Transportation difficulties make it difficult – sometimes impossible – for farmers to get their products to markets. In some remote rural locations, there are not even roads and without proper storage facilities, fresh produce rots.

In Kenya, only about 32% of the rural people live within two kilometers of an all-weather road. The figure is 31% for Angola, 26% for Malawi, 24% for Tanzania, 18% for Mali and a mere 10.5% for Ethiopia. Expanding rural road networks (in addition to investing in electrification and irrigation) is a strategic investment for rural development and should not be judged against narrowly defined economic criteria.

According to the World Bank, the continent’s infrastructure deficit is considered one of the most significant barriers to sustaining Africa’s growth. It is estimated that the continent will need to invest nearly $93 billion per year over the next decade to bridge the deficit. Some estimates put the budget for Nigeria alone at $15 billion per year.

While a significant challenge, transportation is also an untapped opportunity. Poor roads, unsuitable vehicles and security concerns are among the constraints that farmers face to get produce safely and quickly to market. It inflates haulage costs, and limits export opportunities.

“Freight logistic costs per km are over 50% higher in Eastern Africa than Europe or the US,” states Frank Matsaert, CEO of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), a non-profit focused on trade issues.

As an example, the 1,600-km journey from Mombasa to Kigali takes approximately 422 hours (nearly 18 days) compared with one day for similar distances in Europe, according to TMEA. “Trucks must stop at two border posts and are likely to encounter 45 road blocks, each of which involves delays and costs, as well as potentially damaging the goods being transited,” says Matsaert.

Compounding this challenge of poor roads over long distances, are the many many middlemen, which erodes producer profits.

Countries need to work together to cut superfluous bureaucracy that will reduce the need for costly middlemen.