Road infrastructure development is vital for improving trade in rural Africa (ISTOCK)
Phllipe Adama is a seasoned fruit farmer in Senegal. He practices mixed farming of different crops in his expansive 4-hectare farm, and currently exports his produce mostly to Europe, with a small percentage going to China.
Poor road networks have hindered farmers such as Adama from achieving their full potential in the past. However, this is about to change. Part of a new road network of 70 km was recently completed, linking his rural hometown of Pambal to the country's capital Dakar.
With the advent of new transport opportunities brought by the road network, Adama is increasing his production.
"A lot of my produce would spoil because when it rains, the previous dirt road would become muddy. My transport vehicles would be stuck for days waiting to transfer produce to Dakar. Now the road network is complete and things are much easier," said Adama.
"I can get more than double the revenue from horticulture as I did one and a half years ago. For example, on a good harvest day, I produce about $2,300 compared to $800 as a result of perished goods from delays on the previous dirt roads," said Adama.
Once the road networks are fully completed, agricultural production is expected to increase across the entire region. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations agency, Senegal currently produces $860 million worth of agricultural produce each year.
In the Pambal area of the Thies region in west Senegal, Adama is among several farmers growing vegetables and fruit who sell in Dakar for overseas export. Watermelons, courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins and mangoes are all grown in the area.
Adama's neighbor Sekou Sambou has a 202-hectare farm and is also upbeat about the new roads.
"Transporting goods is much easier [now]. But it will take a while before the total road network is completed," he said.
Sambou said the initial improvements have definitely helped him get his produce to market faster. A journey of 3.5 hours now takes just under an hour and wastage from poor weather delays have been eliminated, he said.
Vast road network
According to Senegalese Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne, China plans to add an extensive 30,000-km of roads, mostly highways, within a four-to-five-year time frame in the region.
"This might sound over ambitious but I can guarantee you most of the highways are currently under construction. For instance, the Dakar-Cairo Highway construction has been launched. It will cover 8,636 km linking Dakar to agricultural towns and beyond borders," Dionne said.
Dionne said this highway will link Senegal to Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, and eventually Egypt. While security concerns along this route require urgent attention, Dionne said he is collaborating with all the governments concerned to find a solution.
He noted that the highways linking Dakar to the Thies region, covering 113 km will be completed by the end of 2019, while another 194-km road link from Dakar to Touba is planned to be functional at the end of September this year.
Dionne confirmed that China will invest about $8 billion on the road network initiative over a five-year period, emphasizing that the infrastructure would benefit trade in the region as a whole and not just Senegal.
Over $239 million worth of trade is generated by Senegal annually and 30 percent of the trade is between regional countries according to the World Bank. It is ranked 143rd worldwide in terms of trade volume by the Bretton Woods institution.
Currently, Senegal has more than 14,785 km of roads according to the World Bank indicators of development of 2016.
Abdourahmane Sarr, one of Senegal's leading economists says that Senegal has a bright future.
"Senegal has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but with the ongoing construction of major highways, more growth will be felt, with good results by 2021," he said.
Senegal's infrastructure is seeing much expansion in 2018. Apart from the road network underway, a 1,282-km railway line extending to Mali and costing $2.73 billion was launched by Senegalese President Macky Sall in February. This was after Mali and Senegal signed an agreement for the project to be undertaken by China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd.
China and Senegal relations have been improving over the years. Senegal is one of China's closest allies according to Professor David Kikaya, former Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations Human Settlements Program.
"Relations between the two countries have been improving since the 1990s. The position of Senegal as an economic powerhouse in West Africa is an advantage to many development partners," he said.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Senegal exports about 106,200 tons of fruits and vegetables annually.
But according to its current Director General Mukyisa Kituyi, exports will triple once the current wave of infrastructure is in place.
"Obviously growth will not be felt overnight. Give it about three to four years. [In addition to the comprehensive road network planned] the Dakar Port is in perfect shape, the airport in Touba is in good shape and the government is in early talks with China to build new airports," said Kituyi who once served as Kenya's Trade Minister.
In July, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Senegal, the first stop of his tour to the African continent. Senegal is the first West African country to partner with China as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
(Reporting from Senegal)
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