Bamboo Farming in UgandaAlongside offering numerous benefits, the bamboo plant can thrive in almost any type of soil and weather condition. This ability to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions works out favorably for Uganda, an East-African country with an active agricultural sector despite its poor soil quality.

Bamboo farming in Uganda has become a valuable source of income for many individuals. As a result, the Ugandan government responded with training programs to develop citizens’ skills in producing baskets, furniture and other crafts using the versatile plant.

A Reliable Source of Employment

Bamboo farming in Uganda provides a dependable and recurring source of income for the unemployed due to several agricultural factors unique to the plant. The bamboo plant is a perennial crop with a rapid maturation cycle. The entire plant matures within four to eight years and is ready for harvest in just five years. Furthermore, the plant has the unique ability to produce new shoots every year, which helps to stabilize the soil.

In Uganda, where the unemployment rate is 9.2% and 13.3% among youths aged between 18-30 years, the Ministry of Water and Environment has developed a strategy to produce 140 million bamboo poles yearly. By planting 230,000 ha of bamboo on farmland, the initiative will create 150,000 full-time jobs and 700,000 long-term job opportunities, providing a crucial boost to the country’s economy.

Market Expansion

The global market for bamboo production is expanding in response to the growing demand for sustainable products. According to the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), a United Nations intergovernmental organization, the bamboo economy is estimated to be worth around $60 billion, serving as a significant source of income for rural households.

To capitalize on this trend, the Ugandan government has developed a 10-year National Bamboo Strategy and Action Plan (2019-2029) with support from INBAR, the Uganda Forest Sector Support Division, the Ministry of Water and Environment (MoWE) and the National Foresting Authority. This plan aims to unleash the untapped potential of the bamboo plant, not only to develop a green economy but also to produce high-quality products for international, regional and domestic markets.

Alleviating Deforestation

Bamboo farming in Uganda is ideal for reforestation efforts due to the plant’s fast regrowth after cutting. In 2010, Uganda had almost 7 million hectares of tree cover, but by 2021, the number had dwindled by 49,000 hectares. This was mainly due to illegal logging and population growth. Planting bamboo could help restore some of the lost forest cover quickly.

Projections suggest that bamboo planting could contribute 15% toward the restoration of 2.5 million hectares of forest by 2030, with much of the planting occurring on private land.

Bamboo as a Food Source

Food insecurity in Uganda remains a significant concern, with 48% of the population experiencing moderate food insecurity and 11% experiencing severe food insecurity. Malnutrition is also a problem, with an estimated 2.4 million children suffering from stunted growth per UNICEF’s report.

Bamboo farming in Uganda offers a promising solution to this issue, as bamboo shoots are a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein, making them ideal for addressing the nutritional deficiencies of stunted children.

To promote bamboo as a food source, the Dutch-Sino-East Africa Bamboo Development Program organized a training initiative for Ugandan government officials and community members. The aim was to raise awareness of the plant’s benefits, alongside its potential to improve food security.

In Uganda, the young shoots of the bamboo plant are a delicacy known as Malewa and the leaves are a valuable source of nutrition for livestock, such as cows and horses.

Providing Shelter

Bamboo is a versatile plant with variable applications in building construction. It can be utilized for roofs, fences, ceilings, floors and other building materials. Additionally, the stem can serve as a source of bioenergy for cooking, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional firewood.

Bamboo is also a valuable resource in the paper and textile industries. It is also a useful resource for manufacturing cardboard and fabric. In addition, it can be fashioned into canoes, baskets, pencils and school desks, providing an additional source of income.

In Uganda, bamboo is effective in dealing with floods. When grown, it acts as a barrier to limit the effects of overflowing rivers. Its widespread, firm root structure allows water to pass through while preventing the collapse of river banks.

Looking Ahead

Bamboo is an economically significant plant, as its leaves, stem and root are all valuable. Bamboo farming in Uganda continues to play a crucial role in boosting foreign trade, promoting food security, creating job opportunities and mitigating the impact of deforestation. Ultimately, it is contributing to creating a better country for all Ugandans.

– Chidinma Nwoha

Photo: flickr

Bamboo Houses
Across the globe, millions of people are suffering from homelessness. In 2017, Habitat for Humanity approximated that 1.6 billion people worldwide suffered from inadequate housing. With the global population continuing to rise, the need for housing across the globe is becoming dire. More than half the planet’s population lives in urban areas, yet affordable housing is inaccessible. The answer to this housing inadequacy could come from one of the fastest-growing grasses on the planet — bamboo. Bamboo houses stand as an affordable solution to the global housing crisis.

What is Bamboo?

Bamboo is a tree-like grass that rapidly grows throughout countries with subtropical and tropical temperatures. The plant is most commonly found in South America and Asia but also exists in specific regions in North America, Australia and Africa. The unique aspect of this plant is its quick regrowth. Certain species of bamboo can grow 2.91 feet in just one day. Bamboo is durable, sustainable and strong. In fact, bamboo has a greater tensile strength than steel.

Bamboo is also an eco-friendly alternative to many different building materials. Bamboo contributes to the sequestration of carbon — “When properly managed and intensively harvested, bamboo can sequester up to 1.78 tonnes of CO2 per clump per year,” One Tree Planted says. Another study estimated that bamboo contributed to 27.38 million tons of oxygen per annum just in India alone.

The Potential of Bamboo Houses

Not only is the plant durable and sustainable but bamboo is also affordable. Bamboo is accessible and inexpensive in many parts of the world experiencing rapid urban growth. Besides its wide accessibility, because of the strength of the plant, bamboo is an optimal building material choice when creating houses in certain climates. Changing weather patterns have affected housing in drastic ways. More extreme weather has led to more fires, more hurricanes and the destruction of homes. Bamboo houses, however, prove resilient against extreme weather.

The Climate Smart Forest Economy Program began a climate-resilient bamboo housing initiative in Guatemala called CASSA. When tropical storm Julia hit, the program reported good news. “The CASSA bamboo houses were some of the few houses left undamaged by the storm. The bamboo structures held up against the incredibly strong winds and, because they are built on stilts, they avoided being flooded,” consultant Kagisho Koza said.

Not only is bamboo resistant to strong winds and flood damage but bamboo is also fireproof. Because of the high content of water in the bamboo, the plant can endure temperatures up to 400 degrees Celsius. This makes bamboo a great choice for building in areas where wildfires are common.

CASSA’s Work

CASSA, a sustainable construction company in Guatemala, is showcasing the value of bamboo in providing shelter for those in need. Across Guatemala, refugees of climate emergencies have been building bamboo houses with their very own tool kits developed by the Climate Smart Forestry Program. CASSA and the Climate Smart Forestry Program have been working together to get these toolkits out so that people affected by climate emergencies, such as hurricanes and flooding, have the ability and knowledge to create these bamboo houses and also pass their knowledge on to more people in their communities.

“Within five years, the four hectares of bamboo plantations supplying CASSA, for example, are expected to provide enough sustainable bamboo to build 40 homes per year, while also providing jobs and training for the local community and having a positive climate impact,” the World Economic Forum reports.

Providing shelter to the millions of people lacking adequate housing globally must stand as a priority. Bamboo houses are cost-effective and easily accessible in many countries where homelessness is on the rise. The durability and sustainability of the plant make it reliable in places most affected by extreme weather events.

– Olivia MacGregor
Photo: Flickr

Bamboo in MalawiIn Malawi, 90% of Malawians do not have access to electricity or other forms of energy. Lack of access to energy sources forces Malawians to rely on firewood. As deforestation has become widespread, rural Malawians needed a new and improved source of fuel. The bamboo initiative implemented by Afribam, USAID and the Peace Corps provides a solution. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source to help millions get access to energy.

Bamboo as an Alternative

Bamboo in Malawi is a beneficial and valuable fuel source. Malawians use bamboo, a wood-like plant, for many activities such as cooking, building furniture and housing materials. Malawians, especially in rural areas, rely on bamboo because of deforestation, making it difficult for rural Malawians to access firewood. Locals must travel a great distance to reach forests that are still intact. Additionally, buying firewood can be costly.

Deforestation: Causes and Effects

Lack of access to electricity leads to overconsumption of firewood. Because of the reliance on firewood, deforestation is widespread throughout Malawi. Forests take years to replenish, meaning the consumption of wood is greater than the rate at which trees can grow back. Furthermore, the lack of access to electricity leads to an overconsumption of firewood, which leads to deforestation. Deforestation creates negative effects throughout Malawi. The effects of deforestation in Malawi include:

  • Increased soil erosion
  • Excess flooding
  • More droughts than normal
  • Decreased crop productivity
  • Lack of fuel access for rural Malawians
  • Malawians are forced to travel further to obtain firewood

Deforestation can cause many complications. It is important to ease the consumption of fuelwood and allow Malawi’s forests to regenerate to prevent harmful effects. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source that can counter the effects of deforestation and help alleviate poverty.

The Power of Collaboration

To solve fuel problems in Malawi, USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity program began a collaboration in February 2019 with AfriBam and the Peace Corps Volunteers to implement bamboo as a fuel alternative. AfriBam is a Malawian company that specializes in bamboo and bamboo-related technology in Africa.

Together, USAID, AfriBam and the Peace Corps distributed Dendrocalamus asper, a non-invasive species of bamboo, throughout Malawi to counteract the effects of deforestation and provide Malawians with adequate fuel. The reason Dendrocalamus asper is special is that this type of bamboo only takes five to seven years to mature, and it can be harvested after just three years. This means that the bamboo will be able to replenish itself well enough to provide an ongoing fuel supply, eliminating the fear of overconsumption. Throughout 2019, the collaboration reached 1,750 rural Malawian households and distributed more than 180,000 bamboo seedlings.

The Peace Corps revealed that its goal is for Malawians to use the bamboo, in the short term, as a source of cooking fuel, which will ease the pressure on forests so that the forests can recover. USAID believes that this species of bamboo will be more successful than some other fuel projects implemented in Malawi. Previously, rural Malawians received cookstoves that used firewood as fuel, but because of deforestation, the implementation of cookstoves was not successful. USAID is confident that by 2025 the species of bamboo will account for 20% of fuelwood for all of Malawi.

Looking Forward

The new species of bamboo in Malawi will bring a unique type of fuel to rural Malawians. This development is advantageous because deforestation of firewood led to several unforeseen complications. With the help of AfriBam, USAID and the Peace Corp Volunteers’ collaboration, bamboo will help poverty reduction in Malawi by providing Malawians with a reliable fuel source.

– Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr