Why versatile bamboo deserves more attention

Saturday October 22 2016

A Nyeri bamboo seedlings farmer explains the process of propagating the plant in his greenhouse.

A Nyeri bamboo seedlings farmer explains the process of propagating the plant in his greenhouse. The crop is emerging as the new super material, with uses in textiles and construction industries, among others. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KOSTA KIOLEOGLOU
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Over the last couple of years, bamboo has been at the centre of discussions as the future of Kenya. It has been referred to as the miracle crop that can change the way agriculture operates in the country, bringing vast returns as well as benefits to the environment.

The truth is that bamboo’s image is undergoing a transformation. Some now call it “the timber of the 21st century”.

The crop is the new super material, with uses in textiles and construction, among others. It also has the potential to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, the biggest greenhouse gas, and provide some of the world’s poorest people with cash.

Today, you can buy a pair of bamboo socks or use it as a fully load-bearing structural beam in your house. It is said there are some 1,500 uses for bamboo.

There is a rapidly growing recognition of the ways in which bamboo can serve us as consumers and also help to save the planet from the effects of climate change because of its unrivalled capacity to capture carbon.

Although bamboo has been a very popular crop in Asia, it was not that popular in Africa until recently.

In Ghana, Ethiopia and even Kenya, bamboo was until recently regarded by most of the local population as valueless - more as a nuisance to be cleared than a boon to them and their region.

Today bamboo is playing a key role to the local economies, and now on land that was once under dense forest cover, then turned over to slash-and-burn agriculture and ranching, new bamboo plantations are rising.

Since 1988, Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri) has been working together with other organisations to promote this amazing crop.

REQUIREMENTS FOR BAMBOO CULTIVATION

It has also been conducting valuable research on the sustainability and productivity of bamboo species in the country.

However, it is very important to understand that growing bamboo is one thing, making good returns out of it is something else.

People in Kenya are very positive and often get over-excited rushing into projects with high expectations and in several cases do not meet their goals as well as even lose money.

The yields produced and what you are planning to do with your bamboo production is what will determine the expected returns.

It is not as simple as it sounds. You need to choose the correct species that will do well in the area where you have your farm.

You need to spend time and resources to identify the ideal type of bamboo that will give you both great quality and good yields.

Another factor that plays a key role to the success of a bamboo plantation is the mode of cultivation that you will apply.

Most farmers prefer to choose the simplest way to grow bamboo by planting it and letting it grow on its own depending on the rains and its strong surviving characteristics.

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Mr Kioleoglou is Regional Managing Director for East Africa, Africa Plantation Capital. The company promote sustainable agroforestry projects such as bamboo plantations.