Finding traction: using an 'upgrading footpaths to motorcycle taxi accessible tracks' construction and maintenance manual to increase impact and reach

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


The spread of motorcycle taxis in rural areas in sub-Saharan countries has contributed markedly to socio-economic development, providing improved access to markets, health and educational facilities. The main beneficiaries are among the most marginalised and 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 job sector. So far, this has been a market-driven development, with no government or international donor support. In 2017 GIZ funded a novel project in northern Liberia which saw approximately 25 kms of rural footpaths (from farm to village and village to roadside) upgraded to motorcycle accessible tracks. Our ESRC/DFID 2015-2018 funded research 'at the end of the feeder road' assessed its socio-economic impact and found a significant and positive impact on rural lives and livelihoods, with few if any negative effects.

Following a visit to the Liberia project site, a World Bank Technical Advisor - in the country to help in formulating the country's next strategic rural road infrastructure plan - was quickly convinced by the merits of the pilot project and by the study's findings. Track construction as an integral component of rural access was subsequently included in Liberia's national draft masterplan (2018-2038) for rural road infrastructure. When the study's findings were presented in November 2018 in Liberia to a panel of government officials, donors and civil society representatives, as part of our key stakeholder seminar, three important issues were brought up:
- The Minister of Public Works indicated the need for a second pilot project (in a geographical different location) allowing for more impact data to be generated, and a clear methodology on how to upgrade footpaths to tracks;
- The above mentioned WB TA referred to examples where rural communities in Liberia had spontaneously improved footpaths to allow for motorcycle taxi transport, ranging from side-clearing to strengthening foot-bridges. However, these initiatives suffered from a lack of basic technical/engineering know-how;
- The PI and local research partner expressed their concern over the lack of track maintenance (a common problem with any type of road infrastructure) and the apparent absence of a community agreed model for this (expressed in a MoU).

Following the encouraging findings of our socio-economic assessment, KfW, in collaboration with NGO WeltHungerHilfe, decided to fund a second pilot project in Liberia. The PI - with support from Swansea University's internal Global Challenges fund - has overseen the baseline data gathering exercise for this in May and June 2019. This addresses the first part of the concern expressed by the Minister and will increase the research's impact on national government and international donor policy. To address the other part (lack of methodology) and address the other two issues raised above, we propose to put together a manual on track construction and maintenance, freely accessible to national/local governments, donors, implementing partners, Liberian engineers and local communities. This manual will have simple technical drawings and QR codes linking to short, locally recorded construction and maintenance clips and include different templates of maintenance MoUs, so that local stakeholders (eg. community leaders; local government; motorcycle taxi unions; youth representatives; market women groups, etc.) can negotiate and agree upon the most appropriate maintenance models (eg. toll gates; household tax; community labour, etc.). To enhance what is a longstanding practice - community driven access improvement initiatives - we propose to disseminate copies of this manual to key rural stakeholders in three Counties, and facilitate and strengthen - via village workshops - the formulation of local policy and practice.

Planned Impact

Four key stakeholders will benefit directly from the proposed activity:
- Liberia's Ministry of Public Works, responsible for rural road construction and maintenance across the country. The here proposed manual follows a specific request by the Ministry and allows for an evidence-based methodology when its national draft masterplan (2018-2038) for rural road infrastructure becomes full policy. Furthermore, neighbouring Sierra Leone also expressed its interest in the 'footpath to track' methodology. In 2018 the PI gave a presentation on the study's findings to representatives of the Road Safety Authority, the Department of Feeder Road construction and government officials, including the Minister of Economic Development and Planning.
- International donor agencies and implementing partners. Improving access for the most vulnerable remains a key focus of bilateral and multilateral ODA, with a significant percentage earmarked for this. Footpath to track upgrading directly or indirectly supports achieving up to 10 of 17 SDGs. GIZ funded the first pilot project; KfW is funding the second pilot project, but in close collaboration with SIDA which is financing feeder road construction in the south-east of Liberia. The donor coordination meetings, held every month in Monrovia, have been used by GIZ representatives to inform other donors about the pilot project and its results. The proposed manual would allow other donors financing rural development - in particular USAID, the main donor for Liberia - to mainstream track construction into their rural road construction budgets and make this a requirement when implementing partners respond to a Call for Proposals for future feeder road construction/maintenance.
- Rural communities and civil society organisations (eg. motorcycle taxi unions; youth organisations, etc.) in Liberia. The proposed manual would empower local communities and organisations to take development in their own hands and ensure that the lessons learned and best practices from the first pilot project are accessible to many potential beneficiaries. During the dissemination workshops to be held in communities in the three Liberia counties, and with the help of the different MoU construction and maintenance templates in the manual, local key stakeholders and beneficiaries will be able to formulate their own rural access improvement/footpath to track policies. Towards the end of this 12 month activity, community uptake will be assessed.
- Liberian engineers. The manual will be made available to the Engineering Society of Liberia (ESL), embedded in the Ministry of Public Works. ESL is developing its capacity to deliver Continuous Professional Development for Engineers and Technicians and when track construction becomes policy, will be well placed to provide training.

Furthermore, as mentioned, effective pathways that translate research evidence into policy remain somewhat unclear to many academics, but these are of increasing importance. The uptake of the manual among the key stakeholders will be closely monitored to see how it impacts on and influences policy. As such it builds on a recent activity organised by this PI and the PI of Joined Fund project: 'Governing Food Systems to Alleviate Poverty in Secondary Cities in Africa.' With the support of the Impact Initiative, we brought together researchers, practitioners, civil society and local government from West Africa with those from East Africa at a workshop in Kisumu (Kenya) focusing on 'urban food-security in Africa's secondary cities and the role of rural and urban motorcycle taxi transport in achieving this'. This workshop resulted in an MoU, which can be used by other African towns and cities, as a starting point for discussion. It also resulted in a motorcycle taxi-focused research network and several applications, involving West and East African countries/researchers. This network will be highly interested in and will benefit from the proposed activity.


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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 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 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 • 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