I feel passionate about boosting global development through better transport. And I also feel passionate about food. While those two interests seemingly have little to do with each other, it turns out great transport and great food are more closely related than one might think.
This became quickly apparent during my latest mission to Senegal, where I have been leading the implementation of the World Bank’s Transport and Urban Mobility Project (PATMUR). The program, which closed just two months ago, included the rehabilitation of a 173-km stretch of road that provides an alternative connection between the current and former capitals, Dakar and Saint-Louis.
As part of the mission, we scheduled a field visit to survey the newly-completed road with the project team. So here we are leaving Dakar one early morning with the goal of driving to Saint Louis and back before sundown.
We quickly notice the multiple new markets, big and small, that have sprung up all along the road. Fresh, juicy fruit and vegetables are readily available, drawing large crowds of enthusiastic shoppers. The energy is palpable. My colleagues beg the convoy to stop so they can do some shopping too!
This transformation is a direct result of the recent road upgrades. Before we started this work, traveling between Dakar and Saint Louis would take an average of 6 hours. Poor transport conditions caused many vehicles to break down, and the goods on board would often perish. The project has reduced the driving time to just 3h15mins, and has created a safe, reliable way to move goods around—including that delicious food I’m so fond of!
The journey continues. Shortly before reaching Saint Louis, we stop one more time to talk to a group of female workers who make a living extracting salt from the local lakes. We met these ladies during our previous site visits and think it would great to check on them. Their work is tough and physical. Salt can eat up your skin if not properly protected. These women work all day long with no protection, no proper equipment, and then walk miles to store and sell the product. The PATMUR project provided them with protective gear, boots, gloves, extraction equipment as well as tricycles to allow them to carry the salt easily to their newly-built storage hangar and surrounding markets. The project also helped them revamp their Economic Interest Group for better management of their production so they can take their business to the next level.
We finally reach the end of the road and enjoy an amazingly tasty feast of rice and fish “Saint Louis style,” complemented by a fresh fruit salad and hibiscus juice.
To top it all off, we make it back to Dakar right by sunset.
As short as it might have been, our site visit tells a remarkable story about the power of transport. Mile after mile, we saw stronger communities, growing business opportunities, and a heartening sense of hope for the future. I already knew all the evidence about transport’s role in development, but this experience really brought the message home.
So, together, let’s continue supporting safe, sustainable transport systems that will connect even more people to jobs, services, opportunities… and good food!