Can Bikes Help Reduce Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa?


By Charles Pekow — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has undertaken a three-year $3.5 million project to see if promoting bicycling can reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Two contractors examined the situation last year in Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. This Bicycles for Growth (BFG) project plans to set up four to six pilot programs to see if providing affordable and durable bicycles can help people get to work and other places.

BFG is looking for partners to help run the programs and advocate for bicycling in the countries. It needs to import almost all the bicycles, mainly from China and India, plus second-hand vehicles, often from Europe or Japan. Many owners said their bicycles were pre-owned.

A cyclist transports bananas to market in Uganda. Photo Copyright: © 2006 Svetlana Edmeades; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

But bicycles are an important share of transit. In Rwanda, for instance, 41 percent of trips to work or market are made by bike, the project says. In agricultural Malawi, meanwhile, 42 percent of rural households and 30 percent of urban ones owned at least one bike. Many people also get around by bicycle taxi, but the project expects this business to slow down because of a rise of motorbike taxis and public transit.

In Uganda too, bicycles were more common in rural areas than urban ones, where motorcycles and taxis are more accessible and roads are more dangerous for bicycling, according to USAID Bicycles for Growth, Uganda Bicycle Market System, Summary Report. 2023, put out by the contractors JE Austin Associates and World Bicycle Relief.

The study concludes that in Uganda “a well-functioning bicycle market system would significantly improve the lives of these large numbers of people who struggle to travel to health services, education, economic opportunities, and basic social services, community, or religious events, because of limited access to transport.”

To see the reports on the project, go to


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