Improving Rural Accessibility in Peru's Highlands
Greta Sloan

In the 1990’s, seventy percent of Peru’s population was poor, and about thirty-five percent was extremely poor. Poor rural accessibility remained at the heart of the problem, and prevented people from being able to access services and markets. The rugged, mountainous Peruvian highlands by nature made certain segments of the population difficult to reach, but this problem was compounded by violence perpetrated by the Maoist Shining Path Movement and related government responses, and by failed government policies that led to weak institutions and dilapidated rural infrastructure. 

José Luis Irigoyen, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice, sat down with IMAGO’s Isabel Guerrero to discuss the process of developing an initiative to improve rural accessibility, beginning around 1994. The intended beneficiaries: 1.5 million people living in Peru’s Highlands. When the project began, there was virtually no economic connectivity between the targeted regions and other parts of Peru.

The president of Peru at the time, Alberto Fujimori, had an interest in promoting rural accessibility, so Irigoyen, with a team from the World Bank, partnered with the Ministry of Transport. Irigoyen describes an interesting Catch-22: “There was no capacity at the municipal or district level, but according to legislation, they were the ones responsible.” From day one, the project would have to be transferred to lower levels of government, and there was a need to find an institutional set-up that would work. There was almost no information available on transportation networks in the targeted highland areas, so it was also clear from the inception of the project that the beneficiaries would be involved in the design.

Irigoyen, with a team, traveled around the highlands for consultations. Irigoyen describes, “The communities were saying, ‘Don’t do what we have seen before, where all of a sudden there is money, there is a project, you do something, and then you disappear. We want these conditions, once they are improved, to stay.’ So that was a strong connection with maintenance; it was an important policy for this project to improve sustainability.”

The roles of communities and local governments were clarified in the project design, execution, and evaluation. Communities participated in the planning process through prioritizing routes and communicating their transport needs. Networks of roads and paths were then rehabilitated and connected with regional markets. Community-based micro-enterprises were then set up for road maintenance, where typically 9-15 members would maintain 20-50 km of the roads. Over 15,000 km of roads were rehabilitated and maintained.

The project had several major outcomes and takeaways:

  1. Community-based micro-enterprises were a cost-effective solution to provide year-round accessibility with unpaved rural roads.
  2. The project generated employment both directly (micro-enterprise members), and indirectly (others in the community). Income increased by 40%, 6% of members created other family-run micro-enterprises, and 85% of micro-enterprises hired other laborers to farm their plots.
  3. Micro-enterprises were catalysts for local development, as they promoted access to a secure income stream. Technical assistance and entrepreneurial capacity enabled micro-enterprises to jump-start productive activities, bringing services to, and stimulating labor markets within their communities.
  4. Micro-enterprises became a focal point of community work and participation increased civic engagement, as 83 former micro-enterprise leaders became elected officials, and citizens in project areas demanded greater accountability from elected officials.

Overall, access was improved, time spent traveling was reduced, access to services and markets increased, and overall, there was an increase in income and productive assets.