Better Rural Transport is Key to Food Security and Zero Hunger
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
Road infrastructure and the associated provision of safe, reliable, and affordable transport services in rural areas, have the potential to bring about social and economic development, thereby reducing poverty, increasing food security and productivity and lessening the experience of hunger (1-7). Yet nearly one billion rural residents, approximately 68% of the world’s rural population, still do not have all-season access to road networks (3).
Rural economies in developing countries are predominantly agrarian, with supply chains and supporting infrastructure to enable access to markets. However, approximately 45% of the land area in low income countries and 51% in lower middle-income countries are located more than five hours away from the main market, severely constraining the potential of agriculture to help to meet local food needs (6).
Improved all-season road infrastructure and the availability of transport services are effective ways to increase food security and curb hunger, as it allows farmers to sell their produce to a larger market, more frequently during the year, at competitive prices. It furthermore enables the goods and services which support farming to reach farms more efficiently and at less cost. Good all-season access improves the efficiency of food distribution, by providing better connectivity throughout the year and lower transport costs via shorter journey times, lower fuel consumption rates and less vehicle wear and tear (12). In turn, these enable reductions in costs, wastage and damage of produce during transportation (i.e. post-harvest loss)(5). For example, poor road links were shown to increase transport costs greatly in parts of rural Tanzania6, while improved road condition reduced the transport costs of bananas in Kenya by 14% (1).
Good access enables farm yields to increase and production costs to decrease by facilitating access to fertilisers, mechanised equipment and high-yield seed varieties and enabling supporting activities including labour, agricultural extension workers and veterinary services to reach farms more easily, thus directly improving food security and reducing hunger. For example, investment in rural roads contributed to approximately 25% of agricultural produce growth in India during the 1970s and was responsible for the largest impact in poverty reduction.
Good rural access positively impacts the development of the rural economy and indirectly leads to improved food security and zero hunger. For example, improved access leads to a rise in the profits realised by local producers, and therefore their purchasing power, by reducing post-harvest losses and transport costs to competitive input markets and remunerative output markets. It encourages the development of local markets, small-scale businesses and farming, as demonstrated in Vietnam, where improved rural access was shown to increase the number of local markets (9) and in India, where improved road access helped farmers set up small non-farm businesses and market their products beyond their villages and towns (10). Employment opportunities for rural inhabitants are also closely linked to improved rural transport infrastructure. Daily waged employees and migrant labourers often rely on bicycles and buses for their travel (2). Similarly, these modes enable mobility of the more vulnerable social groups (for example, women, children and older people). Thus, good access also serves as an enabling factor in income generation and the fulfilment of daily tasks.
From the above it may be concluded that rural transport, if made affordable, reliable and accessible, has a positive impact on improving food security and ensuring zero hunger. Transport policies and programmes can make it easier for low-income families, farmers and people with poor nutrition to access markets and source affordable food. Increased rural connectivity not only contributes to the increase in agricultural productivity by market access, but also enables empowerment of women and children. It can help revitalize rural neighbourhoods by providing access to adequate, safe and nutritious food. Hence, reliable rural transport networks can facilitate an increase in the efficiency of food production, processing, preservation and distribution contributing to zero hunger and food security.
This article is part of a set of Key Messages on Rural Transport and Sustainable Development Goals developed in the framework of the UKAid funded Research for Community Access Partnership (ReCAP), facilitated by the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT). More details on the key messages can be found in the associated factsheet and supporting paper.
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