Growing of bamboo in Mt Kenya region for commercial purposes is in the pipeline. About ten counties are taking up the initiative by encouraging farmers to grow bamboo plants for commercial purposes. Ten governors who met during a consultative meeting recently at Outspan hotel proposed that bamboo, which is a grass type of plant is a very important plant of conserving water and environment.
The counties bordering Mt Kenya and Aberdare forest have partnered with several organisations, including the ministry of Environment to encourage farmers to grow bamboo as a cash crop for value addition purposes. The governors led by Laikipia Governor, Joshua Irungu noted that bamboo is a plant, which is economically viable and can make furniture for export and cosmetics.
Bamboo is also used as fencing poles for construction, for making fuel and detergents. It is also used in the manufacture of tooth picks and matchsticks. Bamboo foliage can be used as fodder for animals while young bamboo shots can be cooked and eaten as food. It’s juice is used to make vinegar.
In Western Kenya, the sap is used to make ulanzi, a local brew. Bamboo is also good source of charcoal and makes great hedges. Bamboo is also coming to the forefront in the global warming debate as it can mitigate the effects of climate change due to its ability to absorb large amounts of carbon.
It is touted as an agent to replace forest cover that has declined rapidly around the world. In addition, its extensive root network holds soil and prevents it from eroding, making it ideal in for planting along river banks, preventing soil erosion and desertification. With papyrus it can additionally absorb minerals such as phosphorous and nitrogen from saline waters.
It also serves as a food, with its shoots making up part of many Asian dishes and broths in the Himalayas, Indonesia and China. The shoots are rich sources of potassium, and vitamins. In young children these shoots are said to be shortening agents for the measles cycle.
“I will launch a thorough campaign in my county to ensure that everybody grows bamboo. It mostly does well in riparian lands. This will be our green gold,” said Governor Irungu. Historically, Kenya’s bamboo natural habitat has been in the cold areas around Mount Kenya, the Aberdares and Mount Elgon.
However, there are new species being introduced that can survive in tropical or arid climates such as Kibwezi, Maseno, Homa Bay, Migori and parts of the Coast region. The governors said the farmers can grow Oxytenanthera abyssinica variety, which is the scientific name for solid bamboo, a drought resistant shrub and can thrive with minimum annual rainfall of between 350 and 800 mm.
An acre of land can grow 100 shrubs. It can be grown on high and low altitude areas or in wet and dry areas. The meeting which was opened by Environment Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe was also attended by officials from Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Nema and Warma among other organisations. Lesiyampe said bamboo can create jobs for youth and women since industries will be established if it is commercialised.
The plant, which grows one metre per week does well in Mt Kenya region, especially in wetland areas. Similar sentiments were backed by Governors Mwangi Wa Iria (Muranga), Nderitu Gachagua (Nyeri), Martin Wambora (Embu), Peter Munya (Meru), Samuel Ragwa (Tharaka Nithi),Daniel Waithaka (Nyandarua) and Joseph Ndathi (Kirinyaga).
“This is a good idea, which must be welcomed by all. It must involve the government and relevant ministries and communities before they roll out,” said Munya. The governors also promised to join hands in curbing illegal harvesting and poaching in the region but blamed government officials for allegedly abetting the vice. Kenya, which from 1988 has had 22 new species introduced, in addition to the indigenous Yushania, now has 150,000 hectares of bamboo, according to the Kenya Forest Research Institute.
“Only five percent of bamboo trees are on land owned by farmers,” says Gordon Sigu, a principal researcher at Kenya Forest Institute and National Coordinator of the East Africa Bamboo Project. The other 95 percent is within Kenyan forests, where harvesting is banned. By contrast, the bamboo sector in Ethiopia is one of the most prolific in Africa with two factories producing flooring material, curtain blinders, tooth picks and chopsticks.
Yet despite the rudimentary state of Kenya’s bamboo sector, Sigu cites Githunguri, Molo Shinyalu, Kamai Kinale and Olenguruone as areas where farmers with two to three clumps of mature bamboo have seen their incomes rise. At Githunguri, a tea growing area, tea picking baskets are in constant demand. So farmers with two to three clumps of bamboo are weaving these baskets and selling each at Sh250 to Sh350. Each clump of mature bamboo with 50 poles can produce 25 baskets. - By JOSEPH WAMBUGU