INCLUDE Platform

Road investments in Africa are driven by the widespread assumption that the lack of roads is a major impediment to productivity and employment. However, there is surprisingly little rigorous, empirical research dealing with the multiple effects of roads and the distribution of these effects. Our research takes place in the regional state of Tigray in Northern Ethiopia and focuses on the tertiary network of gravel and earth ‘feeder roads’ connecting villages to secondary roads and to regional towns. We investigate the (in)direct effects of feeder road developments on productive employment by recognising multiple forms of work and productivity, as well as the many implications for mobility, access, livelihoods and the environment.

In the initial stages of our research, we have collected economic, demographic and geographic data and conducted reconnaissance visits to most of the tabias (villages) in two regional states (woredas) in Tigray, namely Kilte Awlaelo and Raya Azebo. The former has mountainous landscapes in higher altitudes and is predominantly agrarian; the latter is flatter, lower and mixed agrarian and pastoralist. For the selection of our case studies, we excluded tabias crossed by a secondary road; we also excluded roads where the distance from the tabia centre to the regional towns is very short; we included tabias with diverse topographic characteristics and agricultural/irrigation practices and potential; and so on.

After the selection of four case studies, we have started to assess, through oral testimonies, how people from diverse socioeconomic and occupational backgrounds anticipate and perceive rural road developments in their direct surroundings. In Ethiopia, road investments are guided by so-called consumer surplus approaches, which fail to account for a rich variety of non-market and non-monetary transactions, such as volunteering, sharing and bartering, as well as a range of different forms of productive work directed towards self-sufficiency or subsistence. By omitting costs and benefits in those areas of development, the decision-making models are likely to be guided by a narrow interpretation of development. The oral testimonies challenge these generalisations. We hope that this will provide a reality-check to a range of follow-up research activities, such as key informant interviews (officials, contractors, workers); focus group discussion (Safety Net Programme members, Development Groups, households from different wealth categories); a socio-economic baseline survey; a value chain and market assessment; road planning recommendations for the incorporation of water management and related concerns; and so on.

Dr. Crelis Rammelt, Postdoctoral Researcher in International Development Studies at Utrecht University, is part of the research group on ‘Ethiopia: Feeder road development for inclusive productive employment’.

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