For our geo quiz today, we were looking for a west African country. It's just a few degrees north of the equator. The answer is Ghana.
Ghana was the first place in sub-Saharan Africa where Europeans came in search of gold. It's also one of the African countries that's leading the way to widespread use of bicycles, as the World's David Leveille reports.
Reliable and affordable transportation is rare in many parts of Africa. David Peckham would like to change that. He directs the Moscow, Idaho-based Village Bicycle Project. The organisation (and its partner organizations like Bikes Not Bombs and Bikes for the World) collects bikes in cities including Washington, Chicago and Boston....then ships them to Ghana's capital Accra where they are distributed throughout the countryside:
"People use their bicycle kids to get to their farms, to get to market, to organize, you have community leaders who need to talk with other people in other towns and they'll use their bicycles, kids will use them to get to school, sometimes 3-4 miles away, teachers to school, anyone who needs to get anywhere."
In the last 7 years, The Village Bicycle Project has shipped 20 thousand used and donated bikes to Ghana. You might wonder where all those bikes come from? Peckham says there's almost an endless supply here...where the car is king.
"Its really amazing how many bicycles are just lying around, I live in a town of 20 thousand and people bring me 400 bicycles a year. We kept thinking that it's going to dry up but it never does. The number of bicycles out there that are all dressed up and ready to go, collecting dust in basements is staggering there's millions of unwanted bikes out there
Along with shipping bike, The Village Bike Project also teaches Ghanaians basic bike repair.
IN WORDS: People learn from our workshops how to notice when something's wrong and get it fixed instead of riding it into the ground, I've had people tell me things like ok I know your bicycles because they're quiet ...which means that the rider knows to take care of noises, the sound of the dry chain is a problem that needs to be addressed and I'm finding that 5 years later people are still riding our bicycles."
And as long as they are still riding, Peckham believes the project is working. The fact that you can travel by bicycle 4x as far as you can walk. ... Means greater mobility and freedom for Ghanaians.
And another 2 wheeled solution is coming to Ghana...Craig Calfee runs a bicycle shop outside Santa Cruz...but this week he's in Accra to test out his latest idea.
"I'm in Ghana to help spread the idea of building bicycles out of bamboo."
Calfee has designed a sturdy bicycle with a frame is made of bamboo. ...Bamboo is light but its as strong as nails and it grows throughout southern Ghana. Calfee says his bike's lightweight frame will support heavy loads. He hopes to demonstrate that this week:
"We want to build one here this week , I built one back in California last week, that one we've been riding around a little bit here, I want to demonstrate how much of a load it can take, it can handle, we had two guys on it that's a demonstration we want to do here with some heavy load, perhaps two 60 kilo bags of cocoa, as cocoa's a big cash crop here in Ghana."
The bamboo bike has attracted the support of Columbia University's Earth Institute. It's mission is sustainable development. The Institutes' John Mutter has teamed up with Calfee to explore the idea of a micro-business.
"The bicycle is very important for the lives of poorer rural communities . Our purpose here is to try to stimulate the idea of building bicycles from a native product, bamboo. The idea is both that we can build a better bicycle than what's available here now and importantly it can be built locally out of local products."
Bamboo is so strong and grows so quickly...it's increasingly being used in the construction to replace timber. Now this forward looking team of bike builders hopes to put bamboo to the test in Ghana, one bicycle at a time.