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One more reason to grow the versatile bamboo

Friday October 17 2014

Esther Wairimu uses the bamboo feeding trough

Esther Wairimu uses the bamboo feeding trough in Thika. PHOTO | FELIX MUGENDI NATION MEDIA GROUP

Charles Thuo pushes the saw back and forth as it cuts through a bamboo stem resting on his lap.

He adds pressure on the saw completing the task in seconds. Thuo has done the job countless times, and that is why he has the confidence to put the bamboo stem on his lap and cut it.
The 38-year-old makes chicken and rabbit feeding and water troughs from giant bamboo trees in his Kahia-ini home in Kandara, Murang’a.

He begins by buying two-and-half-year bamboo stems from farmers at Sh200 each. “Stalks of this age are big enough for one to carve out the troughs. Their barks are hard, thus do not allow water to pass through, unlike the younger ones,” he says.

But Thuo doesn’t use just any bamboo; the green variety is best-suited for the work. It is hollow, unlike the yellow one.
Thuo cuts the mature bamboo stems into sizes of between 2 and 6 feet from which he makes the troughs. 

CHICK OR RABBITS
“Bamboo is also good because it has caps at the joints, thus, once I cut the stem, I remain with a complete feeding trough, with the sides well-covered.”
After he has divided the stem into pieces, he makes openings through which the chicken or rabbits would feed and drink.

“I use a hacksaw to do the work because an axe or panga may destroy the material or one ends up with rough edges.”
Thuo completes the work by smoothing the rough edges of feeding openings using sand paper.

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The carpenter has been making the troughs since 2008. To begin the business, he invested Sh1,200 which he used to buy six bamboo stems.
Besides the troughs, he makes cigarette holders, piggy banks and hotel bill holders from bamboo stems.

He sells the products at between Sh50 and Sh500. “Piggy banks go for Sh50 each, cigarette holders and hotel bill containers Sh100 each while feeding troughs costs between Sh150 and Sh500, depending on the size,” says Thuo, who has been nicknamed Chicken Man because of his trade.

EARNS ME A LIVING

“I have been making the products for over five years now. This work is what earns me a living,” says the carpenter who dropped out of school at Class Six due to lack of fees.
Thuo, who also keeps chicken, recounts that he came up with the idea one day while carrying a mature bamboo stem.

“I remembered how we used to make toy vehicles from bamboo. It dawned on me that I could actually cut the stem and make troughs. I tried and saw it was a good idea and turned it into business.”

When he started, he was doing it on small-scale but production increased in 2012 when many people embraced quail farming, particularly in Murang’a, Nairobi and Kiambu.

“I raked in good profits when quails were the in thing, but business went down when farmers abandoned the birds,” Thuo says reminiscing that he would get farmers from as far as Nakuru ordering the feeding troughs.

“That time, brokers would come here, buy the troughs at wholesale price and sell to farmers in Ngong, Nakuru and Nairobi.”
Drop in business after people abandoned quails made him diversify to making cigarette holders and piggy banks.

“I sell the piggy banks and cigarette and bill holders to hotels and shops. Villagers buy the piggy banks.”

The carpenter, who now grows bamboo on his quarter acre, employs three casual workers to assist him ferry bamboo stalks from where he sources them.

He pays them Sh30 each. Each day, Thuo starts the work at 6am and makes 50 feeding troughs, 10 piggy banks and 10 cigarette and hotel bill holders by 11am.