jensen, 2007) is already recognized as a classic in ICTD ... The article title itself is qualified with the phrase, “in the South Indian fisheries sector,” and ... one of the authors of this article engaged in a series of interviews with fishermen working on ...
J Donner Customer Acquisition among Small and Informal Businesses in Urban India: Comparing Face-to-face and Mediated Channels 2007 42 ... given one point for each customer living in the same area, and two for each living elsewhere, resulting in a scale on the distance variable from 3 to 6. The overall R 2 for ... Using weekly surveys of boats landing at ports in Kerala over a five year period, Jenson (2007) finds that ...
J Donner, MX Escobari A review of evidence on mobile use by micro and small enterprises in developing countries 2010 41 Particularly powerful evidence appears in Jensen's (2007) research on the fishermen of Kerala The review finds a pattern of evidence suggesting that mobiles increase the information available to MSEs. Some (Jensen, 2007; Aker, 2008) provide quantitative evidence for how this information translates into reduced price variability and higher profits per actor.
T Molony Running out of credit: the limitations of mobile telephony in a Tanzanian agricultural marketing system 2008 40 adoption of mobile phones by fishermen along the coast of India's Kerala state. Jensen shows that, as mobile phone coverage became available from 1997
H Gruber, P Koutroumpis Mobile telecommunications and the impact on economic development 2011 27 In a study on the market operation of fisheries in the Kerala region of India during 1997–2001, Jensen (2007) finds ... The adoption of mobile telecommunications led to a Pareto welfare improvement. Fishermen's and wholesalers' profits increased along with consumer welfare. ...
MWL Fong Digital divide: The case of developing countries 2009 26 At the microlevel, Jensen's (2007) study on fishermen in Kerala shows that the adoption ... phones can promote economic and social welfare not only for these fishermen but also . Jensen's (2007) microlevel study on fishermen in Kerala shows that the adoption of mobile ... can promote economic and social welfare not only for these fishermen but also ... provide: Information (technology) market performance, and welfare in the south Indian fisheries sector.
N Sambasivan, N Rangaswamy, E Cutrell Ubicomp4D: infrastructure and interaction for international development--the case of urban indian slums 2009 24 Jensen has tracked economic benefits to the poor through the mobile phone, notably in a study on fishermen of Kerala
H De Silva, D Ratnadiwakara Using ICT to reduce transaction costs in agriculture through better communication: A case-study from Sri Lanka 2008 23 The paper presents the results of a four-year study on fishery markets in Kerala, India, where the adoption of mobile phones by fishermen and buyers resulted in a ... This improved the welfare of fishermen as well as ... and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector.
E Zuckerman Decentralizing the mobile phone: A second ICT4D revolution? 2010 18 increase in fishermen's incomes after mobile phone service came to communities in Kerala
S Mittal, S Gandhi, G Tripathi The impact of mobiles on agricultural productivity 2009 16 Jensen found that the introduction of mobile phones decreased price dispersion and wastage by spreading information. A key backdrop to our investigation is the recent research by Robert Jensen examining the impact of mobile phone use by Kerala fishermen. Jensen found that the introduction of mobile phones decreased price dispersion and wastage by spreading information which made ...
V Frias-Martinez, J Virseda, A Rubio Towards large scale technology impact analyses: Automatic residential localization from mobile phone-call data 2010 16 ... impact of the use of cell phones on a fishing community in Kerala, India. ... The author observed that mobile phones helped to coordinate supply and demand, and merchants and ... The areas where fishermen largely used cell phones experimented, according to the author, an
H Mpogole, H Usanga, M Tedre Mobile phones and poverty alleviation: A survey study in rural Tanzania 2008 15 Fifth, this study aims at investigating whether mobile phone owners feel that mobile phones have increased their income.
T Kalil Harnessing the mobile revolution 2009 14 by an economic study of fishermen in Kerala, India. ... As a result, fisherman increased their profits by eight percent
S Mittal, G Tripathi Role of Mobile Phone Technology in Improving Small Farm Productivity 2008 10 Mobile phones allow fishermen, particularly marginally more prosperous fishermen, to get timely price
S Foss, H Couclelis Throwing space back in: a tale of Indian fishermen, ICT and travel behavior 2009 10 A case in point is the fishermen's price acquisition behavior ... For example, it is not clear whether a fisherman calls all markets or simply a subset closest to him, and ... is by definition at least partially met in our model, which is designed to roughly replicate Jensen's Kerala case study ..

NOTE: this artile is discussed below under Models.
B Furuholt, E Matotay The developmental contribution from mobile phones across the agricultural value chain in rural Africa 2011 10 communicating fish price information among fishermen in Kerala, India (Jensen, 2007
R Ling, J Donner Mobile phones and mobile communication 2013 10 For India's traditional fishermen, cellphones deliver a sea of change
JC Acker 'Can You Hear Me Now?' How Cell Phones Are Transforming Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa 2008 8 Jensen found that the introduction of cell phones in 1997 increased fishermen's profits by 8 percent and decreased consumer prices by 4 percent in Kerala, India.
S Lokanathan, H De Silva Leveraging mobile 2.0 in India for agricultural market access 2010 7 Jensen's (2007) study of Kerala fisherman has empirically illuminated how mobiles had ... considerably reduced price volatility and eliminated wastage in the Kerala fish markets.
M Salia, NNN Nsowah-Nuamah, WF Steel Effects of mobile phone use on artisanal fishing market efficiency and livelihoods in Ghana 2011 7 ... results of a series of focus groups discussions conducted at 12 locations in Kerala, India,
C Danis, M Bailey, J Christensen, J Ellis Mobile applications for the next billions: a social computing application and a perspective on sustainability 2009 6 Abraham's analysis shows that the pricing information is reliable, so why do the fishermen fail to ... Because the agent has invested in his business, the fisherman feels a social obligation to bow to ... led target users of the Akshaya telecenter, in the Indian state of Kerala, to develop ...
J von Braun ICT for the poor at large scale: Innovative connections to markets and services 2010 6 Cell phone adoption by fishermen in Kerala, India has provided ... As a result, fishermen's profits have increased by 8 percent (Jensen 2007).
A Palackal, PN Mbatia, DB Dzorgbo Are mobile phones changing social networks? A longitudinal study of core networks in Kerala 2011 6 Echoing this rational-choice argument, Jenson's [sic] (2007) examination of traditional fishers in Kerala offered clear evidence that the use of mobile phones could actually produce better market prices and less wasted catch.
K McNamara Improving Agricultural Productivity and Markets: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies 2009 5 Robert Jensen demonstrated that the rollout of mobile phone service had a pronounced impact on the sardine fisheries along the ... Price volatility and variation dropped dramatically; average price paid to fishermen rose by 8 percent; consumer prices dropped ...
R Katz, P Koutroumpis The economic impact of Telecommunications in Senegal 2012 5 In the fishery market of Kerala (India), prices ... was eliminated and the fishing sector became demand-driven (Jensen, 2007)
C Kenny ICT: Promises, opportunities and dangers for the rural future 2008 4 Many of Kerala's fishermen are using text messaging –as are fishermen on Lake Victoria in Africa who use SMS as a cheap way to get information on landing prices for fish before arriving at a particular market. ... Jensen, R. (2007). … At the same time, consumer prices fell by 4 per cent (Jensen, 2007).
R Chandy, O Narasimhan How micro‐entrepreneurs could change the world 2011 4 The IT landscape of the Indian state of Kerala — the site of Jensen's famous fishermen study … ... to information for micro-entrepreneurs is a pioneering study by Robert Jensen on fishermen in the coastal state of Kerala in India. ... availability of mobile network coverage in the fishing communities he studied, about 80 per cent of all fishermen had purchased mobile phones.
H de Silva, D Ratnadiwakara, S Soysa Mobile phones to significantly reduce information-related transaction costs for small-holder farmers 2009 3 For example, Jensen (2007) showed that the adoption of mobile phones by fishermen and buyers in Kerala resulted in a
R Bell, J Jung, L Zacharilla Broadband economies 2008 2 ...2007 paper by Robert Jensen reported on what economists call a “natural experiment” that took place in Kerala, India between 1997 and 2006. The fishermen of Kerala, a region in the south of India, faced the usual problems of their trade in developing nations. … .. markets he studied along the coast. But in 1997, mobile phones came to Kerala and fishermen began to use them to check on local markets while they were still at sea.
T Ginige, A Ginige Towards next generation mobile applications for MOPS: investigating emerging patterns to derive future requirements 2011 2 ... on fishing industry which is one of the important industries in Kerala, India ... After the introduction of mobile phones, Jensen observed that the fishermen were able to ... this leads to important welfare improvements for both fishermen and consumers; fishermen's profits increased …

NOTE : at 3%of Kerala'' GDP, fisheries does not really constitute an important industry for the province. It indeed provides income for poor subsistence fishermen, even if it is only to feed their households.
K Donovan Mobile Money in the Developing World: The Impact of M-PESA on Development, Freedom, and Domination 2011 1 ... and near-perfect adherence to the Law of One Price”. As a result, both “consumer and producer welfare increased” (Jensen 2007). Welfare benefits ... informational capitalism” Micro Individual livelihood improvements (eg Kerala fishermen)
AR Chhachhar, SZ Omar Use of Mobile Phone among Fishermen for Marketing and Weather information 2012 1 ... markets to sell their fish at the market with the highest price (Jensen, 2007).
SZ Omar, AR Chhachhar A Review on the Roles of ICT Tools towards the Development of Fishermen 2012 1 ... to date with regard to prices and quality of fish in surrounding markets which ultimately enhance their income (Jensen, 2007). ... due non-availability of infrastructure such as electricity to charge cell phone (Munyua, et al., 2007) Fishermen on the coast of Kerala adopted mobile ...
YAC Loh Approaches to ICT for development (ICT4D) Vulnerabilities vs. capabilities 2013 None until February 2014 ... premise is verified in the case studies of the Kerala fishing community, where both the capabilities approach and the vulnerabilities approach can be used to explain the phenomenon of ICT for livelihoods. Abraham (2007) and Jensen (2007) found that the fishermen's quality of ...
N Patnaik Use of Mobile Phones by Small-Scale Farmers for Price Discovery of Fresh Produce: A Case Study from the Malur Taluk in Karnataka 2013 None until February 2014 In the case of Kerala fishermen from India, mobile phones helped prosperous fishermen (Jensen 2007)
BT John, R Jubi Impact of mobile phones on the life of fishermen in kerala -a study with reference to thiruvananthapuram district n.d. None until February 2014 INTERCONTINENTAL JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH REVIEW ... There is greater market integration and price dispersion, and price fluctuations are reduced Jensen's (2007) study of fishermen in Kerala state in India argues that ... By the use of mobile phone, fishermen could obtain fisheries related information from all over the world.

NOTE: Question: “all over the world?” - this show total lack of understanding of the Kerala fisheries industry, the operations of informal and micro businesses in the developing world, and seems to be a blind reference to Jensen.
M Ghiasi Fishermen in the Information Marketplace n.d. None until February 2014 Jensen (2007: 909) found in empirical studies of Kerala's fish sales no collective or collusive behavior, in terms of of cooperation for getting a greater quantity of variability in catch, or collusion of buyers and sellers to punish and exclude those who do not ... Jenson [sic], R. (2007).
J Postill Mobile phones and actual changes in the global South n.d. None until February 2014 OK, these are fair critiques of Jensen's well-known case study about mobiles and markets among Kerala fishermen.
S Subramanian IT for Sustainable Growth n.d. None until February 2014 ( Jenson [sic] (2007) documents in detail the impact of the introduction of mobile phones on the fishing industry in Kerala, southwest India.


Model building is an important conceptual tool and aid to understand the world. Models may be abstraction, but for a model to have practical significance, it should be able to handle data properly. If the model cannot accept real-world data, it should be modified, or rejected.

Here is an example of a model that rekated to Kerala fisherman.

In 2009 Foss and Couclelis published a paper, Throwing space back in: a tale of Indian fishermen, ICT and travel behavior adopting several of Jensen's points. Their statement, “Indeed, the use of cell phones had the effect of encouraging fishermen to travel to more distant markets, on average, than before.” (2009: 136), seems to be an interpretation of Jensen's work, but they do raise their concern that Jensen did not account adequately for the spatial dimension: “The spatial configuration of the Kerala regional market is another concern, as it is not clear to what degree the results may have been driven by its rectilinear structure and equidistant local markets.“ (2009: 136).

They then build a model based on idealisations: “Our fishermen agents exhibit many of the standard characteristics. They are independent of any central authority and make their own decisions based on internal states (quantity of catch, location, and preferred home market) and information from their environment (specifically prices).” (2009: 137).

Such an idealization is based on armchair “science”, and our own research shows very clearly that fishermen are not independent. This idealized model is thus not valid for the real world. They acknowledge that “Agent-based models are metaphors that cannot re-produce reality (but then, what can?...), or pass the kinds of statistical tests that scientists find reassuring. In the best case they encourage us to look at things with a fresh qualitative eye, revealing patterns and relations we may not have thought of before.” (2009: 139).

Unfortunately, if a model does not fit reality, the model is redundant. As ICT4D is about implementing technological systems that impact on the lives of humans, we should stop playing with models that do not reflect the difficult world of the disdvantaged.


Abraham R (2007)
Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India
Information Technologies and International Development, 4(1): 5–17
Foss, S., Couclelis, H. (2009)
Throwing space back in: a tale of Indian fishermen, ICT and travel behavior
Journal of Transport Geography 17(2): 134–140
Jensen R (2007)
The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, And Welfare In The South Indian Fisheries Sector.
Quarterly Journal Of Economics, CXXII(3): 879-924
John, B.T., Jubi, R (2013)
Impact of mobile phones on the life of fishermen in Kerala -a study with reference to Thiruvananthapuram district
Intercontinental Journal of Marketing Research Review, 1(7): 47- 51
Sreekumar, T. T. (2011)
Mobile Phones and the Cultural Ecology of Fishing in Kerala, India
The Information Society: An International Journal, 27:3, 172-180
Srinivasan, J., Burrell, J. (2013)
Revisiting the Fishers of Kerala, India.
International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development 2013. Cape Town, South Africa.



© Jacques Steyn 2014