Nelly Bassily | February 21, 2011
Over the last two years, a small vehicle known as the “motorcycle-wheelbarrow” has changed the lives of farmers in Pokola. The vehicle has three wheels and features a large bucket on the back. Before the motorcycle-wheelbarrows arrived, many producers abandoned their fields because they were unable to get their produce to market. But with its help, farmers now lose fewer of their crops after harvest. Many farmers have increased their productivity.
It is seven o’clock in the morning. Fog envelops nearby houses. A small crowd gathers at the crossroads. Women carry empty baskets on their backs, and men have hoes and machetes. Young men stand near plastic jerry cans filled with water. They are waiting for the motorcycle-wheelbarrows which will take them to the fields. These people will spend the day working on the land. They will then take their produce to town to sell: manioc, bananas, yams, vegetables, tarot, corn, peppers and sweet potatoes.
Jean Paul Kamana is a farmer. He is well-known in Pokola, a town which grew around the timber industry in the tropical forests of the northern Congo. Mr. Kamana was among the first to own a motorcycle-wheelbarrow. It is the only type of transport used by farmers here. Its special place and value in local farmers’ lives is explained by the large bucket on its back.. The motorcycle-wheelbarrow carries people as well as agricultural products. Farmers now easily reach fields several kilometres away.
Mr. Kamana first saw the vehicle being used by a nearby timber company, carrying construction workers’ tools. He realized that it was very convenient, and thought it might be useful for him. He says, “It inspired me to carry my tools this way, and to use it to take my produce to market.”
He thinks the motorcycle-wheelbarrow offers several advantages. For example, it can easily move large volumes of agricultural products. It saves a lot of travelling time, and Mr. Kamana no longer has to physically carry his produce. The vehicle can carry two or three labourers at a time to help him work in his field. He says, “It is a very useful machine. But there is no shop selling these bikes here. You have to order it from dealers who go to Douala in Cameroon, more than 1500 miles from here.”
According to Mr. Kamana, the main problem with the vehicle is the supply of spare parts. Everything must come from Douala. If it breaks down, the owner may wait several weeks for repairs.
Mr. Kamana remembers the difficulties before the motorcycle-wheelbarrow arrived. He says, “We were carrying our crops in wheelbarrows and pushing them on sand or mud for several miles. Or we would carry produce in baskets on our backs, sometimes under a scorching sun or in the rain. It was too painful to carry.” But today, he says, “You can even go to a field 20 kilometres away without worrying.”
Mr. Kamana bought the motorcycle-wheelbarrow primarily for his own use. But he also loans his vehicle to other farmers so that they too can take their products to market in Pokola. Women traders also take the vehicle to the fields to buy goods from farmers. They return immediately to the market to quickly resell the produce.
Today, a number of producers and co-operatives are using motorcycle-wheelbarrows. As a result, more and more agricultural products from the forest zones reach the market. Thanks to this strange-looking vehicle, farmers no longer lose so much of their harvest.