At the end of the feeder road: assessing the impact of track construction for motorbike taxis on agrarian development in Liberia

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Arts and Humanities

Abstract

This research will answer questions which directly fall under the remit of 2 of the 3 research questions of the ESRC-DFID Poverty Alleviation Research call, focusing on 'factors shaping pathways into and out of poverty ...' and 'measures that can be taken to reduce the risks and impact of violence and instability on the poorest...'

Some of the world's poorest people are found in isolated African villages. Lacking market access, rural producers typically earn little from whatever they produce, and this perpetuates subsistence production. Many of these farmers are women. Their poverty results from a combination of factors, some of which interlock in a vicious circle comprising lack of labor, finance and market access. Even though farmers may be willing to produce more for markets, better roads are a pre-condition for agricultural development, but are not forthcoming given the small volumes that are actually traded. Is it possible to break this trap and kick-start a virtuous cycle of market-led agricultural growth and poverty alleviation? We propose to answer this question in relation to a burgeoning locally-driven rural transport revolution based on the motorbike taxi.

Even in the poorest regions of Africa, cheap Chinese-made motorbike taxis have now become part of the rural landscape, navigating roads too narrow or muddy for 4-wheel transport, and loaded with bags of rice, groundnuts and cocoa beans on it. In the war-affected forest region of Upper West Africa these bikes are a relatively new feature. Riders are often young men (occasionally young women), who a decade ago were handling a gun rather than a bike. In an effort to avoid exploitative traditional agrarian institutions, rural youths have embraced the transport sector as a means to earn a living. The penetration of bike taxis deep into isolated rural communities has spread spontaneously and created direct and indirect employment opportunities for low-skilled youth. There is little information on the consequences of the recent spread of bike taxis for poverty alleviation and market integration, let alone information on what interventions might further support and stimulate this development. Preliminary observations in Sierra Leone and Liberia suggest that farmers experience particular limitations where it concerns the transportation of agricultural produce from farmstead to village/roadside, with many farmstead tracks not even navigable for motorbikes. Upgrading these tracks so that they can be used by motorbikes is extremely cheap (as compared to more conventional rural road construction) and can largely be executed by the community. But without hard data on impact relevant state actors and international donors remain reluctant to allocate funds to rural track-building/upgrading, preferring to stick to more conventional (but expensive) 4-wheel vehicle accessible rural roads construction/rehabilitation.

In Liberia, USAID's Farm to Market Rural Roads Rehabilitation Program recently commenced and will be identifying, ranking and designing 450km of roads for construction between 2014 and 2018. Most of these will be conventional rural roads, but a (as yet) small proportion will be allocated for track construction/upgrading. We propose to conduct a qualitative study of 16 villages over 4 Counties to collect socio-economic data to 1) understand the impact that motorbike navigable track building from farmstead to village/road/market has on lifting (semi-)subsistence farmers out of poverty by reducing costs to produce for markets, as compared to more conventional 4 wheel accessible feeder road construction; 2) study the socio-economic impact of improved access and mobility through the construction of conventional rural feeder roads versus 2 wheel accessible only tracks on villagers; 3) document the level, nature and issues arising of community involvement in the decision making process and actual building of conventional feeder roads and 2-wheel accessible tracks.

Planned Impact

We specify several levels of beneficiary groups we believe will benefit from the proposed study.

1: (semi-)subsistence and cash-crop farmers. We will study to what extent low-cost community driven track-building helps male and female farmers to move out of (semi-)subsistence farming associated poverty.

2: Motorbike riders and Bike Riders Associations. The motorbike taxi riders will directly benefit as more becomes known about the impact of rural transportation and how to kick start/further enhance this. Track building/upgrading creates a niche for motorbike transport where riders are not in competition with 4 wheel vehicles.

3: Women and children. Transporting harvest from farmstead to village/road/market is a cumbersome and time-consuming task that most often falls on the shoulders (or heads) of women and children. A low cost alternative, such as transport by motorbike, will relieve both women and children of this task.

4: Rural youth. The post-war exponential growth of motorbike taxis has already opened up rural areas and connected these to regional towns, reducing isolation of rural youth. Further penetration of motorbike taxis into rural areas by track-building will only add to this. In addition, track-building can generate direct employment for youth (contrary to the more specialised road building up to international standards) and indirect employment opportunities: village-based bike repair shops, road-side restaurants for travellers, trailer construction sites. Moreover, farming in itself becomes more attractive to rural youth who have a particular interest in producing for markets, but often cannot command labor to transport the harvest to roadsides/markets.

5: Liberia Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Agriculture. Studying the implications of different types of infrastructure on market-led agricultural growth will offer guidance to both Ministries in formulating effective, context-dependent rural transportation and agrarian development policies and interventions aimed at enhancing rural development and poverty alleviation.

6: International donor community. Rural road building and agricultural development as a pathway out of poverty remains a key focus of the international donor community with significant budgets allocated to it. Finding answers to the risks associated with large groups of socio-economically marginalised and unemployed (rural) youth has recently become another key area for the donor community. This research will yield new information on which more effective policy can be formulated.

7: Local NGO. The Lofa Integrated Development Association (LIDA). This research project will further strengthen the research capacity and knowledge base of LIDA in the area of rural development and infrastructure. Given an increasing focus on track/trail construction by the international donor community and the Ministry of Transport, LIDA will be able - through the experiences and research of this study - to deliver evidence-based policy recommendations to these two actors.

8: Research community. See section 'Academic Beneficiaries' to appreciate how we will involve both the current as well as future research community(s), internationally and within region.

- There is ample scope for scaling up. The best practices in rural track construction could be applied to the large number of other localities in all four counties, more widely in Liberia and Africa, with similar problems of seasonal accessibility and poor market linkage.

- We will engage key representatives of beneficiary groups 5 to 8 through a seminar in Liberia at the start and end of the project to set out the aims of the project and receive feedback, and to disseminate findings and discuss evidence-based opportunities for further interventions respectively. In addition, stakeholder seminars involving representatives of beneficiary groups 1 to 4 will take place at the start and finish of the project in each of the 16 villages.

Publications

10 25 50
publication icon
Jenkins J (2020) Changing women's lives and livelihoods: motorcycle taxis in rural Liberia and Sierra Leone in Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport

publication icon
Jenkins J (2016) Rural connectivity in Africa: motorcycle track construction in Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Transport

 
Description • The spread of motorcycle taxis in rural areas in Sub-Saharan countries has contributed greatly to socio-economic development, providing access to markets, health and educational facilities.
• The main beneficiaries of this phenomenon are among the most marginalised and most difficult to reach: semi-subsistence farmers, rural women and children.
• In addition, millions of often poorly educated youths with limited job perspectives are now involved in motorcycle taxi riding, making it an important employment providing sector.
• Recognizing the above, more efforts should be taken to further support this sector, which so far, has been a purely market-driven development.
• Upgrading footpaths to motorcycle navigable tracks is a cheap and cost-effective intervention that can supplement or even replace conventional rural road infrastructure construction.
• A three year study of such an intervention in Liberia found a significant and positive impact on rural lives and livelihoods, with few if any negative effects.
Exploitation Route Findings show that track construction makes a significant and cost-effective contribution to rural socio-economic development and should therefore be incorporated by both national governments in SSA and by International Donors
Sectors Transport

URL http://www.research4cap.org/Library/Petersetal-SwanseaUni-2018-UpgradingFootpathstoMotorcycleTaxiaccesibleTracks-PolicyBrief-181217.pdf
 
Description In November 2016, the principle investigator accompanied 2 SU engineering students who were looking into low cost bridges and track surface stabilisation to the footpath upgrading/track building site (Nimba County, Northern Liberia). Dr Paul Starkey, looking after the ReCAP/DfID funded programme on Gender Mainstreaming in Rural Transport, for which the principle investigator is one of the grant holders, joined us at this field visit. He, as a World Bank Technical Advisor on rural road infrastructure - subsequently used the pilot track construction project - which impact we evaluate in our research - to show the donor community and the national government of Liberia of its potential contribution (precisely measured by our research) to rural development. In November 2018 the PI presented the findings of the research to key stakeholders (policy makers, donors and CSOs) in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. GIZ, the donor who financed the track construction project, is now financing a second track construction project of in a different part of Liberia, while SIDA is also financing a several track construction projects in Bong county (Liberia) with WHH (German NGO) doing the same. Upgrading rural footpaths to motorcycle taxi navigable tracks contributes directly and/or indirectly to 9 out of the 17 SDGs. Furthermore, our 2017 Gender Mainstreaming in the rural motorcycle taxi sector in Sierra Leone and Liberia' study - for which the Liberia data was collected in the same area as the where track construction was taking place, showed clear advantages of motorcycle taxi transport (and thus of track construction to further facilitate this) for women.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Implementation Manual for track construction
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Presented findings at workshop on track construction for policy makers in Liberia
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Presented findings at workshop on track construction for policy makers in Sierra Leone
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description upgrading footpaths to tracks has been included in Liberia's draft rural road infrastructure master plan
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/123456789/13434/Liberia_Motorbike_Boom.pdf?sequ...
 
Description COVID-19 Response & Recovery Transport Research Fund research
Amount £21,000 (GBP)
Funding ID L3L119 
Organisation Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2020 
End 04/2021
 
Description Firing up the Forge: In-situ construction and testing of a community-level plastic/municipal waste incinerating forge to upcycle scrap metal to track construction hand-tools in Liberia (West Africa)
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2020 
End 06/2021
 
Description GCRF SU funded research on Infrastructure improvements and e-mobility to enhance sustainable livelihood development in the mountain and hill regions of Nepal.
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 06/2020
 
Description GCRF internal Swansea University
Amount £12,823 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 06/2019
 
Description Gender Mainstreaming in Rural Transport
Amount £45,502 (GBP)
Funding ID GEN2044G 
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Department for International Development (DfID)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 01/2018
 
Description Global Challenges Research Fund (internally)
Amount £9,000 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 02/2017
 
Description IAA Swansea University internal fund
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 12/2018
 
Description Impact Initiative/DfID funded activity on the relation between urban food security in Africa's secondary cities and rural-urban mobility using intermediate forms of transport: informing policy.
Amount £8,000 (GBP)
Organisation Impact Initiative 
Sector Public
Start 04/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Research Innovation Fund
Amount £4,985 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 07/2016
 
Description Swansea University Research Scholarship
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Swansea University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description Volvo Mobility and Access in Sub-Saharan African Cities: establishing best practices in the urban motorcycle taxi sector in sub-Saharan Africa.
Amount € 45,000 (EUR)
Organisation Volvo Research and Education Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Sweden
Start 01/2020 
End 01/2021
 
Title Data bank based on base-line surveys in community clusters undergoing track construction and control cluster 
Description In April/May 2016 base-line surveys were conducted in two community clusters where track construction is to be implemented and in one control cluster. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact NA 
 
Title Data bank based on impact surveys in community clusters that have undergone track construction and control cluster 
Description Impact data gathered in May 2018 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The impact survey data, together with more qualitative data gathered at the same time, allowed us to establish the impact of upgrading footpaths to motorcycle taxi navigable tracks and subsequently inform donors and policy-makers 
 
Title Mapping exercise Nimba County 
Description Basic data collected on village facilities and road access in Nimba county, Liberia 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Based on the mapping exercise, village clusters have been selected where track construction will take place 
 
Description GIZ funded additional tracks in Bong Country 
Organisation German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ)
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Providing evidence of the impact of track construction
Collaborator Contribution Providing evidence of the impact of track construction and supporting the identification of suitable locations for further tracks
Impact GIZ commitment to release funds for further track construction, allowing for additional documentation of impact
Start Year 2020
 
Description GIZ track construction 
Organisation German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ)
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Our research has validated GIZ's sound choice to fund track construction
Collaborator Contribution GIZ, based on the impact findings of our research, is preparing to finance further track construction in Liberia
Impact GIZ, based on the impact findings of our research, is preparing to finance further track construction in Liberia
Start Year 2016
 
Description SIDA track construction Bong county 
Organisation Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Country Global 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Evidence of our study plus direct negotiations resulted in SIDA committing funds for tracks
Collaborator Contribution as above
Impact Signed contracts between local contractor and SIDA
Start Year 2020
 
Description Second pilot project in Grand Gedeh 
Organisation WeltHungerHilfe
Country Germany 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Our team has conducted a scoping trip and baseline study of the track area to be upgraded by WHH
Collaborator Contribution Research and design
Impact Impact data still needs to be collected. Probably in 2022
Start Year 2019
 
Description Blog for Impact Initiative 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact • Blog: Urbanisation, motorcycle taxi transport and food-security in Africa's 'secondary cities'(2019) The Impact Initiative for International Development Research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.theimpactinitiative.net/blog/blog-urbanisation-motorcycle-taxi-transport-and-food-securi...
 
Description Findings article 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Short piece about research and findings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://esrc.ukri.org/news-events-and-publications/news/news-items/motorcycle-taxis-the-fast-track-t...
 
Description Impact Initiative conference (Republic of South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Project presentation at the Impact Initiative conference in Pretoria, South Africa plus Youtube interview.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzV-F_RcDUY
 
Description Key stakeholder meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Key stakeholder meeting with Liberia Engineering Society at Ministry of Public Works to present and discuss research project and track construction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Key stakeholder meeting with Superintendent and County Administrators 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Key stakeholder meeting with Superintendent and County Administrators of Nimba County, Liberia to discuss and explain research and track construction interventions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Piece of Impact Initiative 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Brief on impact of tracks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/123456789/13434/Liberia_Motorbike_Boom.pdf?sequ...
 
Description Policy Brief on track construction 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Policy Brief documenting key findings and recommendations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.research4cap.org/Library/Petersetal-SwanseaUni-2018-UpgradingFootpathstoMotorcycleTaxiacc...
 
Description Poster presentation Rwanda 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster Presentation on Gender Summit 14 - Climate Change in Rwanda
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation Kenya 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Brief presentation at ESRC/DfID GCRF event in Kenya
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at ReCAP, Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact dissemination of research findings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.facebook.com/Research-for-Community-Access-Partnership-ReCAP-652778381530523/
 
Description Presentation in Ethiopia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at 'Putting children first' conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.theimpactinitiative.net/event/event-putting-children-first-identifying-solutions-and-taki...
 
Description Presentation in Freetown, Sierra Leone 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation at SLRSA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://research4cap.org/SitePages/Rural%20access%20library.aspx
 
Description Presentation in India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation on key findings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation in Sierra Leone 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation on key findings, made to staff of SLRSA and Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, Sierra Leone
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description article for SGS newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation and article
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.salzburgglobal.org/news/latest-news/article/krijn-peters-youth-jobs-and-the-role-of-the-...
 
Description presentation Liberia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of key findings of research to Ministry of Public Works, Liberia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description short article for Impact Initiative 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Briefing on tracks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.theimpactinitiative.net/project/end-feeder-road-assessing-impact-track-construction-motor...
 
Description • Driving Progress. Motorcycle Taxis in Liberia (2020). Swansea University Research Highlights item. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Item detailing research posted on the main university webpage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.swansea.ac.uk/research/research-highlights/culture-communication-heritage/motorcycle-tax...