Out of Africa: cheap motorcyles transforming lives of farmers

One lasting impression from my July visit to Ken Sakwa, a champion farmer in rural eastern Uganda: how Ken's new Chinese-made motorcycle is transforming his ability to expand his commercial farming activities.

A lot of attention is being given to how China and India are bringing big technologies to Africa: hydroelectricity, solar technologies, computing, mobile-phone infrastructure. No question, these are important. But virtually unnoticed is how less expensive motorocycles are making personal transportation affordable to people who only recently dreamed of owning a bicycle.

Sakwa is a farmer I have been getting to know for the past few years in East Africa. He grows maize, green beans, cotton and a bit of peanuts. As farm prices have risen, he's become more interested in buying and selling crops grown by his neighbors. The motorcycle is a critical "enabling" technology, permitting him to travel over dirt roads easily and cheaply.

Sakwa this spring bought a motorcycle made by the Chinese company Dayun. Five years ago, European companies dominated the African market for motorbikes. But prices were high and repairs relatively costly.

The Chinese have transformed the motorcycle market -- in both East and West Africa -- with less expensive motorcycles and cheaper parts. True, the bikes are less powerful. But at least now Sakwa can afford one.

The influx of Chinese bikes seems likely to grow.

What happened a decade ago in Asia surely will happen in Africa: motorbikes as a "ubiquitous" form of transport.

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