Bridging the Mobility Gap with Bicycles in Rural Zambia

TTT Podcast

Empowering women in Zambia through cycling with Wyson Lungu

Wyson Lungu was working in the telecommunications sector when the idea to bring bicycles to remote villages in Zambia first struck. Stranded in the middle of a valley after his 4×4 broke down, Lungu discovered for himself how perilous some of the daily journeys undertaken by those in the countryside could be. Travel, he knew, was difficult in the landlocked country, with little infrastructure outside of the major urban areas. What did this lack of mobility options mean for the people who lived in these less populated regions? 

 “I wanted to see how I could bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” Lungu told TUMI on the Talking Transport Transformation podcast. “This is a big divide in Africa, what those in urban areas have versus what they have in rural areas.” 

 So in 2018, Lungu launched Onyx, a new business aimed at bringing bicycles to women in rural areas and helping to close the mobility gap. “At the center of any social economic development, the first thing a person has to do is to move from one place to another,” he said. “I wish the world understood what mobility means for everyone, especially for women who are marginalized, who are excluded.” 

 Women, Lungu notes, are often the bedrock of the family in rural Zambia. Responsible for the household and for ensuring the children are sent off to school each day, women also put in quite a few miles each day to draw water or work crops. Lungu’s idea was to bring bicycles to these women so they could save both time and energy on these trips.  

 “A bicycle is a catalyst, it unlocks unlimited potential,” he said. 

 Working out the logistics 

 Lungu credits the Onyx bike scheme with helping those in desperate need. After realizing that pregnant women were made to travel over 50 kilometers on foot to deliver their children at a level-one hospital in the central province, Onyx provided 12 bicycles to women in the area so they could access antenatal services.  

 In that regard, as well as others, the bicycle program’s working toward several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, most notably Goal 1, which seeks to eliminate poverty and hunger. By instituting a cross-subsidy model of payment, which allows those in rural areas to barter agricultural goods as payment for the bicycles, Onyx has also made it easier for those who cannot afford a bike to be subsidized by those who others with a more steady income who live in urban areas.  

 Although the company is still quite new, it is working with several European partners as it expands; some of the new offerings include e-bikes and e-cargo bikes fitted with coolers that allow farmers to preserve milk until they can get it to market. Working with the Berlin-based bicycle manufacturer, Anywhere.Berlin, Onyx was able to find bikes made specifically to accommodate the unique, rugged terrain of rural Africa.  

 Room to grow 

 Onyx likewise sees itself expanding further, with the lofty goal of distributing one million bikes by 2030. “That’s a drop in the ocean,” Lungo said, noting that although Zambia is landlocked, it is surrounded by eight countries. With over 60 million people in the region, many of whom do not have access to vehicles or other means of transportation, making the market for alternative means of transit wide open.  

“The mobility challenge is huge. We are just a small part in the grand scheme of mobility,” Lungu said. But he’s also focused his own business on expanding the abilities of those who live in rural areas. 

 “You need to start with the rural areas because if those areas are left behind, then what kind of social transformation will you achieve? Mobility is a human right.” 

 To hear more about how Onyx is empowering women in rural Zambia, listen to the full Talking Transportation Transformation podcast here. 

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