KINSHASA, February 9, 2011—As the world grapples with concerns over rising food prices, early returns from a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo show that smart investments along the agricultural value chain can go a long way toward lowering prices on local markets.
For a long time, crossing the Loange River was a major headache for merchants and passengers who traveled along National Highway No. 1 between the cities of Kikwit in Bandundu province and Tshikapa in Kasaï-Occidental.
Whenever they reached this point, they had to unload their trucks on one side of an old bridge that hung over the river and then load them again on the other side. “This transshipment would last two days and it would take a total of five days to travel between the two cities,” recalls John Kukulu, coordinator of the bridge rehabilitation effort funded by the World Bank under its Emergency Multi-sector Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Project (EMRRP).
Dubbed the “Fiftieth Anniversary Bridge” because it was opened during the celebration of DR Congo’s 50th anniversary of independence, the bridge truly defies nature. Stretched over 440 meters, it is the country’s second longest structure of this type, after the Maréchal Bridge (722 meters) that spans the Congo River, linking the capital city of Kinshasa to the port the city of Matadi, in Bas-Congo province.
Making a Real Economic Impact
Since rehabilitation of the Loange Bridge, travel time between Kikwit and the diamond city of Tshikapa has been reduced to just a few hours. Travel was further facilitated by the construction of another bridge over the nearby Lovua River, which vehicles had to bypass in the past, using a long detour to get back on National Highway No. 1.
The bridges have made a real difference for families and businesses in these regions. When transport conditions are poor, farmers lose part of their output because it takes longer for shipments to reach markets and other distribution centers. They often have to increase the prices of the remaining output so that they can make up for their losses.
By improving access to Kasaï-Occidental and its agricultural zones, these structures help increase supplies to urban centers along the route. They also contribute to economic development and lower food prices in local markets, not only in the cities of Kikwit and Tshikapa, but also in Kananga and Mbuji-Mayi. For families, the difference is immediate. “A sakombi of corn that used to cost 2,500 Congolese francs now costs 1,600 because it is now easy to transport goods,” noted one Kikwit resident, referring to a basic unit of measurement for grains in Congolese markets equivalent to about one kilogram.
Key to Regional Integration
Launched in 2002 when DR Congo was emerging from war, the EMRRP is a large-scale, US$700 million project that marks the reunification of the country. Covering key sectors of the Congolese economy, its aim was to support the efforts and strategies put in place by the government to address the challenges that were facing the country, particularly the priority needs of the population through the restoration of basic infrastructure.
The benefits derived from projects such as this go beyond national borders. “The Loange Bridge is vital to regional integration because it provides a continuous road link across six provinces in DR Congo and it also enables a connection between Central Africa and countries in East and Southern Africa,” notes Christophe Bosch, infrastructure sector leader at the World Bank office in Kinshasa.
Built over a period of 18 months at a cost of US$36 million, the Loange Bridge is made of reinforced concrete and steel. It can handle a load of up to 50 metric tons.