The Challenge 

For many rural women, days are busy. Not only do they do 60 percent of the agricultural work, but manage the household as well. Often the biggest use of their time is spent walking, getting from one place to another. Women walk long distances to fetch water, or get to the river to do the dishes or clean the clothes.  It can be a long balancing act, carrying goods on their heads, to get to the market, to sell or bringing home the groceries. Faced with a lack of services and infrastructure, rural women carry a great part of the burden of providing water and fuel for their households.  For example, according to UN Women, collectively, women from Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours a year fetching water.

 Mobility in Africa

rural farmers

Infrastructure and transport remain huge obstacles for development in many parts of Sub Saharan Africa.  Rural farmers are often far away from main transport roads and suffer huge cost in both time and finances to get their goods to market.   It hinders the development of agriculture with a 2011 report indicating that more than half of the untapped potential for cultivation in the region is located more than six hours away from a major market.

While there has been investment in building main roads, there is still a huge network of rural areas that depend on gravel roads that are not serviced by regular and reliable transport.  Over the past four decades, there has been a very significant extension of the paved road network in Africa, which increased from 77,800 km in 1970 to 185,000 km in 2005. However, many road networks are of poor quality or do not reach small and remote communities. 

rural roads

Beyond the classified network of primary and secondary roads, there is a vast unclassified network of tracks providing varying degrees of service to rural areas. Fewer than 40 percent of rural Africans live within two kilometers of an all-season road. There is evidence that physical isolation is preventing large areas of the continent from reaching their true agricultural potential and increasing economic activity.

While roads are critical, so is the availability of transport. Transport in Sub-Saharan Africa is very costly to use, not only because of slow travel times due to the poor state of roads, but because of ‘non-physical’ transport costs related to delays, poor competition in the transport industry leading to higher prices, and a dependency on fossil fuels.   It is estimated that moving goods can be two to three times higher than in other more developed parts of the world.