Benin: The road to progress
This road crosses the towns of Djougou, Péhunco, Kérou and Banikoara. It is used by the high-capacity vehicles that move cotton from the fields to the region's 18 ginning mills. The cotton sector, a major employer, plays a key role in the Beninese economy, accounting for 45% of fiscal revenues exclusive of customs duties, 13% of national GDP and 80% of official export earnings. Some 60% of Benin's industrial fabric owes its existence to cotton. The cotton road, therefore, is significant to the country's economic and social development. The towns and villages that it crosses have agricultural potential: cereals (maize, sorghum, millet and rice), tubers (yam, sweet potato and cassava) and legumes (soybeans, cowpeas, goussi and Bambara groundnut). The cultivation of cashew nuts, locust beans and shea is also a source of income for the people of the region.
The Djougou-Péhunco-Kérou-Banikoara road is subject to violent weather. In times of rain, means of transport become rare and prices go up, due to the degraded state of the rural roads. Bush taxis are replaced by motorcycle taxis, which considerably increases travel costs, especially on non-market days. During public consultations, one Péhunco resident said, "All the cars that normally use this road are withdrawn after a while. Their drivers say that the risk of damage to their vehicles is too high. The condition of this road is making us poorer."
During this period, water floods a bridge located at Péhunco on the Djougou-Banikoara road, making it impassable for several days. This makes accidents much more likely. "In addition to the state of the road, you should see what condition the bridges are in! In times of rain, vehicles from Djougou cannot get as far as us. The lorry drivers fear accidents with all the load they are carrying. Our markets shrink during this period," said another resident of Péhunco.
Promising consequences for residents and trade
In 2018, the Bank approved funding for the project to refurbish 210 kilometres of the roads that make up the 900-kilometre cotton road, to include four kilometres of single carriageway road and 152 kilometres of improved rural roads. Its contribution amounts to $140 million, or more than 60% of the total cost of the project. Its goal is to reduce poverty in the region by developing basic socio-economic infrastructure. The reduction in transport costs on the road will lead to lower costs for the production and export of cotton and a consequent improvement in the country's competitiveness. In 2018, the average travel time for cotton was 10 hours. The improvements to the road and bridges will reduce journey time to four hours by 2022.
The modernisation and asphalting of the road will lead to increased traffic and trade, lower transport costs and improved quality of life for those living along the route. By 2022, 30% of the population will be within two kilometres of a drivable road, against 20% before the project. The walking distance to bridges will be reduced and access to the Internet will be improved, thanks to fibre optics.
The project will also have a positive impact on the economic activity of the population, particularly by increasing the employability of women and young people. Priority will be given to rural activities practised by women, such as food crop production and processing and marketing activities. These actions will be supported by training in agricultural product processing, in developing projects likely to attract funding, and in accessing finance to diversify household incomes. The budget allocated to activities to promote gender equality and women's empowerment will be €3.6 million.