A United Nations Commission for Africa Report 2022 found that women are more affected by transport-related challenges because they tend to spend a significant portion of their income on transportation.
Interruptions in transport infrastructure (such as road, water, and rail) have far-reaching consequences, affecting sectors such as trade, agriculture, healthcare among others.
Yet, more than anything else, women’s lives and economic potential could be unlocked by ensuring that community roads or feeder roads, which connect to the main roads are motorable.
Uganda has done well paving national roads even although some areas lag. The major challenge remains feeder roads – the small roads that connect to the main ones. Why are these important? They ensure timely delivery of perishables to small towns and growing urban centres, reduce transport and input costs, and can inspire higher farmer productivity.
These are mostly under local governments which are struggling to raise revenue to work on them. Those that raise a bit of money send it to the central government, leaving many with unpassable roads.
In FY 2022/23, the government allocated Ushs 178.5 billion to improve district, urban and community access roads. However, in FY 2023/24, the amount allotted to districts, cities and municipalities for road maintenance is Ushs 176 billion, less by Ushs 2.5 billion compared to the previous year.
A reduction in the road maintenance budget is not cost-effective in the long term as delay in maintenance can result in more extensive damage that necessitates costly repairs or even full road reconstruction.
The World Bank has stressed that investing in rural roads positively impacts on farmers’ income in Uganda. Delays in transport for instance affect farmers’ livelihoods in terms of delivering goods to major markets from rural areas which interrupts supply chains and hinders agricultural productivity.
For smallholder farmers with about an acre of production, it is cheaper to sell directly to a nearby local market either on foot or by bicycle. So, the transport costs are likely to be minimal. However, for growing farmers that require a pick-up truck for their produce, investing in feeder roads connecting villages to the primary markets is critical to ease movement of goods to the market.
Particularly for women who do most of the farming, they face challenges in accessing high end agricultural markets that require developed distribution. Consequently, this forces women to rely more on middlemen to buy their produce. They inevitably earn less in such an arrangement. Women are also more engaged in subsistence production compared to men, which affects their income.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2019 report shows that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are most affected by transport infrastructure related challenges, which limits their growth potential, especially for businesses that rely on transport services for their operations.
SMEs led by women often trade in small volumes which increases high costs for transport and logistics services. Also given their small-scale nature, they face exploitation by middlemen since they need their perishable goods to reach the market quickly.
Beyond produce and market, transport infrastructure is a means to accessing services such as health care. Thus, constraints linked to transport infrastructure prevent communities from accessing timely healthcare services. This threatens lives especially in emergencies, considering that women’s health demands differ significantly from those of men, and women consume more health services.
Government efforts to improve infrastructure and connectivity are noticeable, as statistics from Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) show that total paved road by 3.6 percent in FY2020/21. However, the country still faces significant barriers that impede efficient and reliable transport related infrastructure.
This calls for further action and commitment to address the challenges facing Uganda’s transport infrastructure via increasing investment in infrastructure, making maintenance and repairs a priority, as a way of creating a robust and efficient road network and improving the life of the citizens to address the aforesaid inequalities.
As government works to improve access to transport, it is critical to source for more funding through public-private partnerships to maintain transport infrastructure. Similarly, national policies that are complementary and focus on strategic investments in transport infrastructure can be implemented to support long-term planning to ensure that road accessibility is incorporated into future transport infrastructure projects.
Lastly, engage all relevant stakeholders such as local communities, and authorities in charge of transport and development partners to ensure the practicality and sustainability of the infrastructure projects at hand.
This article was first published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper