Why bridges matter to food markets

Infrastructure is one of the key components to assuring a country’s competitiveness and food security. In Madagascar, it appears that the quality of its rail infrastructure is deteriorating ultimately contributing to lower incomes and lower quality of nutrition.

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Road and rail bridge river crossing, Madagascar (Pic: A.Kasterine)

Driving east out of the capital, the main road snakes its way down an elevation of around 1,275 m to the main port, around 160 km away. A single rail track runs along side the road. Built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century, it runs a daily freight train carrying agricultural produce from the port Toamasina to the capital. The country has become increasingly reliant on imports for meeting its food needs in recent years.

About an hour out of Tana, we reached this road and rail bridge and waited for our turn to cross the river. This is how a friend of mine Becky Wingate described the bridge – she is a rail engineer from Chicago on a Fulbright scholarship working with the Swiss railways in Geneva.

“It is a through truss with a common girder. It’s probably not made out of weathering steel which means it should be painted, but it looks like they are letting it rust anyway, which is common anywhere. I’m sure the unbalanced loading between the highway traffic and railway traffic is not being kind to the middle truss”

So two problems, the middle truss is being fatigued and the steel is not being protected by painting.

The African Development Bank says infrastructure is important to an African economy for these reasons:

“Infrastructure, through improved connectivity, changes the incentive structure and impacts market prices, thereby improving consumer welfare and reducing the cost of doing business. It is well documented in the literature that infrastructure development reduces the asymmetry of information and agricultural market efficiencies in Africa. Improved access to price information through better transport or ICT networks reduces marketing costs, improves farm-gate prices and lessens their volatility, and enhances productive efficiency”. –

So, infrastrucuture is good for consumer (cheap food) and good for farmers (increasing availability of information, access to inputs etc) – a good reason to paint the bridge!

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