VIOLET MENGO, Mansa
JOSEPH Nâ€™gonga is a farmer who grows maize and cassava in Mansa, Luapula Province. He sells part of the farm produce and reserves some for his familyâ€™s consumption.
Mr Nâ€™gongaâ€™s biggest challenge, however, is transport which makes it difficult for him to take his produce to the market, located a long distance away from where he lives.
â€œIt is extremely difficult for me to market my farm produce in Mansa. If the road network was good, I could have taken my produce to Luwingu,â€ he said in Mansa recently.
As such, Mr Nâ€™gonga always ends up selling his maize and cassava cheaply for fear of losing everything due to lack of proper storage facilities.
Mr Nâ€™gonga is not the only one facing the problem of transport in his community and other rural areas of the country. Many rural farmers have difficulties in transporting their produce to the market because of the poor road network in their areas.
The bad road network in rural areas has limited farmersâ€™ productivity and has burdened traders with high transaction costs, which they incur when transporting farm produce to the market using bad roads.
This results in farmers being offered lower prices for their produce from buyers. Worse still, they lack reliable information on market prices, and are largely unaware of the potentially profitable market opportunities.
But all hope is not lost for Mr Nâ€™gonga and many other rural farmers in the country. Their problem will soon be history as Government, through the Road Development Agency (RDA), is implementing the Link Zambia 8000 road construction project which is aimed at connecting the country and enhancing economic growth.
This is because socio-economic development and subsequent economic growth of any nation is strongly linked to its transport infrastructure.
Lack of adequate transport infrastructure is one of the major factors hampering development in Zambia and the entire African continent, and this problem is most felt in rural areas.
Government, through RDA, has prioritised road infrastructure development in its development agenda for the country.
The agency has constructed new and comprehensive networks of rural access roads and trunk roads to serve the remote agricultural areas so that, the farm produce can reach markets in urban areas efficiently and safely.
One remarkable road to note is the Mansa-Luwingu road in northern Zambia.
The reconstruction of this road is an example of infrastructure development. The project was awarded to China Henan International Cooperation Group Company Limited (CHICCO) in 2013 at a cost of US$242 million.
It covers a stretch of 175 plus 30 kilometres of township roads in Mansa and Luwingu districts.
The contract, which covers a stretch of 205 kilometres of the road, involves upgrading of 175 kilometres starting from Mansa in Luapula Province to Luwingu in Northern Province.
It also involves upgrading of 30 kilometres of township roads in Mansa and Luwingu districts.
A recent tour of road construction projects in Luapula Province by RDA and other government officials, established that works on over 115 kilometres of the Mansa-Luwingu road have been completed.
The overall progress on drainage structures is about 83 percent. This includes the completion of six-box culverts and the maintenance and repair of Lufube Bridge.
Mr Samuel Mukupa, the RDA board chairperson, was impressed with the pace at which works on the road are being done as well as the high quality of the job done so far.
Mr Mukupa described the tarring of the Mansa- Luwingu road as one of the many successful projects done under the Link Zambia 8000 around the country. â€œThe construction of this road will mark yet another milestone in the development of this country. This is because the company [CHICCO] has demonstrated that it can deliver,â€ Mr Mukupa said.
To achieve its goal of constructing good quality roads, CHICCO has deployed multi-million dollar equipment and over 60 expert personnel.
The company has also employed over 800 local people, and about 600 local casual workers have been trained in on -site skills.
CHICCO deputy contract manager Wu Zhenjiao said the project will be completed six months before schedule.
Mr Wu said CHICCO is committed to adhering to ethical principles and will ensure that works on the road are of high quality.
â€œWe are using state-of-the-art equipment and materials of high quality to ensure that we give the Zambian people remarkable roads,â€ he said.
Mr Wu said the company believes in sustainable growth and acknowledges its responsibility to the natural environment and society in which it operates.
â€œWe are conscious of the environment and social impacts of road construction. We undertake to protect the soil, water, air, biological diversity and cultural heritage,â€ he said.
In its belief in providing equal employment opportunities and work to encourage and support diversity, 10 percent of its total workforce are women. These women do not only work as flag ladies or housekeepers, they also operate in sections like construction, with some being mechanics and operators.
The Mansa â€“Luwingu road is an essential part of the transport corridor running from the Copperbelt, through the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mansa in Luapula Province to Isoka in Muchinga Province.
RDA chief executive officer Kanyuka Mumba said the agency is looking forward to completing the construction of the road, which is expected to help boost economic development in and outside Luapula Province.
Mr Mumba said once the construction of the road is completed, people in surrounding areas will contribute effectively to the economic development of the country.
The level and quality of transportation system in any area is of crucial significance in influencing political, economic and social progress and these, must be considered at every stage of local, national and regional development planning.
Improved road networks bring many benefits for communities. These include improved access to social infrastructure (schools, churches and health centres), social interaction and improved mobility.
And some direct benefits of improved road networks include reduced vehicle operating costs, saving travel time and reduced accidents, among others.
All these benefits are important for the socio-economic development of any country.
VIOLET MENGO, Mansa