SEATTLE — Since many development programs rely on reliable roadways connecting villages with urban areas, rural road maintenance is inextricably tied to poverty reduction efforts. If poorly maintained, roads become a recurring obstacle for a low-income country’s development goals. Aside from the limitations on commerce, dilapidated roads also inhibit access to education and health services. The concentration of poverty in rural areas makes the need for better maintained rural roads even greater. As of 2014, more than 70 percent of people living on less than $1.25 a day resided in rural areas.
Do-Nou an Innovative Method of Improving Roads
A relatively new technology, known as Do-Nou (a Japanese term for soil bag), has been developed in Japan and has been implemented in 25 countries worldwide. The geoengineering technology creates a road base capable of supporting road traffic with minimal expenses and no machinery. Do-Nou bag roads have provided better access for farmers, schoolchildren and hospital visitors, as well as job opportunities for local youth in rural areas. Kenya, having approved the project back in 2009, has shown that a low-cost and easy to maintain option to rural road maintenance can be achieved through Do-Nou technology.
Easy to install and cost-effective, the technology is sometimes referred to as “first aid for road rehabilitation.” After excavating the side of the road to form drainage ditches, the excess soil is placed into bags and securely tightened. The bags are then laid out onto the roadway and compacted manually, and are ultimately covered with soil to form the final grade. Using locally sourced material and labor, Do-Nou is a sustainable option for self-maintained roadways in rural areas.
Farmers in Kenya Benefit from Rural Road Maintenance
Due to muddy and rain-soaked regional roadways, bulb onion farmers in Kieni West Sub-County were finding it difficult to transport their products to the market. Tractors were incapable of making the trip via the impassable roads, with real economic consequences for the poor farmers. Unable to reach buyers, farmers would routinely throw onions on the side of the road, with no compensation for their time or product.
The lack of proper rural road maintenance resulted in more than just waste, however. It puts an agricultural ceiling on what farmers are willing to grow. With minimal incentive or chance of reaching the markets, farmers in areas such as Kieni West Sub-County of Kenya limit their production of agricultural products. Instead of growing surplus crops to sell, farmers tend to grow just enough to feed their families.
With better roads and improved market access, there is hope for improved agricultural productivity. This is especially likely since the Do-Nou bags are sourced from infertile soil, which poses no threat or opportunity cost to farmers. The negative impact on farmers’ land is minimal.
The sustainability of the project is also improved due to its simplicity. Once road maintenance using Do-Nou was taught in the area, farmers began to maintain local roads on their own. Since the technology is rather straightforward and the training is easy to apply, residents were motivated to take on the repairs of the road well after the initial program was introduced. This is crucial moving forward since the benefits of better roadways are short-lived unless they are continually cared for once the civil engineers providing the training have left.
Do-Nou Provides Job Opportunites for Kenyan Youths
Improving unemployment for poor youth in Kenya is another cornerstone of the program. Since its inception, local employment and training for regular road upkeep were essential to the success of Do-Nou roads. Introduced in Kenya nearly a decade ago, it has directly provided 4,948 youths with training. Offering the the poor, rural Kenyan population temporary work—or at least an “entrepreneurial window” for youth with limited opportunities elsewhere—is no small feat. Along with providing local material, sourcing local labor and volunteers has bred a sense of belief and ownership in the project.
Being directly involved in the ongoing process of road maintenance with relatively small commitments from villagers has helped. It takes a mere five days on average to train people in the use of the technology, and importantly, does not require educational prerequisites that many people in rural areas lack. Other than the obvious improvements in access to markets, schools, and healthcare facilities, the Do-Nou project has provided a sense of self-reliance for many locals.
The Do-Nou road maintenance is highly inclusive to those most affected by its use, and instills a sense of purpose in the locals tasked with maintaining their own roads. Yoshinori Fukubayashi, the leader of the project team, believes that “being able to fix the roads on their own gives people confidence and hope.”
Moving large rural communities out of poverty will take more than motivation and self-confidence. But if maintained properly, the Do-Nou roadways may lay the groundwork, quite literally, for other, more inclusive and effective development programs in rural areas in the future.
– Nathan Ghelli