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The State of Rural Transport and Development - An International Workshop

Over 20 years ago a small pilot programme in Makete District, Tanzania changed our approach to rural transport forever. The Makete Integrated Rural Transport Programme (MIRTP) pioneered a new approach to rural transport that for the first time put people at the heart of transport planning.

From 22-24 October 2008, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzanian and international rural transport and development specialists gathered to review the current state of rural transport knowledge and practice. Are we facing the same challenges that existed 20 years ago, what are the new issues in development, how do contexts such as changing rural demographics, new technologies, the food crisis, or climate change affect rural access?

"The State of Rural Transport and Development - A review of progress, challenges and lessons" was a workshop was organised by IFRTD, the ILO and Tanzania Forum Group. The workshop was attended by over 30 rural transport and development experts from 8 countries. It was opened by the honorable Aggrey Mwanri, Deputy Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Government who underscored the catalytic role that transport plays in the development of all sectors in rural areas and its contribution to poverty reduction.

Tanzania has played a pioneering role in the development and dissemination of rural transport knowledge and practice. The evolution of rural transport as a distinct field or research and policy can be traced to a small pilot project that was implemented in South East Tanzania, known as the Makete Integrated Rural Transport Project (MIRTP), between 1985 and 1996. The project innovated the use of a household survey as an important tool in determining the transport demand characteristics of rural households. Today, MIRTP can be said to have had a formative influence on transport sector polices and institutions in many countries across Sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] as well as the development of Integrated Rural Access Planning [IRAP] approaches that are widely applied in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Among other objectives, the workshop reviewed some of the ongoing challenges in the delivery of effective rural transport solutions as well as exploring emerging trends that have a bearing on rural transport.

Advances made in rural transport

The workshop recognised some of the advances that have been made in the field of rural transport. These include:

  • In many African countries, there is growing recognition of rural transport issues in national transport policies or strategies.
  • Related to the above, rural transport is acknowledged as an important part of poverty reduction efforts in many countries.
  • Through increased community engagement in the development of rural transport programmes, issues of governance and accountability are gradually getting mainstreamed in the sector.

Persistent challenges:

  • The following issues were highlighted:
  • An enduring lack of integration of transport with other sectors, and the difficulty of adopting a holistic, multi-disciplinary planning and implementation approach.
  • An entrenched attitude that sees transport as a stand-alone sector, and whose most important output is production of physical infrastructure.
  • The lack of dynamic capacity building activities, especially a lack of a training approach that focuses on the unique problems of developing countries.
  • Lack of good analysis and impact assessment studies to demonstrate what works and what does not. Related to this, there is limited understanding of differentiated impacts across social groups [young, elderly, men, women, special groups etc].
  • Poor regard for the rigorous planning that is especially required to deliver good, multi-sectoral investments plans that are necessary for effective accessibility planning.

Current issues with a bearing on rural transport

The workshop made a quick assessment of some of the development trends that are having an impact on how rural access solutions can be delivered. The following issues were highlighted.

  • Information and Communication Technologies: These have a bearing on how services are accessed or delivered, and the frequency of personal travel
  • Access to low-cost transport technologies: There is considerable growth in numbers of cycle based technologies in Africa [bicycles and motorcycles] due to the growing influence of China and India.
  • Climate Change: There are two dimensions to this. First, changing weather patterns are having an impact on transport infrastructure, with flooding becoming a more frequent occurrence in many countries. Secondly, reliance on fossil fuel in the transport sector greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. These two issues require a rethink in the design of transport infrastructure, as well as in choice of vehicle technologies.

A highlight of recommendations:

  • There a need to improve data collection to strengthen our knowledge of linkages between transport, access and improvements in quality of life
  • We need to increase advocacy for integrated planning, based on sound cross-sectoral data. IRAP for example provides a good model of a comprehensive multi-sectoral planning, whose end result is
  • Capacity building and training: To complete the paradigm shift from an infrastructure focused transport sector to a more “quality-of-life” focus, the training approach for transport professionals needs to be anchored on local conditions and needs. The workshop warned against the continued reliance on a transport planning approach borrowed from industrial/post industrial societies.

Finally, the workshop underscored the need for rural transport research and policy agenda to continue adjusting to various challenges such as ICTs, Climate Change, new rural livelihood patterns and spatial transitions.

The full workshop report will be available shortly and examples of national press coverage of the event are available below: The Guardian 25/10/08 - Expert Calls for Quality Designs for Rural Infrastructure

Mwananchi 23/10/08 -

Mkutano - Maendeleo Vijijini


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