A Better Path to Markets Boosts Profits for Tanzanian Farmers

August 3, 2017
CDM SmithRehabilitation of the Langali-Nyandira road has made it easier for farmers to get their produce to market.

The road connecting Nyandira and Langali in eastern Tanzania is nothing short of a lifeline for the two villages. This 5-kilometer road helps farmers get their produce to market, villagers visit friends and relatives, and children travel to and from school.

But for all it meant to the villagers, the road was a simple dirt track, weathered from years of heavy use and disrepair. And until recently, all it took was a bit of bad weather for things to grind to a halt. 

When farmer Fabiana Antony recalls what her commute to Nyandira used to be like, she describes flooded roadways, unreliable transportation, lost profits, and treacherous commutes. Often times, she resorted to braving the 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) round trip on foot. 

“We had to carry our produce on our heads, which involved losing some on the way,” Antony said. “A limited amount of produce reached the market.”

Market-goers and smallholder farmers across Tanzania face the same daily challenges. Much of the country’s road network remains unpaved, and with seasonal rains that last for months, the resulting conditions inhibit rural economies and agricultural growth.   

In Nyandira and Langali, lengthy travel times, delays, and the cost of fuel and vehicle repairs meant higher prices for fruits and vegetables. During road closures, farmers like Antony risked their produce spoiling before they could sell it. Some villagers speculated that these obstacles led fewer youth to pursue employment in agriculture. 

Things began to change in 2015 when Feed the Future, through USAID, teamed up with the local government to ensure a reliable roadway between the two communities. After initially planning a surface treatment of gravel, the local government instead decided to assume higher up-front costs and build a more durable, cost-effective concrete road. Construction brought much-needed employment for residents, including young people. By February 2016, villagers had a dependable, fully paved road.    

“We are no longer victim to unpredictable conditions,” Antony said. “The flow of traffic has increased tremendously. All types of vehicles reach our market center, with bus fare and travel time reduced.” 

“Road improvement has completely changed our community by impacting agriculture,” said another local farmer, Jonas Kobelo. “More people have joined in agricultural activities because they are confident they can access the market. More trucks are coming to Nyandira to buy our crops.” 

What makes these efforts truly innovative, however, are the measures taken to ensure the roadways are as sustainable as they are convenient. Feed the Future trained district government staff to develop routine maintenance plans, estimate needed labor and expenses, and use the latest labor-based technology. In turn, the newly-trained staff teach these skills to village-based “paraprofessionals” who form community civil works teams capable of conducting road maintenance independently. 

The local economies benefit as a result, bolstered not only by new job opportunities, but by the free flow of goods between markets for farmers and entrepreneurs. With a reliable route providing year-round access between Nyandira and Langali, it’s up to the newly trained community members to sustain these gains into the future using the skills they’ve learned from Feed the Future 

It’s no simple task, but for the first time in recent memory, life as a farmer along Langali – Nyandira road feels less like a burden, and more like an opportunity. And best of all, it’s brought these two communities closer than ever before. 

For farmers, food producers, and entrepreneurs, the road to local markets—and a more secure future—promises to be a lot less bumpy. 

Since 2015, Feed the Future’s Irrigation and Rural Roads Infrastructure Project has provided technical support to local government authorities (LGAs) to rehabilitate of 180 kilometers of district farm-to-market roadways in Tanzania. The project aims to upgrade 500 kilometers of roadway by 2018. It will also work with eight other LGAs and communities to identify and develop designs for an additional 1,000 kilometers of district roads.