Different day, same breakfast. Craig is late getting up because he had had trouble sleeping and had taken a sleeping pill in the early morning so had overslept.
Our mission today is about getting to know the bicycle side of things in Accra and we start out by going too find George who works with the Village Bicycle Project (VBP). His place is a long way out from where we are staying on a major highway at the edge of Accra and we never did figure out quite where he was located. The store had no sign of any sort to identify it. The VBP takes donor bikes from the US and distributes/sells them throughout Ghana. George trains people in bicycle maintenance. At his place he has a collection of bikes form the US including a couple of really very good mountain bikes in fine condition. Many of the others are what you might expect to see in garage sales everywhere. One had a CycleSport sticker on it from the store in Park Ridge New Jersey.
We talked to George for quite some time about parts including frame parts. George gets his bikes complete so he doesn’t deal too much in parts and never needs frame parts. The complete bikes can come into Ghana free of import tax but parts are charged import taxes so there is a penalty there. The issues with donor bikes are that the components will be of many different makes and styles and hence need some considerable skill for maintenance, that the quality is sometimes poor (especially those from Australia that often have corrosion due to salt from the seashore areas), and that the supply could be quite irregular. There is no stigma to donor bikes however, and they can be preferred as it is recognized that they are likely to be (or believed to be) better quality than new bikes coming from China.
We needed to understand parts supply issues better and at George’s suggestion we so to the Central Accra market where bike parts can be obtained and where his colleague Samson will meet us. The taxi driver drops us in the wrong location, but fortunately we are in front of a gas station and David gets directions to the place we need to go from the manager and I make a sketch in my notebook that I show the manager for confirmation. A huge crowd collects around the bike and Craig does demos and gives rides. People seem genuinely interested and like the look and style of the bike and are surprised to learn that it’s made from bamboo.
We half walk, half ride to the part of the market where bike parts can be had. This is a run of chaotic stalls that sell everything we need form wheels, tires, cranks to seats handle bars and all the parts we could need besides the bike frame parts (like the bottom bracket shell and steerer tube). The street is narrow and crowded. Bike parts hanging from hooks outside the tiny shops. Even a water bottle with an Australian flag on it! Shops on the other side of the street are selling quite different goods. One looks like a grocery store. Trucks try to get through the street to deliver or pick up. It’s hot and steamy.
The bike parts seem all to be from China and are heavy, and cheap in cost and quality. We buy everything we need to build a frame for about US$42 and the bag of parts is very, very heavy. We need to assess whether this is the right approach or if we should rely on donor bikes for all the frame parts and other components. Maybe there will need to be a hybrid between the two. Donor bike parts are sure to be lighter and generally better quality.
After buying the parts we get another taxi to Mark Dadebo at the Ministry to keep him up to speed an where we are at with our investigations of supply chain issues for the bike parts. Mark wants to do a bike building demo at his facility on Monday. Mark seems really to want to take a lead in this part of the project and that is very encouraging. There is no power in his section of Accra today so he is sitting outside the office trying to catch what breeze he can, and there isn’t much. The Ministry has no generator so this happens every three days.
We talk a bit about assessing the needs. We are working on the fairly safe assumption that small farmers will benefit from a cargo bike in that it makes carrying farm products to market easier, gets things like fertilizer into the cropping area more effectively etc, but this is a supposition and in fact we do not actually know whether transport is a key rate limiter in farm production. There is no point having a better means to transport produce to market if the soil is so depleted it wont produce any more. We need to analyze this a lot better.
The three of us have an early dinner at the restaurant of the hotel -- local fish and its quite good. Then Ibriham and his friends turn up and they take us to a music evening at the Alliance Francaise. Ibriham tells us that one of the groups we will hear uses drums and other instruments he has made so he wants us to see his handy work. The music is almost all drumming with large groups performing and many different styles of drums. The final group included a story dance not too different from some that Australian aboriginals perform (and in fact there will be a group of Torres Straits Islanders performing in a few weeks). It ends with a performance by a fire eater and dancer who is excellent; strong and daring.