Pan Africa Bicycle Information Network (PABIN)
Kampala Bicycle Transporters
By William Grisley in Ceres, July-August 1995
Seven thousand six hundred and twenty tons of agricultural commodities transported by bicycle: it must be Asia! But no, this is happening in Uganda, an East African country where the importance of bicycles as a means of transport for small-scale farmers is increasing dramatically. Bikes now dominate in the transportation of agricultural commodities produced within a 35-kilometre radius of selected retail markets around the capital city of Kampala….
It’s not easy being a bicycle transporter in Uganda. Ask any of the 275 bicycle riders who make their way daily along the Bombo Road to the large retail market at Kwempe, near Kampala. “You can ride downhill, but push going up,” explained one rider as he stopped to pay the unpopular road user’s tax. (And here is an obvious first step for government: eliminate the road user’s tax on bicycles, and thus encourage their use.) Nor is the riders’ load light. In a recent survey, load size averaged 76 kilograms across all commodities carried. The distance traveled wasn’t short either: 35 kilometers on average…. But with in the radius of retail markets, cyclists have little to fear from truck transporters. Trucks, even small pick-ups, are not economically competitive with bicycles in this peri-urban area of small farmers. Bicycle businessmen not only pay cash for farm products, an important consideration for small farmers, but also provide the much-needed information on which small-scale commercial production depends.
Another major contribution of bicycles is that they make it possible for large numbers of small-scale farmers along the Bombo Road to engage in commercial production. Without the bicycle, small-scale farmers in this region wouldn’t be able to produce small volumes of highly perishable commercial crops. Truckers requiring tons of produce to get a load are not interested in purchasing 50-75kg from a small farmer. It isn’t difficult to see that small-scale production and small-scale transportation complement each other.
Farmers along the Bombo Road now produce cash crops because they know bicycle transporters will be on the spot when crops are ready for harvest. In fact, cyclists regularly survey farmers’ gardens, waiting for that right opportunity to make a purchase and deliver it to the market.
Access to an uncongested road is critical to the success of bicycle transport on the Bombo Road. However, if development proceeds and provision is not made for their safe movement, bicycle transporters could find this route closed. A key to a successful bicycle transport sector is a friendly road system, and governments can actively promote the development of a bicycle transportation system for small-scale farm producers in peri-urban areas by assuring ease of access to markets.
Ed. Note: Daily, throughout the country, additional thousands of tons of produce are transported by bicycle transporters.
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