Cover Image
close this bookCERES No. 140 (FAO Ceres, 1993, 50 p.)
close this folderCenterpiece
View the documentIs This Trip Worth It?
View the documentKeeping Up Can't Be Put Off
View the documentThe road to nowhere....
View the documentShipping on the cheap

Is This Trip Worth It?

Calculating the profit in carrying a load from A to B

By Peter Crossley

Why transport? The physical act of moving a commodity from one place to another adds nothing useful to it, often reduces quality, causes delay and costs money.

Imagine a transport contractor accepting a consignment from a farmer, loading it into a truck and driving it along a circular route that ends up back at its starting point, unloading it-then demanding a fee. The produce would have been subject to damage from loading and unloading, dust, heat, vibration, shock, pressure and impact, delay and biological deterioration-and the farmer's reaction would be unprintable.

Farmers are ready to pay to submit their crop to such abuse only because they need to carry it from point A. where it was produced, to point B, where they think they can sell it at the highest price. Calculating the profit to be made after the cost of shipping is the crux of the entire matter.

But most transport operations involve two parties, with different priorities in their financial transaction. The vehicle operator is concerned with the difference between what it costs to carry the goods and what he or she can charge for the service. A positive difference means a profit, but the real costs of providing the service may not always be known. As for the seller of the goods, he or she must calculate the load's increase in value and make sure it's high enough to justify the transport fee.

The real expenses

Every small child selling fruit and vegetables by the roadside has unconsciously concluded that while the produce might bring a higher price in the city, the time, effort and expense of getting it there are more than it's worth. A farmer, however, may not always think this through because calculating the increase in value of a load is not easy-and becomes still harder when the load's owner and transporter are the same person, group or company. Owner-transporters tend to lump transport vehicles in with other machinery and don't know how much shipping really costs.

The producer of a plantation crop like sugar cane assumes transport is a necessary evil, because the cane has to be brought to the factory for processing. If shifting sugar cane over 15 kilometres costs several dollars a ton, a typical estate will pay several million dollars to shift a million tons a year.

It would be worthwhile to save even a small percentage of that kind of money. But how can you
make a saving if you don't know the present cost, or whether a different vehicle, transport system or infrastructure would be cheaper?

The processed sugar may be sold on the world market to gain foreign exchange. But production of sugar cane also costs foreign exchange for machinery, spare parts, fuel road construction and maintenance. The question is whether more foreign exchange is generated than consumed. The sugar company may find the operation financially viable, but its economics still have to be calculated, using shadow pricing for the real cost of machinery, fuel and local labor. Only then can a government decide whether the spin-off in terms of area development, rural employment and upgrading of infrastructure are sufficient to make up for any deficit in foreign exchange.

Complicated calculation

What is needed is a single benchmark calculation that applies to all kinds of transport in all conditions and all developing countries. But that is a tall order, because it would have to cover transport of:

- agricultural produce from field to farmstead for subsistence;
- produce for marketing from field to local or city market;
- fuelwood and water from source to household, town or city;
- cash crops from farm or estate via processing plant to national or world markets;
- agricultural inputs from plant or port to farmstead and field;
- relief and/or development aid from store or port to project or household;
- rural project inputs from factory or port to project.

And the variables don't stop there. Transport in developing countries ranges from people carrying loads on their heads to pack animals, animal carts, bicycles, motorcycles, small motorized vehicles, small agricultural vehicles, large agricultural vehicles and commercial vehicles. Infrastructure, especially road conditions, also affects transport. An animal cart travels at roughly the same speed on a winding earth track as it does on a straight bitumen-surfaced road, but the speed and performance of a pickup truck can differ by a factor of five or more.

What about settlements reached only by footpaths, water crossings that are narrow, fragile and seasonal? And how do you compare transport by road or track with transport by rail, river or canal?

Even if a simple calculation could decide what vehicle or mode of transport is most efficient under given conditions, it might not be best because of technical, environmental, socio-economic or political factors. If a settlement is reached by a footpath, the mode of transport can be only about half a metre wide. This may or may not-change if the settlement provides a consistent output of a useful commodity and the benchmark calculation shows a wider vehicle would be cheaper to operate. A cost-benefit study may conclude the path should be widened for wider vehicles, but a social impact study may warn against opening the area to marginal land exploitation or deforestation.

Despite such complications, a benchmark calculation method is possible for field-to-farm or market-to-farm transport using the same cost per ton kilometre (tkm)-the cost of shifting one ton a distance of one kilometre-that is applied to higher level transport systems.

If a trailer-truck carries a payload of 22 tons on an 800-km trip, this is a performance of 17 600 tkm. An annual operation of 80 000 km would be 1.76 million tkm if fully laden coming and going, or half that if it always returns empty. The ton kilometre is not always meaningful. It can produce very large numbers when combined with realistic performance factors, or deceptively small ones when combined with units of expenditure. Nevertheless, it can be applied to nearly all transport vehicles and modes, is easy to calculate and allows comparison of different modes of transport in a given set of conditions.

This is how it works:

1) calculate the total operating expenditure of the vehicle or mode over a given period of time;
2) find its performance in ton kilometres over the same period;
3) divide the expenditure by the performance to find the cost per ton kilometre;
4) use the same procedure for other modes to produce the same units for easy, and often instructive, comparison.

An example

A 22-ton trailer-truck operates for 2 000 hours a year. Half the time it is running and the other half it is being loaded or unloaded or is idle, so that it is full half the time and empty the other half. The truck travels at an average speed of 50 kph, and the total operating expenditure per year is US$50 000, including interest on capital, depreciation, parts, repair, labor and insurance.

What is the cost per ton kilometre? Performance is I 000 hours at 50 kph totalling 50 000 km per year, of which 25 000 km are loaded with 22 tons-550 000 tkm per year. The cost per ton kilometre is 50 000/550 000 or nine US cents per ton kilometre.

Note that the term expenditure is used for operating outgoings to distinguish it from the final operating cost. This is important because a low expenditure is very different from a low operating cost.

Development experts often advise small farmers to choose small-scale transport, because that is all they can afford. But what does “afford” mean? The farmer or transporter is not spending money on a luxury, but an essential business operation. The benefits of making the trip must be greater than its costs, and that isn't always the case with a small, cheap vehicle.

Compare the cost per ton kilometre for a small vehicle with the trailer-truck cost. A small' single-axle tractor with trailer that incurs an operating expenditure of US$2 500 per year carries 500 kilograms at an average speed of 10 kph and runs for 1 000 hours per year, giving a total distance of 10000 km of which half is carrying 0.5 tons for 2 500 tkm per year. Operating cost is 2 500/2 500 or US$1 per tkm-11 times higher than for the trailer-truck.

Why don't all small farmers own 22-ton trailer-trucks? Because of the performance potential of the larger vehicle-550 000 tkm per year. If the average trip to market is 15 km, a fully utilized trailer-truck would transport 550 000/15 tons per year-36 667 tons a year or 100 tons every day of the year-far more than a small farm produces.

Clearly, load size is crucial. If the load is greater than the vehicle's performance potential, the vehicle will be fully utilized and more than one vehicle will be needed. If the load is less than the vehicle's potential performance, the vehicle will be underutilized. It will be more expensive to operate because some of the expenditure will be the same as before, but the performance per year will be lower and the cost per unit of performance ($/tkm) will be higher.

Expenditures that will remain the same include insurance, taxes, shelter, interest on borrowed capital and labor-unless the operator is paid only while working or is used on other jobs when not driving.

More significant are expenditures that are proportional to use and so do not affect the cost per ton kilometre. These include fuel, repairs, parts and sometimes maintenance. Depreciation is also proportional in developing countries, where vehicles often wear out before they become obsolescent. If simple straight-line depreciation is equal to purchase price divided by years of life, a vehicle used less has a longer life and the depreciation is proportionately lower. This means that even when not fully utilized, a larger vehicle may still be economical to operate. The operating cost of the trailer-truck can increase tenfold and still be cheaper in real terms than the small tractor.

Effects of infrastructure

Infrastructure also affects performance and operating expenditures. Poor road conditions cut speeds and raise expenditures on parts and repairs. As performance goes down, expenditure goes up and with it the cost per ton kilometre.

If road conditions reduce the trailer-truck's average speed from the original 50 kph to 10 kph, its annual performance would drop to 110 000 tkm. Some expenditure components would remain constant, while the cost of fuel would drop in proportion to uses. Maintenance costs per km would double or triple, and depreciation would rise due to the effects of the rough road. The expenditure might drop to 60 per cent because the vehicle is travelling only one-fifth of the original distance, but performance would also drop to 20 per cent-so the cost per ton kilometre would triple to 30 000/110 000, or 27.3 U.S. cents/tkm.

To what extent is it worth upgrading infrastructure ? Improving a road lowers the cost per ton kilometre for most vehicles, so the cost per ton shifted becomes lower over the improved kilometre. Multiplying by the number of tons shifted per year over that section of road gives the savings per year. Multiplying again by the estimated road life in years gives the total saving per kilometre. Discounted to present-day values real savings may be reduced to about 60 per cent. Comparing the cost of improving a kilometre of road with its benefits indicates whether the upgrading is feasible.

Who pays/who benefits?

But who should provide the infrastructure and who should get the benefits? Most governments upgrade public roads al public expense. The benefits accrue directly to vehicle operators through reduced operating costs which' presumably, will be passed down to load owners. Whether this happens depends on competition in the marketplace. Lower expenditures on parts and repair arising from better roads may benefit the national economy through a reduced need for foreign exchange. but upgrading an infrastructure costs foreign exchange for equipment, parts and fuel.

Unless an enterprise takes on the upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure it uses, the relationship between who pays and who benefits can be tenuous. But maintenance of infrastructure is almost always cost-effective compared with allowing an expensive road or water crossing to deteriorate so badly it needs not only repair, but rebuilding.

Considering various kinds of infrastructure, if a river already exists in a suitable form in the right place. the operating cost of using it for transport is likely to be lower than for other modes. But if an expensive infrastructure like a canal or railway has to be provided, transport analysis should incorporate the cost. Road transport is convenient because it usually carries a load from door to door, and its form-highway, road, track, trail or path-can be tailored to needs and conditions. Nearly every rural enterprise, plantation or village has a link to a road or track. The link may be of low quality but is often fairly short. It would be bad economics to provide an equivalent rail link and impossible to use waterways. In addition, the gradient is much lower for railways than for roads while for waterways, the laws of physics dictate the permissible up-gradient.

Planning ahead

A dollar per ton kilometre value is useful when looking at existing transport systems where vehicle usage is known and operating costs are not, but when planning transport for an activity or a number of activities within a region, an alternative “trip-based” approach can be used. It is a simple system that can be revised and refined as needed:

1) estimate the average trip distance and likely road conditions of each transport activity. Calculate likely roundtrip time, including travel and time spent loading, unloading or idle for each vehicle or mode. Average speed will vary with conditions and the type of vehicle. Divide trip time into the operator working hours per year to get the number of trips, and multiply by the payload the vehicle can shift per year;

2) estimate the annual expenditure for each type of vehicle and divide the figure by the number of tons it can shift per year for the cost per ton shifted. If it is more convenient to use the cost per ton kilometre to compare different vehicles or modes, divide the cost per ton by the one-way trip distance;

3) estimate the total available load per year, and divide it by the amount each vehicle can shift per year to determine the number of vehicles of its type needed.

There is no reason why this procedure can't be used for almost any kind of transport, including head-loading and animal-drawn carts (where opportunity cost of labor is critical to results), and rail or waterways. A more sophisticated approach would also include shadow prices for labor and foreign exchange components and divide the year into quarters, which could be analysed separately to account for seasonal variations in conditions.

Once planners know the operating costs and calculate the benefits of providing or upgrading an infrastructure, they can take other factors into account. Even if they decide social or political issues should take short-term precedence, they'll better appreciate the economic and financial consequences of their decisions.

Keeping Up Can't Be Put Off

Road maintenance is one variable that can't he ignored in any transport formula

By A. Airey and G.A. Taylor

Anyone who'd admit to being a highway engineer at a social function in a Third World country should be ready for an onslaught of tall tales, horror stories and complaints about the state of the roads. Everybody has an opinion on what's wrong, and how to put things right along their particular stretch of pavement.

Yet, if all these tales are put together, the scale of the problem becomes enormous: a 1987 World Bank report estimated US$90 billion would be needed to repair the deteriorated highway networks in 85 countries that have received World Bank loans for roads.

How could this happen?

Good roads should sustain growth in rural areas which, in turn, should generate the revenue needed to maintain and improve road networks. In practice, unfortunately, this hoped-for scenario is rare.

Of course, building new roads is a popular policy in many developing countries. Rapidly expanding road networks, are, after all, a highly visible manifestation of development, of direct immediate benefit to political constituents. They attract donor support in the form of grants and loans' while providing engineers a chance to set consistent, sound design standards for roads that previously didn't exist. But maintenance tends to be ignored in the process, its low profile and poor professional image too often matched by restricted government funding. When budgets are squeezed, maintenance is an easy target for savings, made more inviting by the fact that road deterioration may not be immediately visible.

An inexorable process

Road maintenance however isn't really avoidable-only postponable. Sooner or later, the work will have to be done. at an even higher cost than the original, illusory “saving.'' each dry-season surface crack-overlooked to save money eventually becomes a pothole, and when the rains come it deepens and expands. The process is inexorable, whether we try to ignore it or not: it is estimated that for every kilometre of new road built in sub-Saharan Africa, three kilometres now fall into a state of total disrepair.

If greater financial resources were made available, would the problem be solved'? Sadly, in many developing nations the answer is likely no.

Often human factors-what some call “institutional problems”-stand in the way. Prominent among them is the time-honored political practice of overstaffing. When maintenance budgets are cut, the tendency is to prune operating funds, rather than staff. This leaves less cash for fuel, parts for machines and vehicles, bitumen for surface mending and cement for bridges and culverts. Meanwhile, staff numbers-and salaries-remain the same, and even increase. This despite the fact there may be no fuel to bring workers to repair sites. One road project searching for idle labor among government staff found some drivers had been without a vehicle so long their driving licences had expired!

Road repair is commonly carried out from camps scattered throughout the highway network. Too frequently, these camps have plenty of store-men, drivers and “turn-boys” (truck drivers´ assistants), but no stores, trucks or fuel. Attempts to get crews to use picks and shovels to repair those roads within walking distance of the camps fail, because doing manual work would mean a loss of status.

Laying off redundant staff is still less politically popular, especially where governments, faced with growing unemployment, want to be seen as creating jobs. Under structural adjustment, some governments are being forced to consider this option. But cutting staff, as an end in itself, isn't the ultimate solution. Strategies must change. and more appropriate organizations and techniques must be developed.

Nature of the network

The nature of the Third World's largely rural road networks must first be understood-including the fact that they are often the physical reverse of road networks in the industrialized countries. In Europe or North America, more than 90 per cent of gazetted road is paved with bitumen or concrete. In developing countries, the officially gazetted proportion of paved surface is usually less than 20 per cent. If the many foot tracks and other small roads in the countryside are included, the percentage is even smaller.

The reason for this reversed situation is basic economics: Paved roads are more expensive to build than earth or gravel ones, but cheaper to maintain. Dirt roads cost less to construct, but more to keep up.

Distribution of paved roads usually reflects the volume of traffic. Roads carrying more than 200 to 250 vehicles a day (both directions, 24 hours) are usually paved because the rate of surface wear and scale of vehicle operating cost savings justifies the higher construction costs. Below this traffic level, the lower cost of building dirt or gravel roads becomes practical. Vehicle traffic is high in industrial countries, and thus paving makes sense.

However, in much of the Third World, where lightly trafficked rural roads are the norm, earth and gravel surfaces predominate. Thus, construction costs will generally be low, but maintenance costs are proportionately much higher. It is the failure of both donors and national or local administrations to recognize this and budget for it that explains why so many developing country roads are in such poor repair.

At this stage, of course, wholesale rehabilitation of the entire developing world's deteriorated road network is neither possible nor economically justified. There has been a call to identify a so-called “core network” of the minimum road distance local areas need and can afford to keep up. One approach features a two-stage procedure, in which screening is first used to divide a network into suitable and unsuitable candidates for improvement. Then the suitable candidates are ranked in order of importance and priority, usually via a standard procedure designed to calculate the economic benefits of each road. Examples are Tanzania's Agricultural Feeder Road Study and Uganda's Southwest Region Agricultural Rehabilitation Project. Both selected only a limited number of roads for rehabilitation.

However, some consider these techniques too complex and time consuming. A simpler procedure, based on locally generated data' is preferable. In Uganda, IT Transport and the Ministry of Local Government are developing a technique using the population served by a road network as an indicator of its importance.

Labor-based maintenance

Planning for road systems in the Third World obviously must include provision for appropriate maintenance, which should draw on local skill and resources.

In practice, this means a shift to labor-based maintenance systems.

In the past, reliance on complex, heavy equipment has generally failed, due to shortages of fuel and spare parts, poor equipment management and a lack of qualified operators and mechanics. In contrast, unskilled labor is a plentiful resource in most developing countries and makes economic sense m many situations.

Of course, equipment haulage should not be ruled out entirely. For example, haulage of gravel by human labor is not economical for distances greater than 200 metres. Between 200 metres and two km, animal haulage is competitive. and for distances greater than two km, equipment haulage is most economical.

However, such equipment need not be large or sophisticated. The labor-based Rural Access Roads Program (RARP) in Kenya used tractors and locally built trailers-for which drivers, mechanics and spare parts were readily available in the program area-rather than more conventional tipper trucks. The RARP was succeeded in the mid-1980s by the Minor Roads Program (MRP), which shifted emphasis from building new access roads to improving and maintaining existing networks. The still-ongoing MRP employs 15 000 to 20 000 casual laborers nationwide and operates a fleet of 1 000 tractors, landrovers, motorcycles and trucks. It currently maintains some 11 000 km of rural gravel and earth roads, using labor-based methods. Over the next five years, labor-based maintenance will be extended to a total of 24 000 km of low-traffic roads, with simpler equipment being employed wherever possible. This will save foreign exchange while creating new jobs.

Effective labor-based methods should complete the work at the same or lower cost than other methods-”cost” here meaning economic cost (which takes account of the opportunity cost of labor and savings in foreign exchange), rather than financial cost.

For maximum efficiency with unskilled labor, an incentive scheme is necessary. The most flexible is a piecework system by which each item of work is paid at an agreed unit rate. Such pieces should be small, typically an average day's output for an individual or group. Such systems work particularly well in Asia. In Africa, where petty contracting is rare and direct government employment the norm, bureaucracies can seldom cope with piecework and a task work system is used. A set day's wage is paid for a specified amount of work or task. Workers have the incentive of finishing work early if the task is completed early. Although most laborers will finish in five hours or less, productivity is still generally higher than for labor employed eight hours a day at fixed daily rates with no incentives.

“Lengthman” systems

Regular attention to small defects is the key to maintenance. In Kenya “lengthman” systems are used for routine maintenance, with individuals assigned specific sections of road to keep up. Sections, usually averaging 1.5 km, may vary according to gradient, soil or number of structures present, as well as from one climatic or topographic zone to another. In dry, flat areas, sections may be two km long, compared to one km for wet, hilly areas.

In Kenya, lengthmen or women are paid a fixed monthly rate for three days' work per week, keeping their sections in good condition. But lack of supervision and subjective views of what constitutes “good condition” can cause problems, and a system was developed to include more direction. An overseer equipped with a motorcycle visits each section every two weeks. He is supported by headmen, recruited from the area near the road and equipped with bicycles, who continuously supervise 10 lengthmen each.

Thus every part of the road network receives constant attention, reducing the risk of deterioration-especially for drainage works where keeping drains and culverts clear road washouts can be avoided. Employment is also provided for men and women in regions where few other job opportunities exist. And the work's part-time nature permits pursuit of other tasks, such as farming.

The system's chief disadvantage is the difficulty of supervision. Each overseer may be in charge of 80 to 100 lengthmen covering 100 to 150 km of a scattered network. Overseers can spend little time on a section, even if there are no motorcycle breakdowns or fuel shortages. Also, while hand labor is good for maintaining side ditches or clearing culverts, it is less adapted to smoothing road surfaces. Thus labor-maintained roads grow rough over time. This is not a serious problem where traffic is 50 vehicles or less per day, but for heavily trafficked roads periodic surface grading may be needed.

Motor grader fleets can play a key role in maintaining earth or gravel roads. But the machines need good workshops, skilled mechanics and specialized spare parts which are often only available from the country of manufacture. Thus there is strong interest in alternative means, such as grading implements towed behind tractors or by draft animals. Even bundles or brushwood, or old tires chained together, have been used. A pilot study in Kenya is testing use of tractor-based units. These consist of 100 HP tractors, five-ton towed graders, a trailer for hauling gravel and scoop and rock ripping attachments for one tractor. It is hoped this arrangement can equal average motor grader output while providing greater flexibility and easier upkeep.

Even with such adaptations, some countries may be unable to keep up their entire road network, and some roads will have to be officially abandoned. If abandoned roads are still needed by local people, self help may be the only option they have for maintaining them. This can take the form of voluntary labor, raising of local financial contributions to hire labor, or so-called Food-for-Work schemes. A large road network in the mountains of Lesotho has been constructed by local women under Food-for-Work programs.

The motivation problem

Technical direction is needed to make such programs work, however, and this can become difficult and expensive if the workforce fluctuates too often. Motivation is also a problem. The classic situation for a self-help scheme is that of an access road serving a single village, for which the beneficiaries are obvious. In practice, roads serve groups of villages, which complicates the task of fair allocation of work or contributions. Self help seems to work best in “one-off” efforts, than with steady, routine maintenance. Self help based on some form of financial contribution probably offers the best solution for maintenance in such cases.

If recognizing such problems is a start, developing countries and their donors have unquestionably begun to tackle the maintenance problem. The scale of work to be done is so large, however, that it may be years before road networks reach acceptable levels. A major forward step has been increased donor willingness to help with maintenance, rather than construction only.

Road systems in many countries may shrink to core networks, but a shift to labor-based maintenance will likely continue and eventually become the norm. In the process, organization of maintenance will change considerably, with upkeep of paved roads being increasingly separated from that of minor, unpaved routes. Investment in road improvement may focus on spot improvement of key links as opposed to wholesale upgrading. Hopefully, this pragmatic approach will lead to more efficient transport networks.

The road to nowhere....

By Lada Alekseychuk

This is the Russian highway,” says Serghei, pointing at a muddy strip of land that winds between fields covered with grass of an almost unnaturally pure green color.

“Welcome to the wonderland.”

I poke my stick carefully at the mud, and it sinks easily to a depth of a good half metre. My nostalgia for the Russian countryside is cooling quickly. It was I who enticed my fellow painters, Serghei and Volodya, into bringing me to this remote village unspoiled by civilization. And it is I who feel suddenly spoiled by the lack of civilization. The prospect of wallowing in the mud for the next 10 kilometres does not seem all that inviting.

“Well,” says Serghei, “that's the only road in existence.” He smiles philosophically, though not without a hint of friendly malice, picks up his knapsack and moves confidently on.

Volodya seems to be enjoying my hesitation. He laughs and says encouragingly, “It's not as bad as it looks. Just walk on the edge where the earth is drier.”

Balancing like a team of tightrope walkers, we move ahead, one after the other, the village and its bus connection to the world dwindling into the distance behind us. Soon, we can see only the wet roofs of its grey wooden houses glistening through the morning mist.

Quickly gaining considerable skill in walking a country road, I immerse myself in the peaceful melancholy of the northern Russian landscape with its plowed pink earth, immense grassy fields and multicolored sparkles of birch groves.

But my poetic abandon is matched by another kind of abandon that is all around us-a combine lying on its side, a ripped-off truck without doors, a hay mower, a cart. Everywhere we look, agricultural machines are rotting peacefully in the peaceful landscape like skeletons of prehistoric animals.

“But what has caused such a mess?” I ask.

“That's easy,” Volodya explains. “There are no spare parts.” He keeps his gaze straight ahead as he speaks because to turn around would be to risk getting stuck knee-deep in the ever-present mud. “So the mess is only logical and typical, but this is something different,” he adds, pointing to a bent cement pole with metal rods sticking out of it like horns. “It must have taken quite a bit of time and effort to mutilate it like this, right?”

“Sure. And why do it?”

“Boredom, that's why.”

It is noon when we finally arrive at our destination, another village of about a dozen wooden houses, log cabins called izbas. They show no sign of life except for a ribbon of smoke issuing from the chimney of a shack down a hill. The shack is the banya, the village bathhouse.

An invasion of dachnikis

Like hundreds of other villages and hamlets scattered through the Russian countryside, this one was abandoned long ago. But then a group of artists bought a few shacks to use as dachas, country houses. Other dachnikis followed them, buying these cheap dachas. Most of them are retired people finding it difficult to survive on their pensions. They try to get the most out of the small plots of land that came with the houses by growing vegetables, not for sale but to have something to put on their own table and to take back to their children in the city.

All of this is explained to me by Volodya. “There is one couple who travel more than 100 km-and with only our public transportation-every weekend to take care of their few acres of potatoes, carrots and onions,” Volodya says. “That's common practice nowadays. Back to the future' so to speak.”

A sign at the entrance to the artists' shack echoes his irony. “The Russians: 20th century'“ it reads.

Inside and out, this izba is exactly the same as it was a century or two ago. A stone chimney occupies a good quarter of the only room, a huge bed beside it separated from the rest of the room by a brightly colored cotton curtain. An oil lamp burns quietly in front of an icon.

The long walk in the fresh air has made everybody hungry. My friends browse in their food stocks and come up with powders in paper packages labelled “A Special One”. This provokes a discussion between our hosts. One maintains that the powder is for soup, another that the manufacturers meant it as a porridge.

Old-age pioneers

As the discussion heats up, I notice a sign of life outside and go out to make the acquaintance of a neighbor and his goat on a rope. The man and his wife are old-age pioneers trying out of sheer necessity to re-colonize this godforsaken frontier territory. They used to live here only in warm weather but now make it their home year-round to care for the five pigs, four goats and two dozen hens they have acquired so they don't have to depend on unreliable state supplies of meat and poultry.

Back inside the izba the “Special One” is ready along with the luxurious offering of a piece of sausage, rarely available in the city and only with a rationing card. There is also a slice of stale bread procured in the city with the usual difficulties. For us, our dinner is a banquet. By the standards of the peasant families who sat down to eat under the same roof in centuries past, what we now enjoy would be a meal for beggars, but there are no peasants, no farmers here anymore. All of us in the izba are dachnikis. We do not work this land but come here to enjoy its wild beauty, to soak in its silence and then leave again, carrying away a handful of wild berries or a basket of mushrooms if we are lucky.

Serghei, a passionate mushroom hunter, takes us to the forest, a place of profound silence and clear but diffused and mysterious light. I enjoy being here, but Serghei grows more and more hopeless in his search. The hordes of city dwellers from Pskov have been here before us, it seems, and cleared it out.

A surreal sight

By contrast, stacks of flax lay untouched in a field nearby. It is a surreal sight, a crop carefully gathered and then abandoned to rot in the field where it grew, another absurdity of the Russian economy.

To escape the oppressing reality, we dive back into the fairy tale atmosphere of the forest, but another sight reminds us again of civilization, Russian style. Exposed to the rains and the snowstorms, a brand new excavator rests abandoned in the middle of a field. Obviously of foreign make, its yellow paint is untouched by a single spot of rust and the windows shine in the sun like the naive eyes of an expensive toy. The machine is in perfect shape except for the lower part of the scoop, grown over with weeds that must conceal some serious problem like...

I anticipate Volodya this time. “Lack of spare parts?” He nods gravely.

We bring back armfuls of fresh birch logs, make a fire and breath in its heady odor. We bask again in the profound silence and darkness surrounding our briefly inhabited, if not to say invaded, shack, which we'll leave before the morning when it is still dark so that we can make the train that will return us to civilization. Will the train begin to run the other way round one day, bringing civilization back to its cradle in the countryside? No one knows, but everyone hopes that some day it will happen.

An army of hacks

When we arrive at the village where the train stops, we find people standing in a long line in front of a shabby plywood barrack, waiting to buy bread. It is a twice-a-week event, an important one. The bread gets snapped up in an instant and late sleepers have hardly a chance.

A granite statue of a soldier with machine-gun stands guard over the scene of provincial Russian misery. The statue is one of the countless propaganda pieces that brought to life a real army of hacks in all the arts with their power, their quick fortunes based on bootlicking and their total lack of professionalism. Nowadays, these relics have unexpectedly acquired a certain, ironic market value.

“Somebody in Moscow must have made a tidy sum producing this masterpiece on the conveyor belt,” Volodya comments.

“No,” Serghei argues, “it must have been a provincial dilettante. The hacks from the capital at least know where the hands and feet grow from.”

The train whistle interrupts this learned discussion, and we rush to take our places. Across the track, a freight train passes in the opposite direction, loaded with fresh logs. They are piled in perfect order, with obvious care. Perhaps the loggers had a better road at their disposal.

Reading my thoughts, Volodya agrees. “Of course, this country can work,” he says. “The problem is to find the road.”

Shipping on the cheap

A brief look at some low -cost transport options

By Peter Steele

Transport is all about people, especially at the local level, where community traditions may date back as far as memory reaches and the ways goods are carried may be based as much on cultural as on practical imperatives. It's surprising how rarely equipment and modes of local transport manage to transfer from community to community-even in the same region or country.

Yet there is no physical reason why what works in one place can't work just as well in another. Take, for example, the shoulder pole, used virtually everywhere in Asia. Why not try it in Africa, where it might save wear and tear on the neck vertebrae of women who have traditionally carried loads-sometimes very heavy ones-on their heads? Why wouldn't it be useful in a country like Burundi, where people can't afford motorized vehicles and the hilly terrain has limited road-building'? Burundi's roads are few and far between, and commercial transport is almost unknown. People walk long distances along tracks too steep and narrow for wheeled vehicles.

Easing the burden

There are, of course, only so many ways to carry goods on foot. The human frame isn't well adapted to heavy loads, whether on the head, back or shoulder, but there are ways of easing the burden.

The modern backpack places the load firmly on the lower waist by means of a wide belt. It has semi-flexible or firm support against the walker's back and permits loads equal to 25 per cent of a walker's weight. But such recreational equipment is expensive and beyond the reach of the developing world.

When a 1 2-year-old Kenyan girl weighing 35 kilograms carries a load of firewood home on her back, she uses a length of bark to bundle the wood into a pack and strap it to her back with a cord across her forehead. Walking in a stoop, she carries half her body weight for a kilometre or more. Her mother did the same before her. For 20 years she carried loads well in excess of her strength to save time and travel, and at the age of 30 she has the back of an old woman and a permanent deep crease across her forehead.

The head-loading already mentioned is even more common, especially for carrying water but also for such things as a single jug or bundle, which could as easily be carried by hand. Both men and women carry loads on their backs, but it is usually only women and children who carry things on their heads. They look elegant as they walk with head and shoulders gracefully erect, but the weight of the load can cause serious neck and spinal health problems later in life.

The traditional Asian yoke and shoulder pole are made of wood, often bamboo, the pole is usually 1.5 to two metres long and 40 to 60 millimetres in diameter in the centre, where it is carried, tapering to 30 to 40 mm at the ends. The carrier hangs loads of equal weight at each end to knee level and balances the pole across the shoulder where it flexes with each stride. With padding, 50 kg and more can be hauled for several kilometres. The pole is ideal for compact loads like liquids, which don't impede walking. And the carrier needs no help in picking up and setting down a loaded pole.

Non-motorized wheelbarrows, trolleys and pushcarts aren't used as widely as they should be because of cost, tradition and a lack of distribution and maintenance systems. In competition with the bicycle, the wheeled cart usually comes second.

Single-wheel transporters like wheelbarrows come in many designs. The Chinese wheelbarrow has a large central wheel, separate carrying frames on either side supported by twin legs and a handle at one end while other designs have a high-level deck above the wheel. These kinds of wheelbarrow can be operated by more than one person and can haul loads of 150 kg or more for short distances.

The wood or steel wheelbarrow manufactured for urban users and the construction industry is excellent for short distances on level or slightly sloping ground. A rubber-tired wheel with a central bearing improves load carrying and is a great advantage on soft ground. Depending on the size of the container, the wheelbarrow can carry 100 to 125 kg, but pushing is hard on the arms and back so it is usually used only over a few hundred metres.

Handcarts come with two, three or four wheels, with a flat, built-up or trailer deck, with bogies and/ or push-pull handles, and can carry loads of more than a ton. They compete so well with powered vehicles over short distances in towns that it is remarkable they have not replaced the pickup truck. Six workers with a strong handcart could easily provide reliable and prompt citywide haulage.

But handcarts have their disadvantages. Like the wheelbarrow, they need a good set of wheels, axles and bearings and usually can't be built locally. Often, wheels and tires must be imported. Handcarts also need roads with a hard surface at least 1 500 mm wide. They are less successful over tracks and steep terrain, where it is too difficult to negotiate passage. Here draft animals take priority.

From dogs to elephants

Traditional societies around the world have domesticated animals-from dogs to elephants-to provide transport. Motorized vehicles may dominate commercial land links between cities, but in the countryside it is still animals that count. Motorized vehicles can travel difficult terrain, but few societies can afford to buy and operate such equipment. The animal cart is a better choice for carrying loads from country to town over distance to 20 km, as in Lilongwe, Malawi, where ox carts dominate local transport.

Over the centuries, saddles, harnesses? panniers and carrying frames have been developed to suit the single pack animal and the needs of its owner. They are fitted to the animal-usually a donkey, mule, horse or camel-at mid-back with a central girth strap. Evenly balanced loads hang on either side, with an additional load built up between the two side loads. The lower the load the better for the animal's centre of gravity, which is important when walking hill tracks. People also ride animals with or without additional loads fitted in side panniers or behind the rider.

Pack animals are the most versatile of transporters-docile when well-trained, hard-working when well-fed and healthy and capable of carrying loads for almost unlimited distances. Mules can accommodate 50 to 60 kg and a camel two to three times that. Before trucks came on the scene, it was traditional for nomadic families in Mongolia to shift their entire households five or six times a year with a few pack horses, sledges and riders.

Like other forms of transport, animals need maintenance and inputs-traditional medicines and sometimes imported veterinary drugs, supplementary feed during the dry season or winter and leather, timber, fabrics and buckles for their fittings. But animals give special compensation. They become part of the family, capable of carrying a rider and load and finding their own way when the route is familiar and the rider tired. Try napping on a motorcycle!

Before the advent of the motorized truck, heavy goods wagons drawn by a team of oxen or horses dominated road haulage. Given firm, load-bearing pavements, the wagons moved much as truckers do today-and just as fast as a truck tied up in city traffic. Heavy duty animal transport on paved surfaces has all but disappeared, but lightweight transport is growing where animal carts are available and people can find the money to buy them. It is a question of credit and commercial development.

Lightweight animal carts are usually used with a single animal or a team of two. Donkey and ox carts are used throughout the world, horse-drawn carts less frequently, but the basic cart is much the same whatever the animal. A typical cart is made of timber with a flat deck fitted to a wooden sub-frame over the single axle. The animal is backed into a set of shafts and hauls the cart by means of a collar or yoke.

Design variations are almost limitless. A cart can be constructed completely of steel sheet on a steel frame. It can have a sprung axle with pneumatic tires and a hand brake. It can come covered to protect rider and goods. It can have a tip deck or slatted sides. It can have twin axles with the front axle connected to a draw-bar complete with central pivot steering. The design of axles and wheels ranges from the stub axle/motor car/pneumatic tire to oil-impregnated wooden blocks and split wood wheel. Researchers in institutes and artisans in workshops have combined to produce a multitude of novel ideas and designs. but most are available only locally because the financial returns from marketing them are limited.

A single-axle cart that weighs 200 kg unladen can carry up to one ton on a deck measuring 2.5 by 1.5 sq.m, exactly how much depends on the animals' power and the road surface. Clearly, a 500-kg ox can haul a heavier cart than a donkey with one quarter the body weight, and a bitumen road surface and pneumatic tires have a lower rolling resistance than steel wheels on packed earth. Wheels large in diameter can negotiate ruts and holes better than smaller ones and haul a heavier load. Animal carts usually need a track two metres wide, with a reasonably smooth surface cleared of rocks and trees. It helps if the width of the cart's axle is more or less the same as the axles of other vehicles using the track, especially if the road has deep ruts. Hills will be hard going for the loaded cart.

Pumping the pedal

Of all the simple transport machines in use throughout the developing world it is the bicycle to which most poor people aspire. And it is more or less within their reach. Two wheels provide a great deal of personal mobility at a proportionately low cost and can carry loads as well. Bicycles also have a good image. They are seen as advanced technology, post-traditional and status enhancing. Unlike the animal cart or wheeled hand cart, the bicycle provides speed and manoeuvrability and can travel on walking tracks in relatively open and flat country.

Of all the bicycle designs available, it is the traditional high frame, large wheel machine that sells best for serious transporting. Constructed around a heavy gauge steel diamond-shaped frame with steel wheels made of spokes and hub, fitted with pneumatic tires and brakes front and back, a bicycle can comfortably carry a rider and an additional 100 kg. A rear carrier attached to the subframe is a must. Front carriers or loading into the centre of the diamond-shaped frame are also practical but less common. If the bicycle is being pushed and access to the pedals is not essential, a sack of grain, a large quantity of wood or any other awkwardly shaped load can be wedged into the frame. As with a pack animal, the lower the centre of gravity of the load, the easier it is to balance.

Bicycle maintenance is available in small towns throughout the developing world. Most markets have a repair shop where artisans fabricate parts with a minimum of tooling, repair ancient and outdated parts when replacements are no longer available and fit new parts, often imported from India or China. Complete factories are shipped across the world and erected in isolated regions like the factory at Chipata in Zambia's Eastern Region, which is at the end of a long supply network and provides both employment and bicycles.

Fit another wheel to the bicycle, and it becomes a versatile load carrier-but is no longer a bicycle and loses much of the manoeuvrability of the two wheeled machine. Tricycles are essentially urban or industrial transporters and do the same work as hand and animal carte

Tricycles come in several forms with two distinct designs-single steering wheel/twin rear wheels or single rear wheel/twin steering wheels. The second version usually has a tray, box or platform out front and is steered by means of a bar, which pivots the entire axle, instead of a conventional bicycle handlebar and wheel. Because the load is over the steering wheels, this tricycle usually carries lighter loads than the tricycle with load-carrying platforms at the rear.

Tricycle people-carriers, better known as rickshaws, usually have a single rider in front to provide power and a covered seat across the back of the rear axle where two passengers can sit side by side. Whether people or freight, loads of up to 200 kg are commonplace. Tricycles need a smooth road surface and level terrain and do not mix well with motorized vehicles, which is why they are in a separate flow of traffic on main roads in the centre of Beijing. Tricycles are also expensive when compared to the conventional bicycle' often two to three times their cost, and conventional bicycle components are not always compatible.

Motorized vehicles are relatively new in the developing world. In most towns and villages people still remember the first car, truck or bus in the district and when the road was built. But commercial pressure, especially during the past 20 years, has made road vehicles appear synonymous with development and given road-building high priority despite the drain on limited national resources.

This is a mistake. Motorized vehicles don't make economic sense in many communities-and where is the foreign exchange to maintain roads and vehicles and buy fuel'? Tanzania's main highways, once adequate, are now appalling. In Cuba and Guyana, it is only the skill and ingenuity of the artisans in local repair shops that keep the aging fleet of cars and trucks on the road long past their expected life span. Georgetown probably has the world's best operational fleet of British cars, vintage 1960.

With conventional motor cars or trucks beyond their reach, many rural people have motorized with the motorcycle. Since the 1960s, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha have become international symbols of speed and utility. The motorcycle and its two- or three-wheeled derivatives based on a chain-driven wheel and a small gasoline engine can go everywhere people want, whatever the terrain and climate, but it has its limitations.

Motorcycles are sophisticated machines and neither cheap nor simple to operate. To keep them running well, the motorcyclist needs access to a network of suppliers, including the manufacturer, national agents and fuel and oil companies. A rider can learn the rudiments of a motorcycle in a few hours, but it takes years to develop real driving and maintenance skills-and misuse and misunderstanding can quickly destroy a machine.

Motorcycles are ideal people-carriers. Most have two scats' one behind the other, and room for one or two more passengers balanced astride the fuel tank or squeezed in between the twin seat. As load carriers, however, they are less effective. Road machines don't function well at slow speed over unpaved ground, because air-cooled engines need a flow of air to maintain working temperatures. Higher speed brings its own problems if the ground is rough or a load is poorly positioned. Falls are common, damaging machines as well as riders.

Purpose-built panniers and rear load carriers resembling those used with bicycles are sometimes available, but most motorcyclists use only the small carrier supplied by the manufacturer. Loads are sometimes tied insecurely to the top of the tank or strapped perilously to the rider's back. A purpose-built load carrier, like a sidecar, works much better. A sidecar can accommodate two or three more people, or the same weight in freight. How much weight depends on how powerful the engine is and its design, but sidecars can work even with lightweight motorcycles or scooters.

There are other useful forms of transport, but major commercial vehicle manufacturers don't market most of them. Vehicles with three, four, six or more wheels or with tracks have evolved at local level. but because they rarely enter international markets, people who might find them useful in other parts of the world don't know they exist and can't demand their manufacture. It's a case of which comes first, the market or the product.

Exceptions include the tricycle, manufactured for farm and leisure use. A range of lightweight farm equipment has been developed to suit the power output and rear axle of the farm trike, and its wide, low-pressure tires cause little damage to the ground. The trike can go where the tractor cannot. With a tray at the rear, it can carry a bale or two of hay, fencing wire, a couple of dogs or an injured ewe. No wonder the machine is popular with New Zealand sheep farmers.

The four-wheel motorbike/tractor has a minor place on the farm, and three- and four-wheeled motorcycles have made their way to the atolls of Kiribati and other Pacific islands because they are relatively easy to unload and manhandle ashore. Two-wheeled motorcycles can pull trailers, but the larger three- and four-wheeled machines are better for pulling trailers. Usually constructed of aluminum on a box chassis to take full advantage of the limited power available, light trailers may weigh 175 kg and carry 350 kg.

Motorized platforms and containers have been developed for the construction industry and other specialized uses. These include the dump truck, which is a sort of motorized wheelbarrow. One design has a tipping container in front, a motor to one side of the rear alongside the driver, who should wear ear protection, and twin axles with steering wheels at the rear. The truck can be gas, electric, petrol or diesel-powered. A model with a petrol engine rated at 12 kW has a payload of 1.25 tons.

The dump truck may be too specialized to interest farmers in the developing world, but they should still know that it exists and have the option of buying it, just as they should know about and consider making use of the shoulder pole, wheeled carts, bicycles and tricycles. But spreading the word is the easy part. The problem is convincing people to try something new, even when the benefits would appear to be obvious. Experience shows you can shift ideas or equipment, but you can't always persuade people to give them a try. When it comes to transport, logic is often second-best to tradition. Commercial motivation and timing are important for the planning process, but so too are human foibles.