The following article is copyright © African Technology Forum. All rights reserved. This article appeared in Volume 7, Number 3 of ATF. Select this link to see the table of contents for this issue. Select this link to order this issue.

The Cycle Trailer in Ghana:
A Reasonable But Inappropriate Technology

Mohammed Salifu *

Women, in addition to performing their elaborately defined household chores, also constitute the backbone of agricultural production in the rural areas of Ghana. But a large percentage of their time and effort is spent on transportation because they have few alternatives to the strenuous practice of headloading. Some recent programs have been developed to equip women with appropriate technologies that alleviate this transport burden.

This article discusses the experience of the cycle trailer technology which was designed to reduce headloading. Factors thought to have contributed to the failure of the technology to win popular recognition are discussed and measures recommended.

Rural transport of goods in Ghana is predominantly by headloading. Much effort is spent daily in the basic domestic requirements of carrying water and fuel, and visiting the farm and grinding mill. A substantial part of this burden falls on women, who not only are responsible for some seventy percent of total time and eighty percent of all effort spent on transportation, but constitute the backbone of agricultural production in rural area.1 To enhance these women's efficiency, and save time and effort for participation in equally important social and recreational activities, there is an urgent need to equip women with appropriate technologies to alleviate the transport burden.

The cycle trailer was one such "appropriate technology" response to the rural transportation problem. It was designed as an attachment to the bicycle, because the latter is best suited for the "footpath economy" of the rural areas, is relatively affordable, and has a proven record of versatility as an intermediate means of transport in northern Ghana.2,3

Implementation of the Technology

The cycle trailer technology began with the Intermediate Means of Transport pilot program, sponsored by the International Development Association of the World Bank. The primary objective of this project, which was implemented between 1981 and 1991, was to provide an alternative to the burdensome practice of headloading prevalent among women in most parts of the country. To this end, IDA undertook to develop "a two-wheeled Cycle Trailer to increase the load carrying capacity of bicycles for use by rural households and for goods, delivery, and collection in urban areas."4

Following field trials of two prototypes of the vehicle, one was selected for improvement, mass production, and distribution mainly to women of identified groups to demonstrate and promote the technology. Organizations involved in the exercise were the 31st December Women's Movement and Amasachina Self-Help Association, both NGOs with branches in Tamale, the main city of northern Ghana, and Agents of Development for Rural Communities (ADRCOM) of Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region. The Department of Feeder Roads, a government agency, was also involved. Cycle trailers and new bicycles were supplied in bulk quantities to these organizations for distribution. The conditions of payment for, and eventual ownership of, the trailer and bicycle were deliberately generous to encourage patronage. At this stage, the mood of participants was generally ecstatic as more and more people were keen to take part in the exercise.

Two engineering workshops in the Tamale Municipality (Goodman and Sons Ltd. and Fatawu Bicycle Co. Ltd.) were subsequently commissioned to start commercial production of the cycle trailer to cater to the anticipated high demand. With little or no financial credits, these workshops have managed to build respectable stocks of the cycle trailer, but to their complete disappointment, are yet to receive any firm orders for their product.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to surmise that the high enthusiasm of participants in the demonstration and promotion exercise was induced more by an ulterior motive--to take advantage of the liberal payment conditions to own a bicycle--than by real confidence in the cycle trailer technology. To some extent, it may also have been the excitement of experimenting with something new. But more importantly, there were compelling objective reasons for the stifled demand for the cycle trailer.

Why it Failed to Catch On

In northern Ghana, where bicycling is popular and exists side-by-side with the equally prevalent but highly strenuous practice of headloading, it would seem logical that any real solution to the problem posed by the latter would be bicycle based. To this extent, it may be said that the cycle trailer technology was a commonsense solution to headloading. That the technology failed to achieve the desired objective was perhaps the first indication that its appropriateness for the task was questionable. Sampled views of individual participants and officials of the NGOs and other agencies involved in the demonstration and promotion of the cycle trailer revealed that a number of factors combined to render the technology inappropriate and unusable. These factors are discussed below.

Financial Considerations

It was ironic that although the cycle trailer was priced in 1991 at cents31,000 (US$100), a new bicycle was being sold at and average price of cents27,000 (US$85). For most cyclists, it costs a fortune to acquire a bicycle, so to be asked to pay more than this for the cycle trailer, which can only work in tandem with the bicycle, is to ask too much of them even if the price were the sole determinant of patronage. In fact, most prospective users of the cycle trailer indicated that it would only begin to make sense if priced anywhere below one-half and one-third the cost of the bicycle.

Some attempts were made to lessen this financial burden. A promotional price of cents20,000 ($65) was offered to participants together with very liberal payment terms during the demonstration and promotion exercise. The Department of Feeder Roads experimented with a group purchase system for some employees on its labor-intensive road construction projects. Monthly installments were deducted at source from employees' salaries. But this scheme, like others operated by the NGOs, had to be discontinued as the salaries themselves were paltry and commitment of participants started to waver.

Technological Factors

The advantages offered by the cycle trailer technology were marginal and therefore could not reasonably justify its introduction. A close observation of bicycle transport in the Northern Region of Ghana reveals that considerable experience has been gained over the years in the use of the flat bicycle carrier for goods transport. It is used to carry loads ranging from water, grains, and farm inputs to firewood (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The flat carrier takes the load.

For most cyclists, the flat carrier manages loads which are within the limitations of the human effort required to move them and they see the cycle trailer as a rather clumsy and redundant addition to the bicycle. In several cases, cycle trailers which were supplied together with bicycles were detached and conveniently parked away to collect dust while the bicycles were being hired out to pay back the cost.

Available evidence suggests that the projected maximum load of 200kg to be handled by the cycle trailer was over-optimistic. Broken wheel spokes, which may suggest excessive loading, were widely reported, and some cycle trailers collapsed instantly after being loaded with two maxi-bags of maize with an approximate total weight of 200kg. It is reckoned that, perhaps, the provision of a mechanism to reduce the human effort required to move large loads could have enhanced the image and proper use of the technology. Such mechanisms could have prevented the use of the cycle trailer as a hand cart, as was the case in some isolated instances (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The cycle trailer being used as a hand cart.

Socio-Economic Considerations

The problem of headloading was rightly identified as essentially the "rural women's burden," but the proposed solution was completely out of tune with the immediate economic, social, and cultural environment of the rural Ghanaian woman. Consequently, the problem was unaffected and continued unabated (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Headloading continues unabated.

The socio-economic disposition of the average Ghanaian woman has ensured that she does not own any means of transport except her feet. Thus, notwithstanding the prevalence of bicycles in northern Ghana, women do not own any, nor do they ride. This male-dominated society is only now beginning to grudgingly accept the few women who venture out on the bicycle. Against this background, it was clearly unrealistic to expect women to patronize the cycle trailer, since the minimum precondition to this is at least to be able to ride, let alone own, the bicycle.

Because of the conservative Islamic dressing style of the northern Ghanaian woman (see Figure 3), a "woman's bicycle" would have been a better choice (Figure 4).

Figure 4: A woman's bicycle.

This is of medium height without a crossbar, but this type of bicycle was not available, even though the cycle trailer was supposed to meet the needs of women, first and foremost. Paradoxically, the bicycle used for launching, demonstrating, and promoting the cycle trailer, was too high and had a crossbar (Figure 5).

Figure 5: A man's bicyle with crossbar.

This presented considerable mounting problems to women and was therefore effectively beyond their use.


The cycle trailer was conceived as an appropriate technology solution to a rural transport problem--headloading. But this objective was not achieved. The technology failed to win popular recognition because it was unaffordable and not entirely relevant to the needs of its intended users.

Even though the project identified women as the target group, the packaging of the technology completely ignored their vulnerable socio-economic status and the virtual absence of any "bicycle culture" amongst them. At the same time, given the demonstrated capacity of the flat bicycle carrier, the predominantly male cycling population was not particularly keen to invest its hard earned extra income in the cycle trailer. In fact, with the elaborate division of labor between males and females in Ghanaian society, it is difficult to imagine how a favorable patronage of the technology by male cyclists could have affected the incidence of headloading in any significant manner. It would take thorough socio-cultural changes to reverse or influence these roles. Until this is done, technologies designed to address women-related problems, such as headloading, need to be specifically tailored to suit their direct use.


In spite of the poor implementation in this case, bicycles have the potential to ease the burden of headloading, and must be allowed to play this role. To do so, the following important prerequisites must be met:


* Mohammed Salifu is a Research Officer at the Building and Road Research Institute, Traffic and Transportation Division, P.O. Box 40, UST, Kumasi, Ghana.


1. Harrison, P. and J. Howe. "Measuring the Transport Demands of the Rural Poor: Experiences from Africa." GATE: Questions, Answers, Information. No. 1/89 May, 1989. pp. 3-6.

2. Salifu, M. "Bicycle Safety--Sustaining Mobility and Environment." IATSS Research. Vol. 17 No. 2, September 1993. pp. 60-66

3. Barbara, G. K. "Bicycles for Mobility." GATE: Questions, Answers, Information. No. 1/89 May, 1989. pp. 35-36.

4. Technology Consultancy Centre (UST). "Transport Rehabilitation Project--Intermediate Means of Transport Pilot Project." Final Report. August 1991.

Back to ATF Home Page

Find out more about ATF | Feature Articles | ATF Back Issues: Information You Can Use | Subscribe to ATF | Send a letter to the editor: Talk to us! | Send comments about this home page | ATF Technical Services | What's New | Related Web Sites

© 1997 African Technology Forum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology