Roads to Prosperity
Ramakrishnaraju stands proudly in his 3 hectare banana plantation in Madhavarampodu village in Cuddapah district in the interior of rural Andhra Pradesh.
A new inter-state highway that links Hyderabad, the state’s capital, to Chennai in neighboring Tamil Nadu runs beside his trees.
Until three years ago, Ramakrishnaraju and others farmed the way their forefathers had done for generations. They grew low-value crops of rice, coarse cereals, and groundnuts. Some of the produce was kept to feed the family and the rest was sold for small sums to middlemen who then sold it on for higher profits in the big urban markets further away.
New cash crops, flourishing markets, and higher returns
Now, the new highway has changed all that. Completed in June 2004 with US$ 350 million in financing from the World Bank, it has brought prosperity to this far-flung region.
Once he heard about the proposed highway, Ramakrishnaraju changed his age-old practices and set out a new banana plantation on his field.
Now, his farm is flourishing and fruit merchants from the nearby market towns arrive regularly to pick up the ripe bananas.
Returns per hectare have leapt three fold; Ramakrishnaraju now earns Rs.75,000 (US$ 1744) each season from this crop. “Once the others in the village saw the benefits I received, they switched over to growing bananas too,” he says with the pride of a pioneer.
The local farmers’ cooperative has also felt the difference. Farmers and merchants now pour into this roadside market to trade in the region’s famed mango, papaya, banana, and lime crops. Earnings for all have almost doubled as the new highway has reduced travel times and spoilage is now almost nil.
Better connectivity to towns and reduced transport costs
Transporters have stood to gain as well. Trucks and buses now reach their destinations sooner, and fuel and maintenance costs are down.
“These savings mean that we don’t have to raise fares every time fuel prices go up,” says R. Venkatraman, the state transport undertaking’s local manager.
And the new road is safer, too. Truck driver Mohammad Aziz, who makes the Hyderabad-Chennai journey at least four times a month ferrying iron ore, explains, “Earlier I would constantly encroach into the oncoming lane to avoid the potholes. Now, I drive at a good speed and can travel safely at night as I can see the margins clearly.”
Petrol pumps and roadside eateries have sprung up along the highway opening up new opportunities for rural youth. As testimony to this new demand, land prices along the highway have increased, with much of the land having doubled in value. The enterprising have bought three-wheeled vehicles and vans to carry agricultural produce to market and are earning good profits. And village folk can now look for work further afield, without adding to the numbers who used to migrate to cities and towns in search of work.