Meet Divine Nabaweesi Who Left Real Estate Business To Fight For Environmental Conservation

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Everyone has a divine desire in contributing something to make the world a better place, but there are a few people that make the determined decision to take their desire a step further and lay strategies on how it can be achieved but for Divine Nabaweesi, her love for nature and trees, encouraged her to help address the issue of deforestation in a creative way, which would also allow her also make money.

Nabaweesi was so inconsolable with the rate the trees were being cut and instead wanted to see them grow but with her love for environmental conservation, therefore, decided to forego a career as a real estate pro and went on to start Divine Bamboo seven years ago in 2015. At the moment Uganda is losing about 200 acres of forest every year and that is mainly due to people cutting down trees for charcoal and firewood based on the data gathered by the National forestry authority.

According to the Uganda Bamboo Association data shows that Bamboo is a fast-growing plant. It’s very sustainable and we believe it can be a solution for deforestation and climate change happening right now in Africa.

In the course to solve the discomfort of cutting down trees and her love for nature and trees, encouraged her to help address the issue of deforestation in a creative way, which would also allow her make money.’’ I wanted to combine my love for the environment and entrepreneurship to do something impactful.”  Divine Nabaweesi, the Founder and CEO of Divine Bamboo, added.

Bamboo has been recognized as an important asset in poverty eradication and environmental protection (INBAR, 2005). “Its strength, straightness, lightness, extraordinary hardness, range in size, abundance, ease of propagation, and the short growth period, makes it suitable for a variety of purposes and uses,” says Nabaweesi.

The Start

The idea of Divine bamboo began in 2015 when she decided she wanted to do something about conserving nature and trees. ‘’I started doing research on different types of trees and ended up falling in love with bamboo. I then went to National Forestry Authority and learnt more about it. With Bamboo, it was a love affair. I loved the way it looked, its strength, sustainability, and the over 10,000 uses attached to it. It turned out to be a miracle plant.’’ Nabaweesi said.

To obtain further information about Bamboo planting, Nabaweesi joined the Uganda Bamboo Association some of whose members had acquired information and knowledge about Bamboo farming in China.

The association, according to one of its leaders Flavia Munaba, brings related organization and community members together to share information, resources, and technology in growing and adding value to Bamboo.

After the setting up of Divine Bamboo, she knew she would have an environmental business that not only provides jobs, but also deals with addressing the issues of deforestation, and climate change and providing people with clean cooking fuel.

So In 2016, Nabaweesi introduced the idea of setting up her entrepreneurial project to her parents and asked them for a small piece of land, she bought a few bamboo seedlings from Luzira prisons and went to work .’’I had a few savings from my other business, and my family a small piece of land, so I asked them to give me part of it for this project. I started with 15,000 seedlings, and right now it has expanded to being the largest producer of bamboo seedlings in Uganda with a capacity of 200,000 seedlings annually according to national forestry authority data” she revealed.

Nabaweesi believed that there’s power in association therefore she continued with extensive   research and consultation from people who have been in the same field before, Nabaweesi further reveals that  Climate change and deforestation were initially not a ‘love’ topic, or topic of interest like it has become of recent. ‘’Yes, I am a climate change advocate. I believe in the conservation, and restoration of natural habitats . Nature is suffering. It’s a real crisis, and we need to do something about it.” She said.

The company now has two well-established bamboo nurseries in Najjera and Degeya in the districts of Wakiso and Luwero respectively. The establishment of a bamboo briquette production line is under the research and development stage with briquettes tested, a pilot study done, and pending scaling. Through the company activities, they now supply sturdy local bamboo seedlings of different species, improve accessibility to clean and affordable sustainable energy, promote social inclusion and mitigate climate change.

Nabaweesi’s Mission and Company Objectives

Nabaweesi says that her initial mission was and will always be to stop deforestation in Uganda through the promotion of fast-growing local bamboo species to produce clean cooking fuel in the form of briquettes and charcoal.

However, with company objectives, she states that Divine bamboo was set up to supply high-quality bamboo seedlings in the East African region then to produce and promote the use of bamboo charcoal and briquettes as a sustainable fuel alternative to conventional charcoal and fire wood and establish sustainably managed bamboo plantations in order to restore, protect endangered indigenous ecosystems and mitigate climate change.

Planting Bamboo Plants

Nabaweesi says that once you have chosen a place to start your bamboo growing, you can plant your bamboo, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball on your bamboo, Set the bamboo in the hole and spread the roots out some in the hole.

She adds that gently backfill the hole, tamping down the soil some as you go, Water the hole thoroughly to help fill in any air pockets “Planting the bamboo this way allows the bamboo to establish faster, as the soil around it will be loose and the roots and rhizomes will be able to grow in it more quickly then water weekly until the bamboo plants are established. If possible, provide some shade to the newly planted bamboo for the first two weeks after planting” she said.

Maintenance

Nabaweesi revealed that maintaining bamboo isn’t very difficult. It just takes a bit of due diligence and regular check-ups to ensure that your bamboo plants are growing strong ensure your bamboo has enough food and water your plants must be well watered for the first two years.” While bamboo plants are greedy feeders, one decent change with an all purpose organic fertilizer should be more than enough to last all spring. However, bamboos don’t like salt, so keep away from seaweed based fertilizers. If you limit the nutrient intake of a bamboo plantation, you can limit its growth and height.” She added.

She says also that Pruning is another way that is to say a grower has to regularly remove weak, old and damaged culms. You will find them to be dull in color than the rest of the plant. Just cut them off at the base, closest to the plant. It will help allow more air and light to reach your bamboos, ensuring a healthy, happy bamboo farm.

Achievements and Business

Divine Bamboo, is now one of the largest producers of bamboo seedlings in Uganda with about 18 bamboo species in the nursery and has a 32-hectares plantation Luweero District employee 17 full-time employees and over 50 seasonal workers.

She has also supported the establishment of over 300 hectares of bamboo plantations with private foresters and farmers and revealed that the National Forest Authority allocated 5 hectares of land to the company in Kalangalo forest reserve where a bamboo plantation has been established

Nabaweesi, now the owner one of Uganda’s largest bamboo seedling nurseries with an annual production of over 200,000 seedlings, says bamboo provides a clean cooking fuel in the form of high-quality charcoal briquettes produced from local bamboo, grown specifically for energy purposes on sustainable plantations in Uganda.

Divine Bamboo is involved in the entire value chain of bamboo development right from the production of high-quality bamboo seedlings in the four-star certified nursery in Uganda to the establishment of bamboo plantations, training of farmers as out-growers, manufacturing, and distribution of bamboo briquettes.

Divine Bamboo has also trained rural women groups to plant and provide them with seedlings as well as access to the market so that they can produce bamboo briquettes providing additional income while saving the environment.

Divine Bamboo who uses bamboo raw materials to support the commercial production of bamboo charcoal briquettes as an alternative source of fuel has so far trained about 300 women in planting and briquette production and each kilogram of briquettes sells for UGX 1000 which is 30% cheaper than traditional charcoal and burns, slower, and cleaner with no smoke.

Nabaweesi has partnered with Ugandan top universities including Makerere University and Ndejje University to further study and help her improve the product and also publicize the the growing of bamboo.

She has also been a part of some accelerators like YALI, WWW.Impact ventures, Care Scale by Design 2018, and recently won ‘Energy Start upper 2019 ‘at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue in the category 5 Quality Access & SDG7. Divine bamboo also holds the record for the most bamboos (11,000) planted in an hour.

Bamboo Products and Value

According to the Uganda Bamboo Association data shows that the bamboo plant has numerous traditional and modern uses and 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 environment.

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.

DFCD Funding Opportunity 

The Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD) through World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature Uganda Country Office has funded Nabaweesi initiative with up to 25,000 euros about UGX.100million.

Nabaweesi says DFCD funding has helped to establish the potential for restoration with Bamboo, Market, and financial projections of bamboo and the funding will further enable her to study the supply chain, engage stakeholders, and the development of the much sought-after Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for the next funding stage.

Divine Bamboo with DFCD support will be able to optimize the integration of bamboo in the very fragile Greater Virunga Landscape’s farm forestry ecosystem and her project will also help to maximize innovation in downstream sectors such as bamboo processing for domestic energy, expanding products matrix, and marketing of products.

Divine Bamboo and WWF Uganda will target planting 30m wide riparian buffers on either side of all riverbanks in the Greater Virunga landscape where bamboo will also help to improve water quality and quantity and according to Nabaweesi Project activities have commenced and a key highlight was stakeholder engagement where there was a very positive buy-in from different farmers and local leaders in Kisoro, Semuliki, and Kasese.

Challenges 

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.

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

“It hasn’t been easy, especially since 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,” she notes, anticipating that bamboo will become popular across the country because of its economic incentives.

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.

Advice and Motivation

Nabaweesi says that with entrepreneurship, one has to focus, walk the talk, do something about it, and attend seminars, and workshops but all in all Persistence is very important when it comes to business then develop  Passion “ if you believe in what you are doing, and love it, you are good to go. Just keep going. Just keep doing what you are doing.’’ she added.

”My motivation for this is simple: ‘as an African woman, I know from firsthand experience the difficulties of preparing meals with charcoal and firewood and so I wanted to create a solution that improved the lives of African women by saving time and providing an alternative that is cheaper and cleaner. I truly believe that there has never been a better time to innovate and as young people, as Africans, this is a unique time in history to create solutions that will push Africa to thrive.” She further added.

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