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«THE MALAWI CART: An Affordable Bicycle-Wheel Wood-Frame Handcart for Agricultural, Rural and Urban Transport Applications in Africa Arnold P. ...»

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Preliminary field-testing of the Malawi Cart has not been confined to Malawi. The ITDG, Eastern Africa recently completed initial trials of six Malawi Carts in Kenya. In one market town, Malawi Carts were leased to youth groups for transporting market goods and for selling water. Another trial placed carts with two groups of women farmers, who mostly used them to carry irrigation water and manure. The third trial involved youth groups operating commercial transport services; they used their Malawi Carts to carry cement, maize and tomatoes. Summing up the results of these trials, the ITDG wrote: “The handcarts have been well received and have enormous potential. … The carts are also answers to other technology shortfalls like animal drawn carts in Kajiado where not all women own donkeys or in other project areas where not all members own bicycles. … The next step may be to lease out the carts en masse on a commercial basis to test the market after of course addressing the few technical concerns raised by the users” (Macharia, 2002).

It is envisaged that other development agencies and organizations will evaluate (and, where necessary, improve upon) the Malawi Cart design in both urban and rural settings in SSA. Agricultural extension services could play a major role in such an effort by distributing flyers with a dimensioned 6 exploded view of the handcart, and instructions for the cart’s construction and use. Agricultural extension field agents could demonstrate handcarts, advise users on their care and maintenance, (especially on the need to avoid overloading) and collect data for handcart assessment.

The Malawi Cart is designed to be made by ordinary carpenters serving local markets, in the same way that carpenters currently satisfy the demand for doors, windows, beds, tables and chairs. Yet while most of these items are manufactured locally, some wooden furniture is produced in factories and distributed over a larger area. In a similar fashion, it is envisaged that, although most Malawi Cart construction will be by small-scale carpenters, some will be mass-produced in workshops with power machinery, and will be marketed by retailers instead of being sold directly to the public by the artisan-makers. Such mass manufacture ought to result in lower purchase cost to consumers, provided the costs of distribution are not excessive. At present, at least in Malawi, the cost of transporting bulky finished handcarts by truck is excessively high. Mass production of pre-cut and -drilled knocked-down cart kits should be one way of reducing shipping costs to a more acceptable level.

The long-range strategy outlined above envisages the Malawi Cart as a transitional technology leading to the introduction into SSA of the conventional handcart design employing two wheels on a common axle. Were these conventional handcart components readily and affordably available in SSA today—as they are in China and India—there would be no need for an alternative, independent-wheel design like that of the Malawi Cart. Those wheel-and-axle components have a much higher load capacity than bicycle wheels. They also have heavier tyres with wider treads that give better flotation on soft ground, and improved puncture resistance. They allow the construction of lighter, stronger, narrower and ultimately cheaper handcarts than the Malawi Cart design. Government and NGO’s alike should encourage their importation and distribution. Although initially more expensive than bicycle wheels, their worth would soon be demonstrated and their cost to the consumer quickly amortized.

If the SSA population is unaware of the existence of affordable handcarts, they cannot desire them.

As with scented soap, cooking oil and aspirin, advertising has an important role to play in informing the public of a new product, the handcart, that will satisfy not merely a desire, but a serious need. If manufacturers find it cost-effective to advertise premium-priced scented soaps, it makes sense for governments and development agencies to avail themselves of the same means in order to inform the people they serve how handcarts can substantially improve their lives. The advertising techniques developed by African ministries of health, which advocate for the use of condoms to prevent HIV infection, should be adapted to advocate for the use of handcarts as an efficient, affordable means of easing the transport burden, increasing agricultural productivity, and, by increasing the supply of domestic water, materially reducing morbidity and mortality. The bicycle was long ago embraced by Africans who could afford them because it was of such obvious transport utility. There is every reason to believe that, had it been introduced at the same time, the handcart would have been even more enthusiastically accepted.

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Workshop Proceedings Human and draught animal power in crop production. Harare, Zimbabwe, FAO, Rome, Italy. 154p. (Full paper 5p.) Photographs [Taken from the Malawi Handcart Project web site: www.malawihandcartproject.org ]

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