One of the fundamental goals in developing improved rural transportation systems in Sub-Saharan Africa is to create a link between smallholder farmers and major urban areas and their markets across the globe. Farmers who have access to transport are likely to have increases in crop production because they are able to easily purchase inputs. In addition, access to transport provides access to markets when it is time to harvest and sell, reducing the chances of post-harvest loss. Connection to transportation not only increases the income of smallholder farmers, but it also benefits the larger economy of the community.
At the World Food Bank, we are diligently working on solutions to the challenge of transportation in the regions where we farm, working with partners who are demonstrating efficiencies in this sector. For example, one transport method that is gaining steam and showing promise in SSA is highlighted in this month’s partner feature on Twiga Foods and is also used widely by military groups in the East Africa region. Twiga has demonstrated that by setting up regional collection hubs for farmers to bring their produce and then streamlining and coordinating transport communications between rural vendors and urban buyers can have a huge effect on reducing post-harvest loss attributed to transport and successfully getting crops to markets, even for rural farmers.
We know that this is essential. The Sub-Saharan African Transport Policy Program (SSATP) makes clear that “rural transport remains a constraint to increasing agricultural productivity” and “achieving rural growth,” in turn, attention to forms of rural transport interventions will improve agricultural productivity and reduce overall poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
When we don’t consider improvements in agricultural transports, farm growth decreases. SSATP suggests that poor rural transport systems:
- Increase the costs of marketing to and from farm areas
- Inhibit product flows
- Limit the spread of information
- Increase risk
The program emphasizes “well-designed rural transport interventions, in addition to contributing to growth, also contribute to food security, efforts to cope with drought and food emergencies, and gender equity.” Further, the World Bank encourages an emphasis on transport efforts, as “improving connectivity between and within countries can bridge stark differences in economic development by strengthening interregional trade.”
In the 2017 Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative report, research predicts food self-sufficiency for the continent of Africa if farmers have better access to transport, acknowledging that currently “more than 70 percent of Africa’s rural population is estimated to have been left unconnected to transport.” The report illustrates that an improvement to rural road connectivity will increase agricultural productivity “by reducing travel time to agricultural markets, inducing farmers to adopt modern farming techniques and favor cash crops, and raising market participation.” Below are clippings of Universal Access Transportation for Uganda and Kenya, respectively:
Clearly, there is much room for improvement across the transportation sector for an increase in universal access or equity. The advantages of transport access impact overall livelihood, and addressing needs can lead low-scoring countries toward sustainability and self-sufficiency, for example: “in Ethiopia, proximity to a road in good conditions reduces the likelihood of being a chronic poor by 36 percent,” and “better rural transport access is associated with lower morbidity and mortality rates and better health and poverty outcomes.”
Conversations about transportation are wide-ranging because effective and affordable rural transport is a critical component for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Research for Community Access Partnership (ReCAP) explain that an efficient rural transport system will “raise farm-gate prices, increase farmers’ incomes, and help reduce the price of food in urban areas,” plus “facilitate timely distribution of farm inputs.” ReCAP indicates that the major issue is that 90 percent of Africa’s food production comes from smallholder farmers who have limited access to transport infrastructure. Even more, movement of crops from the farm to secondary roads pose costly expenses for farmers who are aware of the damage bumpy roads cause. Bruising of crops from travel on rough roads creates the need for creative but expensive transportation labor that revolve around IMTs or Intermediate Means of Transport—bicycles, motorcycles, pack animals, and carts. ReCAP highlights that within the first mile of transport, humans or non-motorized transport is necessary “before being transferred to multi-purpose light good vehicles,” costing farmers “16 to 30 times more on a per tonne-km basis than truck transport.”
Historically, smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa have relied on community roads that only endured transport in the capacity of those walking from farm to market. However, advances in technology (see Smart Farming post) promise to soon influence the transport sector as well.