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[LIMA] Children spend more time at school once their village has access to a phone, a study of Peru's rural poor has found.

The author of the study says the analysis of poor Andean and Amazonian communities is the first to quantify the role of telephone access in not only enhancing livelihoods but impacting on the education of children.

Diether Beuermann — of the US-based University of Maryland's Department of Economics — assessed the income of rural families and the proportion of time children spent working or at school in more than 6,500 villages between 1997 and 2007.

From 2001 a public-private partnership started to provide mobile phone coverage, or access to a village satellite phone for those who couldn't afford a mobile phone.

The intervention reduced the national average distance to a phone from 60 kilometres to five.

Farmers in villages that received phones early in the scheme saw a 15 per cent rise in earnings compared with those that received a phone later, because phones expanded their markets.

Farmers' agricultural costs were reduced by about a fifth because they received better and timelier information using phones, such as weather forecasts that allowed them to make better decisions. This resulted in an 18 per cent overall increase in agricultural productivity.

This productivity increase had a direct impact on schooling. The time children spent working at markets and in the field was reduced by 14 per cent and nine per cent, respectively, leading to a 13 per cent increase in the number of children reporting going to school as their main activity.

Beuermann said the calculations account for other reasons that might have caused the increase in schooling.

"Our results clearly show these interventions drastically changed farmers' work because they were able to know price trends, diminish their agricultural costs and increase net incomes — resulting in less utilisation of children between six and 13 years old in agricultural work," Beuermann told SciDev.Net.

He added that when some of the pressure to make money is lifted, people not only want to send their children to school but find that they are more able to.

The unpublished study was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Consortium, a network of more than 40 Peruvian universities and research institutes, and carried out by the University of Maryland.