Floor tiles, baskets, boats, bridges, brushes, buckets, charcoal, furniture, and toothpicks are among products that are made from bamboo.
Add to this list crisps, beer and vinegar and you get the picture of a wonder crop bamboo is.
Bamboo is one of the most profitable trees on the planet. Sadly, not many people grow it yet they can make millions of shillings from it.
What makes the tree even more attractive is that it can be grown alongside other crops.
Bamboo, which is from the grass family, grows three times faster than eucalyptus trees, reaching maturity in three years. It is also a self-regenerating natural resource where new shoots appear annually.
In addition, it can be harvested after every two years for up to 40 years.
For this, the bamboo tree is considered the best candidate for afforestation and conservation of the environment.
“The bamboo forms a network of roots in the soil, therefore, binding it and preventing soil erosion especially in steep slopes and riverbanks where soil erosion is greatest. The roots help prevent the soil from being washed away by runoff water during heavy rains,” says Gordon Sigu, principal scientist at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri).
“Some species of bamboo absorb as much as 12 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per hectare. The tree is important in addressing the effects of global warming and climate change.”
Mr Sigu further notes bamboo shoots, which are conical in shape, are edible. Currently, Kefri is testing the viability of making bamboo crisps from the shoots to supplement other foods.
Bamboo crisps, according to him, are rich in fibre, proteins and minerals such as potassium and zinc as well as Vitamin E and C. In addition, the tree can also provide products such as bamboo juice, bamboo beer, bamboo vinegar and fabric.
Due to the significant role played by the tree in conservation, bamboo is used in the rehabilitation of degraded forest areas especially in Aberdare and Mt Kenya. Also in environments along rivers, wetlands and areas surrounding water reservoirs such as Ndakaini Dam.
Moses Njuguna, a bamboo farmer, says the tree is green gold.
Njuguna has planted over 1,000 bamboo trees on his farm in Kangundo.
“I started planting bamboo trees in 2004 on part of my eight acres. A decade later, I have not been disappointed. I have a steady supply of firewood and charcoal as well as fencing pockets. I also sell the bamboo stems, depending on the diameter at Sh20 per foot. I have bamboo trees which are over 40 metres tall,” says Njuguna, who sells a pole at between Sh400 and Sh500.
The trees help in maintaining moisture on his land, control erosion and they have not interfered with other crops since they do not compete for nutrients or water.
“Bamboo consumes plenty of water when still young but after growing, rainwater is enough.”
Other than the rehabilitation and conservation purposes, each part of a bamboo tree has a purpose.
Its abundant foliage can be used to make shades in coffee and tea plantations. It can also serve as animal fodder. “Once they dry, the leaves fall thus cover the ground and help preserve soil moisture,” says Njuguna.
This promotes mulching as well as serve as organic fertiliser as it creates a thick humus layer that enriches the soil.
In Ethiopia, according to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, the tree is used to make water tanks where bamboo is the main structural element for the container, reducing the cost of water storage by up to half compared to concrete tanks. It is also used in the making of boats.
Bamboo is also an important source of materials for construction, cottage industry and for landscaping. Kenya spends over Sh3 billion annually to import timber. Whereas a hardwood tree grown in tropical areas can take up to 30 years to reach maturity, bamboo can grow in as little as four years. And with each harvest, the tree stimulates growth of other bamboo shoots.