Transport Poverty: Could the OX be the answer for Africa?

Natalie Dowsett

APR. 17, 2020

Generally, if you were to ask someone to define “transport” or “poverty” you would receive a reasonably accurate answer.

But put the two terms together and you have something that compounds some of the worlds biggest issues and yet isn’t often referred to.

"Nearly 1.1 billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990." - The World Bank
In the past 30 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by 1.1 billion. Although this progress has been made in tackling world poverty, the Sustainable Development Goal to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 does not look achievable on the current path. There have been many factors contributing to this but infrastructure, or lack of, is one of the key barriers to further progress. Off-grid solar power solutions have been able to extend power to millions of Africans that had no access to electricity, essentially bypassing the need for a traditional developed world power infrastructure.

The infrastructure in telecommunications has also made similar progress by bypassing traditional land lines straight to mobile phone usage. What still falls far behind though, due to the vast scope of the issue, is the transport infrastructure. According to the African Development Bank the dominant mode of transportation in Africa is roads, making up for 90 percent of all passenger and freight transportation, and they are the only access route for many rural locations. Yet according to a recent BBC article, only “43% of the roads in Africa are paved. And 30% of all paved roads on the continent are in one country: South Africa”. The article also references the transport infrastructure as a key challenge in achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision which outlines the 50-year aspirations of the continent. Ultimately the poor transport infrastructure and in particular the poor roads have stalled the economic growth in a number of African countries.

Is there a way to bypass traditional approaches to transport infrastructure, in a similar way to power and telecommunications? And what would this mean for those living in extreme poverty?

Let’s explore an example...

According to the World Bank more than half of people living in extreme poverty live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of the global poor live in rural areas, are poorly educated, employed in the agricultural sector, and under 18 years of age. More than 70 percent of people living in rural Africa are estimated to have been left unconnected due to missing transport infrastructure and systems. If we use this information to consider an East African, young, rural farmer with no access to motorised transport as an example of a person living in extreme poverty, we can develop a story as the basis of this article.

With no access to transport any produce that the farmer can yield from his land can then only be sold to any person or market within walking distance, which could be a substantial distance with a push cart. The quality of the produce by the time it has travelled for hours in the sun has diminished. The amount of produce that can be transported manually is minimal. Therefore the farmer is limited to selling a minimal amount of lower quality produce at a market they can access. The land which the farmer farms is irrigated manually which is not suitable or efficient for large areas.

So looking at this picture of poverty what happens if transport was made more accessible to this farmer? Firstly any produce produced can get to a market, maybe multiple markets or larger markets further away, in a better condition because it has got there faster. More produce can be moved too, perhaps ten times more produce of better quality. Instantly we can see how the farmer’s income could be increased even on a conservative measure. The farmer’s time is more productive too, as instead of the hours spent walking to the market, he has been able to get to a market and back again. With this increase in income, perhaps the farmer could invest in a solar powered irrigation system for his land to maximise the yield and in turn generate more income. This could potentially lead to employment for somebody else to help the farmer with his increased yield. It’s relatively easy to see how the impact could continue to benefit families and communities and wider economy. All from providing one farmer access to transport.

This example gives one example of what transport poverty looks like and the impact of relieving it. Transport poverty has many elements, ranging from infrastructure to vehicles. The problem is clear and the solution is less so, but what seems to be obvious is that adopting current developed world solutions won’t work.

The majority of vehicles available in Africa are imported and are designed for different purposes and conditions. Giving a rural farmer transport that can’t navigate unpaved and poor roads won’t help them at all. Most of these vehicles are also adding to harmful levels of pollution from engines that wouldn’t be deemed fit enough to drive on roads in developed countries. So to bypass the issue of poor roads and stop the pollution - provide green transport that has been specifically developed for these conditions.

At OX we believe there is an alternative, better way involving alternatives to the traditional means of owning transport by using shared mobility, pay-as-you-go or other more collaborative ways of thinking. By avoiding going down the same path as the developed world, the developing world could leapfrog out of date and inefficient solutions and create a new, transport rich environment without the downsides of pollution and debt,

This rural farmer is just one example of the positive impact effective transport can have on poverty. At a very simple level if someone has access to fit for purpose transport then they have access to opportunity. That opportunity can come in many forms, including access to education, healthcare, other communities, produce and markets to name just a few. If someone doesn’t have access to transport they are limited in their opportunity. If someone living in extreme poverty doesn’t have access to transport then it is almost, if not completely, impossible to leave extreme poverty behind.

The OX is on a journey to deliver opportunities, enhance existing ecosystems and to bring communities and services together to achieve a better, fairer way forward. In this series of articles we want to explore the problem, learn from people around the world and be part of the solution.

Please share with us your experiences of transport poverty.

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