The Basse-Fatoto-Koina roads and bridges project is a welcome development in a region of the country the Upper River Division (URR) that historically have been neglected bysuccessive government. By virtue of URRs sheer remoteness, it has been left behind as infrastructure development took place in the other regions of the country mainly in the urban and peri-urban regions. The citizens in URR have limited access to markets and public services. This remoteness is a function not just of distance but lack of transport connections to the capital city and the coast. Unsurprisingly, rural road projects contribute to inclusive growth. The main reason being that rural road projects tend to focus on providing access and open up new opportunities and markets for isolated or poorly connected villages andtowns where the local people suffer from costly, time-consuming, unreliable, and inconvenient transport, which discourages investments in more productive sectors and businesses.The Basse-Fatoto-Koina road and bridges project therefore, will boost transportation, ease connectivity, facilitate economic activity and the movement of people and goods.
According to census data from The Gambia Bureau of Statistics, Basse LGA is the third most populous region after Brikama and Kanifing LGAs. The size of Basse LGA is 2,070 sq km and is second only to Kerewan LGA with a size of 2,256 sq km. Hence, infrastructure development in Basse LGA should not be neglected if it is to serve regions with higher population density and size.
For a developing country like the Gambia, infrastructure development is critical, and contributes to economic activity by lowering the costs of doing business, improving the competitiveness of local production, and facilitating trade and foreign direct investment. With the Upper River Division will be open with access to good highway, the Basse-Fatoto-Koina road and bridges project will make transportation and movement of people and goods faster and cheaper. Development of road infrastructure has the added benefit of directly contributing to economic output. Hence, in addition to being a factor of production that influences production and location decisions, infrastructure contributes to the development of both upstream and downstream industries.
Let me share some ideas on how the road project can be leveraged to support economic transformation of the Upper River Division into a regional economic hub. When it comes to development, the URR has been lagging other regions in the country. There are two reasons why Gambian policymakers should be concerned about spatial inequality. First, inequality between a nation’s regions is one component of overall national inequality across individuals. When spatial inequality goes up other things being equal, so does national inequality. Second, inequality between a nation’s regions may be of concern in and of itself, especially when the geographical regions align with political, ethnic, language, or religion divisions.
Building of the Basse-Fatoto-Koina road and bridges is necessary but not sufficient to drive economic development and make URR a regional economic hub. For this to happen, thegovernmentneeds to make sure that this road can be a catalyst to drive economic activity and spur development in the Upper River division. In other words, a road economy should emerge as a result of the new road and bridges in URR. In The Gambia Agriculture is the main source of livelihood of the rural population and URR is no exception. For those of us who are old enough to remember the time in the 1980s and 1990s, the Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB) had a cotton ginnery in Basse. There was a time in the Gambia that cotton was the second export cash crop bringing in valuable foreign exchange. All of the cotton production came from the Upper River Region and the price of cotton per ton was higher than that of groundnuts in the 1980s. The Basse-Fatoto-Koina road as part of the road economy can be used as a conduit to revive cotton production to diversify the agricultural production from predominantly groundnuts as the main export crop.
After 54 years of independence,it is about time this narrative is changed and agricultural production is diversified from groundnuts and the government should adopt an integrated cotton value chain approach – including improvements in production as well processing,distribution, and retail – to capture the full economic potential of the sector through valueaddition.Unlike groundnuts, cotton has a diverse set of uses that encompass the generation of fiber that can be used for garment production, home textiles and industrial uses, as well as products that can be processed from the seed itself, which include edible cottonseed oil, animal feed and ‘linters’ that can be used for specialty paper and chemicals production. The cotton value chain approach has the potential for employment creation in the region especially job opportunities for the youths.
The Basse-Fatoto-Koina road is a means to an end. The government should come up with strategy at to how this road and bridge infrastructure project can make URR and Basse in particular a regional economic hub, revising agricultural production especially cotton and employment for the young people through agriculture as a business.