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    kenya bambo1A company in Kenya is training rural and urban communities on growing bamboo, propagating, harvesting and making products, giving income to hundreds and offering a viable alternative to wood that has become expensive in making furniture.

    Kenya Bamboo Center, which is now working with groups in Korogocho, Huruma, Embakasi and Suba area in Nyanza trains farmers to appreciate the wonders of bamboo farming, and the market for the over 1500 products that can be derived from the tree.

    The project which happened by chance after its manager  Pollycurp Akoko Mboyah lost a job in the civil  service after having worked for 11 years not only has however been dealing with the herculean task of popularizing a tree that takes between two to five years to mature, in a society used to quick returns. “The first group we dealt with in Huruma and which was our pilot project was such a tough task. While the group members warmed up to the idea at first, they patience died down when after an year they still could not harvest the tree. They had been used to getting instant income. They ended up uprooting the trees,” said Mboyah.

    But Mboyah said those who have braved on now know the benefit of farming the bamboo and are reaping from it.

    The center sells seedlings to the farmers, then trains the farmers on good management practices of the tree including propagation, watering, when and how to harvest to ensure that the final wood is hard enough. “Again there has been a problem with harvesting the wood by some farmers. So we train them how to harvest, dry the wood first and make sure that the final product is good enough to sell to clients. It makes all the difference in determining whether a client will come back,” Mboyah added.

    The company has gone further and imported a variety of modern and better maturing seeds which they are raising as seedlings in their nurseries with a view to introduce it to the farmers.

    According to Mboyah the market for bamboo has grown tremendously in the recent past, with the international market looking at Africa to supply the raw and finished products.

    Infact Mboyah's first seeds were given to him by an Italian social entrepreneur who was working on a bamboo project in Huruma.

    A Nowergian company, Waterstorm, working with the GreenBelt Movement has also planted two acres of bamboo in Maragua area of Murang'a county, with a view to harvesting the bamboo to make flooring tiles. Kenya Bamboo Center is working with the company to create market for its groups.

    But Mboyah want to train farmers to make low cost bamboo products tailored for the local market to get them to appreciate the monetary value of the tree. “We want to train them to make products that have a high demand locally like cooking sticks, chapati rolls and table mats for starters. Already we have received orders as far as Greece for table mats. The market has expressed huge appetite for bamboo products,” Mboyah said.

    As a champion of changing perception on the benefits of bamboo farming, Mboya has been walking a tight rope in convincing farmers of the plants' benefits. In Suba area of Nyanza where a project was introduced to get the farmers to move from tobacco farming to cultivation of bamboo, farmers uprooted the bamboo trees three months after planting for what they called ' not getting returns first.'

    But Mboyah insists that the over 200 bamboo species are more than just trees and are key in environmental conservation by being able to absorb up to 12 per cent of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, for every hectare. “The beauty with bamboo again is that you can harvest the same every year compared other trees,” he added.

    This would be welcome news to the country which has been reeling under acute shortage of timber which has seen it turn to imports, and spending over Sh3billion.

    Besides bridging the shortage, this would also open the entrepreneurs in the bamboo business to an international market with an insatiable appetite, with the industry's worth currently standing at $11 billion annually according to the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).

    China has perfected the bamboo market and currently remains the largest producer globally, at 80 per cent of all global production, and using 60 per cent of it for local consumption.

    For more information contact below:

    Pollycurp Mboyah- Manager

    Cellphone: 0713804236

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    An initiative by a Yatta bishop to get households out of relief aid has turned over 2,000 households into net exporters. For the last five years residents in the Yatta district of Eastern province have been on constant food relief due to suppressed rainfall that affected yields.

     That was until a local bishop, trying to find ways to prevent mothers from forcing their teenage daughters into prostitution, changed everything. On a Saturday evening in the district’s village of Makutano, Stephen Mwangangi, his wife, Margaret, and their two children pick bullet chilli peppers meant for export to Europe.

    The family is one of about 2,000 households that are part of a project called Operation Mwolio Out – Mwolio means food aid in the local Kamba language.

    The project began after Bishop Titus Masika from the local Christian Mission Impact ministries saw a story on local television that showed women from the area forcing their teenage daughters to peddle sex for food or money. “I was disturbed by the story. It prompted me to convene a meeting of all the agricultural and marketing experts born in Yatta who I could reach – most of them were working elsewhere in the country. We sat with the residents of Yatta to identify the main cause of the problem, and find the solution,” Masika said.

    What the residents needed was sustainable employment that would lift them out of poverty. “By implementing advice from the experts and using the traditional knowledge from the residents, we have now successfully eradicated Mwolio. But this was not going to be possible without the involvement of all family members at all stages,” Masika said.

    Local farmers were introduced to different farming techniques, which include the use of zai pits (pits of manure on top of which plants are grown), irrigation using rainwater stored in water pans (small earth dams), and the planting of drought-tolerant crops.

    Through seminars, training workshops and field days spent at local villages, Masika and other agricultural experts from Yatta managed to convince men to join the project. The men provided the hard labour to help dig the water pans, but they also helped women access farm equipment generally owned by men.

    Now farmers in Yatta grow their high-value crops, including the bullet chilli peppers, and jointly package and export them to Europe. Farmers are paid depending on the amount of produce they contribute.

    Masika said that the success of the project was thanks to the involvement of entire households and not just women seeking ways to support their families. “When we started this project three years ago, we only had 60 women participants,” Masika said.

    Now, if people want to join the project, they can only do so if all their family members join as well.

    “Working together as groups of families, when men became involved, has worked miracles over the past two years. As families, we usually reason together, identify prevailing challenges, and strategise how to tackle them as a team,” said Masika.

    And scientists from the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative say that in Sub-Saharan Africa, men and women working together for a common goal increases productivity.

    A book soon to be published by the initiative, titled “Transforming gender relations in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa: Promising approaches”, highlights innovative methodologies in small-scale farming that have improved gender relations. The book states that cooperation between the genders contributes to increased food production, food security and nutrition, stronger value chains, and better use of natural resources.

    “This means that we have to improve women’s positions in communities so they have equal access to land, to tools and supplies (like fertiliser), to learning opportunities, and to markets,” one of the authors of the book, Marion S. Davis of the Stockholm Environment Institute, said.

    One of the case studies in the book is of coffee farming in Uganda, where men and women directly competed with each other, but in the process ended up producing lower-quality coffee.

    “But after a gender-focused project came in and encouraged men and women to collaborate, they were able to work together to produce higher-quality, higher-value coffee that they sold together, benefiting the whole family,” said Davis.

    Transformation involves more than just focusing on women’s needs and empowerment, according to the findings of the book.

    “It also depends a great deal on men and women working together at all levels. This is true particularly in the case of adapting technologies and integrating into market value chains,” Dr. Cathy Farnworth, an international expert on gender issues and one of the authors said.

    She said the findings showed that promoting methodologies that encouraged cooperation between women and men farmers resulted in increased productivity dividends when they shared resources and maximised the efficiency of their decision-making.

    “They are efficient producers with what they have, but usually produce less than male farmers because of their limited access to land, credit and other production inputs,” said Sundell.

    Janice Wanyama, a housewife from Bungoma County in Western Kenya, is a case in point.

    “I have just a small plot within our compound where I grow vegetables that feed the entire family throughout the year. But the commercial part of the land, the tractor used for preparing the land and other major farm equipments are controlled by my husband. But still, I have to find time to labour on the commercial land as well,” she said.

    This is despite the fact that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest average agricultural labour force participation in the world.

    “In Ghana, for example, women produce 70 percent of the food crops, provide 52 percent of the agricultural labour force, and contribute 90 percent of the labour for post-harvest activities. In East Africa as a whole, women make up about 51 percent of the agricultural labour force,” said Sundell.

    She said that where women lacked the right to own land, children also suffered.

    “A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates that countries in which women lack any rights to own land have on average 60 percent more malnourished children,” said Sundell.

    But a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations titled “Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture” shows that closing the gap between the genders in agricultural inputs alone can lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger.

    And the community in Yatta district is proof of this. “On average, my family earns Sh20, 000 shillings every two weeks. This is far better than many employed people in Nairobi,” Mwangangi said.

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    Bamboo plantation. The country has several bamboo types with the most common being Arundinaria alpina, Dendrocallamus asper, Dendrocallamus membranacea.

    GreenPot Enterprises Limited, Kenya’s first fully integrated bamboo company is offering both smallholder and large-scale farmers chance to own their own bamboo forests for commercial purposes through financial, technical and educational support.

    The firm which has its presence in counties around central and Mount Kenya works closely with willing farmers who own at least an acre of land by first assessing whether the farmers has the space of land required before proceeding to other steps.

    “Before registering with us, a farmer is required to have not less than an acre of land which our experts will verify and also check the type of soil which determines the befitting bamboo type for the soil,” said Edmond Machoki, the company’s Central Kenya region marketing representative.

    READ ALSO: Factory fronting commercial plantation of bamboo
    Upon registration, the company sells to the farmer the recommended seedlings depending on the farmer’s land soil type. According to Machoki, one seedling costs Sh200 and one acre carries 250 seedlings which costs Sh50, 000.

    “In order to accommodate smallholder farmers who may not have enough cash to buy seedlings at once, the company allows such farmers to pay the money in instalments by paying 30% of the whole amount first,” said Machoki.

    Meanwhile it is the company to till the farmer’s land, provide fertilizer and make holes ready for plantations. They will then transport the seedlings from the company’s nursery to the farmer fields. During all these time till the final stage of plantation, the farmer is expected to fully participate by keenly observing the processes to enable the farmer get the right knowledge on how to grow and maintain bamboo plants.

    READ ALSO: Model bamboo center breeding millionaires
    Machoki says that the company plants and fully maintains the forests and undertakes to market the produce once it’s ready adding that the forest is managed as one whole unit despite the multiple owners. This is a relatively new concept in Africa.

    The company also finds land that is suitable for bamboo farming in designated areas that are close enough to the proposed factory, subdivide it into two-acre (or multiples of two) parcels for purchase and 5- 10-acre blocks (or multiples of 5) for lease, then offering them to Kenyans on friendly payment terms. For the purchase option, the buyers get a title deed for their land while for the lease; they get a 30- year sub-lease.

    READ ALSO: bamboo offers green gold for kenyan farmers
    Bamboo plants take 3-4 years to fully mature. The company then come and harvests the culms transport and weigh the culms when still wet. One acre can produce between 20-35 tones which is equivalent to Sh200, 000- 350, 000 given one tone costs Sh10,000.

    Farmers are paid within four days to one month after weigh and recording of their culms.

    GreenPot Enterprises Limited and farmers alike are taking bamboo farming seriously because of the following reasons:
    1. Fast growth- Maturity in 3-4 years
    2. Diverse uses- ranging from construction to food, fuel and textiles
    3. Five times more wood biomass than any other wood
    4. Renewable resource
    5. Environmental impact- Cleans up to 30% more than any wood


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