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How a Road Can Change the Life of a Community

FROM: Franca Roiatti – 11. July 2022
© Isso Bationo

In Burkina Faso, small farmers struggle to get access to seeds, fertilizers and equipment – and particularly to find opportunities to sell their produce. The main barrier is the lack of decent roads for producers to go to markets and traders to reach villages. Poor roads also hinder children from attending schools and keep sick people from accessing health centers.

For almost 20 years, Helvetas has worked with local authorities and communities across the country to build and restore rural roads with a labor-intensive approach that generates positive impacts well beyond improved mobility. 

Higher agricultural production and more vibrant trade

An impact study on the second phase of the Decentralization and Citizen Participation Support Program (DEPAC), a long-term project on rural access and local governance financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation , shows that after the construction and rehabilitation of 436 kilometers of roads in four regions of Burkina Faso, farmers have been able to increase their average cultivated land by 50% (from 1.9 to 2.9 hectares). Better roads have improved fertilizer and seed availability, while also boosting farmers’ selling prospects: 65% of small farmers say that before the rehabilitation of rural roads they did not produce more because they had no way to access markets.

“Because of the bad conditions of the road traders did not come to our village,” explains Philip Bassolet, a farmer in Lapou, a village about 100 kilometers west of Ouagadougou. “But now that the road is good, people come to buy our grains. Women produce and sell charcoal. Even motorcycle taxis come regularly.”

“The road was full of potholes and the risk of losing goods in an accident was very high. But now I no longer have difficulties to transport my goods to the market," adds Benao Badouan, a farmer in Latian, located south of the capital.

Local markets are now flourishing. New customers flock from distant villages, new vendors have settled in and new shops are open. Although some respondents to the survey complain that competition has become tougher, which is good news for customers, 83.3% of market sellers say their revenues have risen.

Increased revenues, especially for women  

The labor-intensive approach is based on employing and training local workers to offer village inhabitants, especially the most vulnerable, a temporary source of income and to increase community ownership of infrastructure. The study shows that people involved in road construction experienced an increase in their annual income of about 50%. The presence of new roads also led to an increase in the average annual revenues of the overall population by approximately 25%.

The new roads connected 68 villages. Better connections with nearby villages and urban centers have not only boosted agriculture and trade development, but also fostered small informal income-generating activities, especially for women.

“I sell condiments. Before, I didn't have a good place, but now I moved to the side of the new road and I can sell much better,” says Marie Ouédraogo, who runs a small business in Dianzoé. 

According to the study, 59% of local workers who were employed on road construction were women, a group that generally has less opportunities to earn a living. Accounts from the field reveal that they used these revenues to provide for family needs, but also to start their own economic activity.

“I worked since the very start of the construction site, laying stone cordons and spreading laterite. With the money I received I financed my business," explains Fatimata Yebre, who sells fritters at the Sanh market.

© Isso Bationo
Fifty-nine percent of local workers who were employed on road construction were women, a group that generally has less opportunities to earn a living. © Isso Bationo
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© Isso Bationo
The new roads connected 68 villages. © Isso Bationo
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Easier access to schools and health centers

In many rural areas, reaching health centers, especially during rainy season, could be a trying ordeal because of bumps, holes and floods blocking the way. There are cases of pregnant women who lost their babies because they did not get to the clinic in time.

The study found that with improved roads the average time required to travel to health centers was cut in half, from 35 to 17 minutes. Evacuations of the sick and pregnant women are now easier, and consultations have increased. Health workers can move more easily to see patients, even during poor weather conditions, “and save more lives” said a nurse during an interview. Now that villages are more accessible, the number of drug stores has increased, too, and people travel an average of 3 kilometers instead of more than 10 to get medicine.

Most villages in rural areas do not have secondary schools, and in the past this forced many families to enroll their children in nearby towns and find a host family or paid accommodation for overnight stays. Thanks to improved road conditions, students can now travel daily to school more quickly and safely, while still living at home.

The president of a local parents’ association said, "After the completion of the road, students are no longer late for school. Their performance has increased and there are no more dropouts."

Environmental benefits

The construction of roads always entails the loss of scrub vegetation and trees, but DEPAC worked with communities to carefully plan the paths so that the least possible number of plants were removed. Moreover, more than 300 trees were planted in compensation. According to the impact study, 83% of the population believes reforestation and infrastructure built to control the flow of water along the roads, such as dikes and stone cordons, can contribute to the development of agricultural activities through soil fertilization; 49% believe it will also help control soil erosion.

"Before, the water used to run off quickly. But now it is held back a little longer and this allows us to produce rice that requires a lot of water,” says Bako Bakouan, a farmer in Lapou.

Local ownership

DEPAC supports regional and municipal administrations by reinforcing their capacity to manage road construction with a labor-intensive approach. And there are already good examples of projects implemented independently by local authorities.

Even more important is the community ownership of the infrastructure. Along the road, village committees are formed to ensure maintenance. Some of them, as revealed in the study, are performing their task with a remarkable dynamism despite the lack of resources. People involved in planning and constructing infrastructures are aware of the importance of their road. They learned to work together, they formed groups and cooperatives, the create and reinforces bonds. Women worked along men, “without distinction” said one member of the village committee.

How Helvetas Supports People in Burkina Faso

Helvetas promotes vocational training and improvements to the infrastructure, roads and water supply in Burkina Faso.

Bridges & Roads

Lack of transport infrastructure makes it impossible for the poor to escape the poverty trap. We help people get better access to markets, schools and hospitals.