What do you do as a poor rural farmer when you don't have year-round access to a physical market due to lack of appropriate transport services or infrastructure? And did you know that currently, 70% of the agricultural output of Sub-saharan Africa is headloaded, mainly by women who make up the majority of agricultural smallholders? Also, in light of the current food crisis, a small survey carried out by the International Fund for Agricultural Development has illustrated that in Mozambique, food price increases have clearly followed increases in transportation costs and this has had a detrimental impact on food production and consumption.

Three quarters of the world's chronically poor and hungry people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture to feed themselves and their families. Agriculture remains the backbone of many economies in developing countries and not one country has managed a rapid improvement in poverty levels without increasing agricultural productivity. It has been necessary for this increase in productivity to go hand-in-hand with investments in rural infrastructure and effective rural transport systems in order to improve the value chain and ensure that products are marketed in an efficient and effective way.

So far, the majority of rural and agricultural development programmes have concentrated on increasing agricultural production in an environment that is hampered by extremely limited access to markets and other services. This has resulted in these programmes having a limited impact on growth and poverty reduction; In the few cases where programmes have invested in transport infrastructure (mainly roads) the improvements have been significant. In the IFAD funded access road component within the Zambian Smallholder Enterprise Development and Marketing Programme (SHEMP), the number of traders doubled in the 5 year programme (2002 - 2007) and the price of Maize in the area increased by 50%. In another IFAD funded project in Bangladesh, a labour-based roads programme led to an increase of 19% in agricultural yield and a reduction in transport costs of 39%.

More recently, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) has initiated a comprehensive review (1994 - 2006) of the investments they have made in rural transport and travel within their agricultural programmes. Prompted by their country programmes, the review's main objective was to take stock of the achievements, lessons learnt, experiences and impacts of the investments.

Some of the preliminary findings of the review, shared during a joint IFAD, IFRTD and ILO workshop in Rome on 24-25 June 2008, are that despite significant investments of an average of 13 million USD a year (constituting 7% of all market access interventions), so far the overall performance is unsatisfactory. This is mainly due to the following reasons:

(1) The lack of a systematic approach to RTT in agricultural programmes.

(2) A lack of integrated planning

(3) A strong focus on road construction and rehabilitation

References :

Agricultural Development at the Gates Foundation

Andreski, Adam, 2007. "Market Access Improvement in Zambia." Technical paper. (MS Word 379 kb)

IFAD_ILO_IFRTD Workshop on Rural Roads, Transportation and Travel, Workshop, Rome, 24-25 June, 2008. For full report proceedings please click here. (4.4 Mb. Pdf)

World Bank, 2007 “ Roundtable on Mainstreaming Social and Gender Dimensions in Transport Programs: Moving the Agenda Forward .” World Bank, Washington DC



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