By Getanew Tesfaw
In Ethiopia, there are roughly 1.2 million vehicles, meaning that in a group of a hundred people, only one has a vehicle. This lack of vehicles is challenging the options for rural transport and, thus, local economies in Ethiopia. Good rural transport is necessary to circulate goods and services, improve access to vital services such as schools, health care, and government offices, and on top of this, rural transport creates millions of jobs. Also, in the transition towards regenerative agriculture the promotion of intermediate means of transport is essential to enhance market access, input supply, and save productive labor and time. This blog explores the status quo of rural transport in Ethiopia and the ways forward to improve and strengthen this sector.
Rural Ethiopia has a severe shortage of transportation; many kebeles need roads connecting to woredas. The rural roads connecting villages and farming areas to market centers are usually inadequate, poorly maintained, and costly to use. This results in the transportation of goods between and within towns and markets being dependent almost entirely on walking and head- or shoulder-carrying. Students have to move for more than two hours to learn, pregnant ladies have no means of transport to reach the hospitals for safe delivery, and people who had accidents need to be carried on the shoulder of other people to get to the hospital. Farmers transport their products to the market by donkeys and horses. Almost all this transport is unmotorized, no wheeled, and dominated by women and children carrying loads up to 30kg.
The shortage of intermediate means of transport originates from a need for bajajs, motorbikes, vans, and rickshaws, dangerous roads, and a lack of knowledge from passengers on using transport, including payment and traffic systems. Furthermore, there is often a need for more money to invest in motorbikes, and there is no loan from the government available for such types of markets, forming an obstacle for interested adults with ambitions in this business. Also, the driving license and registration system makes the motorbike market highly complex, and the need for repair services in the area is an extra challenge for motorbike vans.
The severity of the problem differs from city to city. In Woldia, a town in the north Wollo zone of the Amhara region with a high population density, the only few motorbikes that are present are owned by government workers, bank officers, and telecom workers. This is because there is no dealer in the city that sells motorbikes, meaning there are only options to buy second-hand motorbikes. Motorbike dealers are only present in Bahir Dar, Addis Abeba, and Kombolcha.
Status quo of the transportation sector in different cities
In Woldia, there are no rickshaws present at all. There are multiple reasons for this. First, the geography of Woldia is full of mountains, rivers, and other road development challenges, making it difficult to push or pull such types of transportation modes. There is one guy that distributes soft drinks in something that looks like a rickshaw created by a local garage. He paid 2500 Birr to make this and indicated that it is good to work and economically affordable. Kombolcha city is a more industry-oriented city in Ethiopia and has, for that reason, more motorbikes than Woldia. Merchants distribute fruits and vegetables using rickshaws. Rickshaws are available at a lower cost (new 5000-7000 BIRR). Also, there are well-organized repair services available. Still, it is hard to get transport service to more rural areas. Two reasons were found for this. First, the price drivers ask is high, and second, there needs to be a right road that connects the city with the rural area. Dessie is a city in the south Wollo zone. Here, a sound transportation system can be found. There are motorbike dealers and well-organized repair services available. Also, the registration process and license processes are simple. Bahir Dar is the capital city of Amhara and the third largest in Ethiopia. The number of motorbikes, motorbike vans, and rickshaws is higher than in other cities due to the high population density and the high number of visitors to the town. Motorbike drivers are benefiting from these visitors. There are plenty of good roads to drive on, favorable for all means of transport. Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. The main form of intercity public transport is buses. However, the city’s current transportation system is marked by poor access networks, continuous increases in transportation fees, and a need for smoother traffic flow. Considering prices and travel time, most people select motorbikes for transport. The number of motorbikes is high but needs to be better organized. Here the legal systems in place limit operations, and there are many problems related to permission, licensing, and registration processes.
Ways forward to improve the (rural) transportation sector in Ethiopia
According to several dealers in Ethiopia, people buying intermediate means of transportation are authorized persons, merchants, diasporas, and people with wealthy families. There needs to be a secure financial system that supports transporting businesses. Sometimes the government provides a loan, but this comes with high risks. Also, to lend from the government, the lender must have a house or land. This makes financing a significant obstacle in starting a transportation business. Also the fact that there is often still a lack of (safe) roads is a large obstacle for a strong rural transportation sector.
Despite these struggles, there are still people eager to create a business in this sector and be a part of the solution to improve rural transport. One example is Mohammed. Mohammed is a 31-year-old man born in Bure Dangla, near Bahir Dar. After completing secondary school, he went to Bahir Dar and started a job at a hotel. After three years, he borrowed money from friends and bought a motorbike. After four years, he could pay back his debt by working from 12 in the morning until 3 at night. Now he is a proud business owner with three motorbikes. More people have this aspiration to contribute to the transport sector. But a recurring comment is that they require help in starting up a business and initial investments for motorbikes, drive training, completing the licensing process, and doing the full registration.
To strengthen the (rural) transportation sector in Ethiopia, a secure financial system is required to provide starting businesses with the initial investments that they need. The availability of motorbikes and removal of limiting restrictions should be pushed for. Moreover, more cooperation between actors responsible for the road network in the country and (potential) rural transport business owners would be beneficial to kickstart this sector. Currently, there is only little attention from concerned bodies for transportation businesses.
As mentioned above, pushing the development of the rural transportation sector is also important for the regenerative agriculture transition. With a strong rural transportation network, market access will be enhanced, agricultural input supply will be more secure, and a lot of precious labor and time will be saved.