Africa's need for low-cost transportation is often inhibited by the lack of good quality,
inexpensive wheels. But appropriate wheel-manufacturing technology is now available, as
Ron Dennis explains, and it can help rural households by making it easier for them to move
The everyday movement of goods is a major burden to households in the rural areas of
developing countries. Water and firewood have to be collected, crops brought in from the fields,
with possibly follow-up trips to the local mill or market, and other farming inputs such as seed,
manure and fertilizer have to be collected and transported to the fields.
The majority of these trips take place in and around the village where the road network generally
comprises earth paths and tracks. The lack of an adequate road infrastructure and the low level
of household income mean that few households have access to motorized transport. This is a
situation which seems likely to persist in many areas for the foreseeable future.
Present means of transport, often by head or back carrying, are generally time-consuming,
arduous and have a limited capacity for the movement of goods. It is not unusual for households
to spend up to six to eight hours a day in transport activities. The time involved in and the
difficulties of movement of goods are often seen as factors which restrict the output of small
Improving means of transport is therefore an important area of development for rural
communities. Benefits include an increase in the efficiency and productivity of small-scale
farming and a reduction in the transport burden for rural households, particularly for women,
who are always the main load carriers.
Simple vehicles offer a significant improvement in the efficiency of moving goods as compared
with carrying methods like head-loading and back-carrying. On the majority of terrains the most
efficient method of moving loads is on wheeled vehicles such as wheelbarrows and handcarts,
bicycles and bicycle trailers and animal-drawn carts.
Versions of these vehicles are found in many developing countries, but there is a great need and
potential to help local workshops improve the quality of these vehicles and to make them more
readily available to a wider section of the rural community by increasing their supply at lower
A major constraint on the production of affordable, non-motorized vehicles such as handcarts
and animal-drawn carts in rural workshops is the lack of good quality, low-cost wheel and axle
assemblies - this is particularly the case in African countries. Most rural workshops do not have
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