Growing Bamboo profits much as a cash crop

Uganda targets to plant 375,000 hectares of bamboo, as part of the strategies to increase forest cover countrywide and also reinforcement of bamboo commercial farming among Ugandans and the 10 year project was put in place worth ugx 297billion of the national Bamboo Development Strategy implemented by the ministry of water and environment through the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and funded by the Dutch-Sino Program through the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) with support from the government.  

Dickson Langoya, the consultant of the strategy, said currently Uganda has an estimated 67,000hectares of bamboo in protected areas and under the strategy, they want to increase the growing bamboo with an additional of 375,000hectares outside protected areas and on private land.

Langoya said that the move is part of the government’s effort to restore the degraded forests and increase forest cover. “The country is already implementing the program of forest land restoration where Uganda has committed to restoring 2.5m hectares of land and 15% of NFA land for restoration should be for bamboo,” he added.

Langoya said the strategy focuses on promoting bamboo planting for livelihood development, sustainable management and utilization of bamboo, encourage bamboo growing as a sustainable resource, bamboo is regarded as grass and regenerates quickly in a short period of time with big economic benefits on top of conserving the environment.

Langoya said Uganda already has two types of Bamboo including; the highland bamboo found in mountain regions like on Mt Elgon, Kisoro, Kabale, Mgahinga and Rwenzori area; and the lowland bamboo mainly found in Northern Uganda and West Nile region.

Tom Okello Obong, the NFA executive director said that Uganda is picking interest in bamboo upon realization of the importance of bamboo as a crop and it has a very big importance to the social contribution and environment of the country which has been proven in countries like China and India where they have had bamboo for the last 40 years.

He said, unlike other trees, bamboo can produce over 10,000 products and its an indigenous crop in Uganda which needs to be modernized it and add value for industrial productions like producing paper to create employment among others.

In 2017, the World Trade Organization estimated that Uganda might be importing paper worth $300m with this Okello adds that if the country has enough bamboo, they expect investors to establish industries like that of paper to create jobs.

Capital investment
According to Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) large scale bamboo plantation investment can aim at producing 520 units per month, translating into 6,240 units annually. To produce these units, you need an initial capital investment worth $1,465 (Shs5.3 million).

This means annually, the revenue potential is premised on $54,600 (Shs199 million). The project has an estimated net profit of $14,594 (Shs53 million) and a payback period of two years and seven months.“Already, the number of Ugandans growing bamboo is increasing so you will be assured of the steady supplies,” UIA records show.

Divine Nabaweesi the owner of Divine Bamboo Group Limited First-hand experience drove Nabaweesi to found Divine Bamboo, a social enterprise with a mission to stop deforestation in Uganda through the promotion of fast-growing local bamboo species to produce clean cooking fuel in the form of bamboo-based briquettes.

“I learned about the numerous uses of bamboo which is indigenous to Uganda and realized that bamboo can be transformed into both charcoal and briquettes that would be an affordable and clean cooking alternative,” she says.

Nabaweesi explains that Bamboo is a fast-growing, annually yielding and self-regenerating biomass, making it an ecologically sustainable alternative to tree biomass from natural forests and the cultivated bamboo can then be processed and converted into briquettes that have a higher calorific value than traditional charcoal and firewood.

Nabaweesi says that Divine Bamboo’s briquettes have been tested and proven to have technically competitive heating properties by the Centre for Research in Energy Efficiency and the briquettes also produce less soot and smoke compared to charcoal and firewood, alleviating negative health and respiratory effects on people and each kilogram of briquettes sells for UGX 1000 which is 30% cheaper than traditional charcoal and burns, slower, and cleaner with no smoke

Since its inception in 2016, Divine Bamboo has become the largest producer of bamboo seedlings in Uganda with a capacity of 400,000 seedlings annually. It has planted approximately 25 hectares of bamboo while working with local farmers and individual tree growers to establish a bamboo briquette value chain that contributes to local economic development.

“We have trained 350 small-scale farmers, mainly women and youth, about the establishment of bamboo plantations and production of bamboo briquettes,” Nabaweesi explains. “We shared knowledge with them on how to grow bamboo as an agro-forestry crop alongside their already existing crops.”

By reaching commercial scale with its production capabilities, Divine Bamboo will increase demand for local bamboo, giving farmers new opportunities to supply a sought-after crop, thereby creating jobs. Meanwhile, the farmers’ crops will be converted to a consumer product that ultimately benefits local people as a cheaper and cleaner cooking solution, as well as the environment by curbing deforestation.

Growing of Bamboo

Nabaweesi says that Bamboo can grow in any landscape including those that are considered degraded.  It can grow in sandy, stony and sometimes water logged areas. In our farm we grow grow  both green bamboos (Dendrocalamus asper)  and Yellow Bamboos (  Bambusa Vulgaris). Bamboo matures in about 3-5 years. Growing bamboo does not require fertilizers or pesticides as bamboo is resistant to diseases. 

Bamboo is spaced depending on the size ranging from 3ft to 7ft. It can be planted in most soil types but generally grows best in a moderately acidic, well-drained, moist, fertile loamy soil and sandy loam soils.

Products and Value

According to Nabaweesi the bamboo plant has numerous traditional and modern uses and is therefore considered to be a miracle plant by many societies in the world. There are over 10000 known uses of bamboo worldwide. It has great value as an economic product as well as for the promotion of a clean environmentsome of the known uses of bamboo include

Whole poles
Bamboo poles have excellent properties and can be used for construction, scaffolding, frameworks, and other structural components of buildings. However, for effective utilization of bamboo for poles, the poles have to be properly preserved to extend their life span


Furniture & Crafts
Bamboo poles can be used for making furniture, handicrafts, and irrigation
systems. Chairs, tables, necklaces, earrings, bungles and other ornamental pieces can be easily made out of bamboo with simple hand tools. Bamboo can be split into thick strips (laths) which are then shaped and glued together to form laminated boards, panels, parquet flooring, doors and window frames


Baskets

Bamboo can be Split into thin strips that are flexible enough to be woven. Broad, thin splits are often woven into mats, which can be pressed together into mat board. Narrower splits are frequently used in weaving handicrafts, furniture, and panels.

Clothes and Paper

Bamboo produces excellent fibre for making paper and high value clothing fabrics.


Food & Fodder
Young Bamboo shoots from certain species make excellent delicacies. In Uganda, The Gishu enjoys bamboo shoots, popularly known as ‘Kamalea’ or ‘Malewa’ as a traditional delicacy. Bamboo leaves also make excellent fodder for livestock including cows, horses, and pigs.

Charcoal
Bamboo poles and other bamboo Waste products, including branches and sawdust, can be used to produce charcoal and charcoal briquettes with high carbon content and calorific value. Bamboo charcoal is also highly adsorptive and is often used in purification systems, particularly the sugar industry, and in household odour treatments.

Challenges 

 John Muhaise an expert in bamboo investment says that challenges in the growing of bamboo are many and points out that there’s lack seedlings for planting, lack of community awareness of the uses of bamboo and the bamboo national policy is not yet in place

Muhaise adds that raising capital for growing of bamboo is a challenge and the government has not yet fully intensified its efforts in commercializing bamboo in Uganda and there is limited research knowledge on bamboo in Uganda.

Nabaweesi says challenges to the development of commercial bamboo planting include the slow pace of state uptake and support as the sector is still young and financial institutions are reluctant to grant credit facilities, including loans.

According to Nabaweesi, the micro-enterprises are still considered poorly organized, which makes receiving support from stakeholders difficult and the skills and technology gap is a challenge.

“It hasn’t been easy especially value addition on bamboo is still new and she still faces challenges related to sensitizing the public. It has been challenging but as the years go on, it is picking up. It has been a lot of research and development but we are getting there,” Nabaweesi explained.

Locally bamboo is sought for handicrafts, residential fencing, flower farming, farm props for banana plantations, furniture, and other minor cottage industry products like basketry and toothpicks.