Opinion

The role of road infrastructure in agricultural development, nation-building in South Sudan

By Dr. Jacob K. Lupai

Associate Professor of Food Security

University of Juba

In the context of road infrastructure, the main theme is “roads are crucial in agricultural development”. In mediaeval times roads were simply recognizable routes neither with formal construction nor maintenance. However, in modern times roads are constructed and maintained in realizing socio-economic development and nation-building. As expected, roads are designed and built for primary use by motor vehicles in accelerating development. It is not, however, within the scope of this article to discuss how roads are constructed and maintained. This is best left to engineers as this author is only an agriculturist.

It can be asserted that roads contribute to agricultural development and growth, and also generate important social benefits by bringing people together who interact with one another for mutual benefits. Roads are crucial in making a nation grow and develop. In addition, roads provide access to employment, social, health and education services. This makes road infrastructure crucial in fighting against poverty. Roads allow for the transport of agricultural produce from fields to markets for access by people in realizing food security.

In almost all developing countries, the agricultural sector is important for economic growth. Investment in road infrastructure is therefore vital in supporting agricultural development and in reducing poverty. However, the level of road infrastructure development in developing countries is still low and only very limited rural population have access to all-weather roads. Rural roads and transport services are generally poor.

In many developing countries agricultural inputs such as agro-chemicals and improved seeds are not produced in the rural areas but have to be transported from the area of production to the rural areas. Poor roads and associated high transport cost during the transportation of the agricultural inputs may, in one way or another, affect the use of the inputs and eventually the crop yield. This may also affect food security.

The role of road infrastructure is also crucial in nation-building. However, in many development countries, like in South Sudan, the road and highway system is not yet well developed where more roads are impassable in the wet and rainy seasons. This cuts off people from each other in the different areas. This in turn causes the likely lack of integration of people as distances may be a barrier, keeping people apart. Nevertheless, advances in road transportation has made possible changes in the way of living and the way people interact in which societies are organized and therefore have a great influence in nation-building.

Road transportation is responsible for the development of civilization and nation-building from old times by meeting travel requirement of people and transport requirement of goods. The role of road infrastructure is therefore an inseparable part of nation-building. Road transport has enabled easy movement of people from one place to the other, thereby promoting interaction among the people. People of diverse backgrounds mingle together in building communities and neighbourhoods. Togetherness is promoted which can only be appropriate in nation-building. This is partly realized through improved road infrastructure and transport services.

It is noted that many developing countries are multi-ethnic or consist of many different tribes. In Africa for example, there are about 3,000 tribes with more than 2,000 different languages being spoken. With reference to South Sudan, there are about 64 ethnic groups. The precise number of ethnic groups in South Sudan is yet to be established. One source puts the number as 64 ethnic groups while another puts the number as 72.

The confusion in the number of ethnic groups in South Sudan is because sections of an ethnic group are considered ethnic groups in their own right. However, this author is carrying out a bit of research on the precise number of ethnic groups in South Sudan. Preliminary results are showing that there are 65 ethnic groups. Nevertheless, a comprehensive list of ethnic groups will be established after convening a workshop or public lecture to gather further information on ethnic groups in South Sudan from participants as part of the research.   

To promote agricultural production and nation-building in an ethnically diverse country like South Sudan, the role of road infrastructure is definitely crucial. Most of the people live in rural areas with unimproved road infrastructure. For example, it is not uncommon for people in the rural areas to walk long distances to see relatives in other far away villages. People walk long distances sometimes taking hours or days on decades old footpaths until they reach their final destinations or the next villages. It is difficult to see how people from the north and south, west and east of the country can relate to each other without any contact and interaction through improved road infrastructure.

It is important to understand that one of the significant constraints for agricultural development and nation-building is poor condition of road infrastructure. This suggests that improved road infrastructure in rural areas in particular will promote commercial agriculture to replace subsistence agriculture and in general will improve conditions for nation-building. This is likely to be reflected in increase of agricultural production for the achievement of food security and in a cohesive society. However, an important challenge in development policy and road transportation planning will be to provide more balanced agricultural development in all parts of the country to improve living conditions of the vast majority of people.

Roads are not only for agricultural development. They are also crucially important, in general, for making a nation grow and develop. Roads open up more areas for socio-economic development. This has made road infrastructure the most important of all public assets. Ignoring road infrastructure is therefore bad planning and perpetual underdevelopment in developing countries.

For South Sudan which is an agricultural country and developing, road infrastructure planning is a determinant factor in its socio-economic development effort. The road system in South Sudan is still rudimentary. This calls for a concerted effort to develop road system that brings communities closer together to realize the potential of comparative advantage in development. South Sudan is endowed with vast natural resources and different productive agro-ecological zones.  

Without improved road infrastructure, it is unlikely that the vast natural resources and the different productive agro-ecological zones in South Sudan will ever be developed to benefit the people. Some may think that peace and stability must come first before development takes place. This is false. Roads in towns that enjoy some peace are not improved and are in very poor conditions indeed. When were roads improved in towns and in rural areas when South Sudan was in peace? Peace and stability are not enough in themselves. What is badly needed is nationalistic commitment and technocratic competence to improve, through improved road system, the lives of the vast majority of people who have suffered so much for too long.     

In conclusion, the role of road infrastructure is not the only one in agricultural development and nation-building but it is a part of the jigsaw of socio-economic development for prosperity for all. 

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