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    Bamboo Association of Kenya looks to get farmers growing, earning from bamboo

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    By George Munene

    Bam­boos are the fast­est-grow­ing woody plant in the world. With the Kenyan gov­ern­ment re­cently re­cog­niz­ing it as the 16th cash crop in the coun­try, Vic­tor Mwanga, chair­man of the Bam­boo As­so­ci­ation of Kenya, says the de­clar­a­tion is only bound to bol­ster the grow­ing of bam­boo by farm­ers, im­prov­ing its value chain as a mar­ket­able com­mod­ity.

    “At whatever level of the bam­boo value chain—as a farmer, seed­ling propag­ator or in the value ad­di­tion space, Kenyan’s are just now wak­ing to the eco­nomic po­ten­tial of bam­boo farm­ing,” says Mwanga.

    “We have worked with Kenya Forest Ser­vice and The Kenya Forestry Re­search In­sti­tute to es­tab­lish 26 new bam­boo nurs­er­ies within a year that offer stand­ard­ised cer­ti­fied seed­lings to farm­ers. This cre­ates jobs for both Bam­boo As­so­ci­ation Mem­bers and private play­ers within the bam­boo sec­tor. 30,000 hec­tares of private farm­land has also come under bam­boo within the same time­frame,”

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    Bam­boo is grass with over 10,000 known uses, pre­dom­in­antly, fur­niture mak­ing, fire­wood, cloth­ing, bead­work­ing as well as it being used in the con­struc­tion and cot­tage in­dus­tries. Bam­boo seed­lings cost on av­er­age Sh250-180, 200 seed­lings are suited to cater to an acre. The plant­lets should be spaced 5M*5M apart, this leaves 25㎡ in between the bam­boos that can be used to in­tro­duce in­di­gen­ous trees. De­pend­ing on the vari­ety and eco­lo­gical zone, bam­boos take on av­er­age three to five years to ma­ture. When grown in with nat­ive tree vari­et­ies bam­boos spur their growth rate as they com­pete for sun­light. Once the bam­boo is har­ves­ted a double can­opy is formed with in­di­gen­ous trees at the top and the grow­ing bam­boo at the bot­tom. Bam­boos are low main­ten­ance re­quir­ing little look­ing after (no weed­ing, ma­nur­ing or fer­til­iser ap­plic­a­tion) once they are es­tab­lished.

    The bam­boo has no tap root, rather fibrous roots which help to break soil hard­pans al­low­ing for air cir­cu­la­tion. A bam­boo clamp has 30-50 culms (stems) with an av­er­age life span of five gen­er­a­tions—up to 120 years, without need­ing re­plen­ish­ing.

    In its ef­fort to achieve 10% forest cover by 2022, the gov­ern­ment is lean­ing on bam­boo to ease log­ging pres­sure on ex­ist­ing forest cover and in­di­gen­ous trees. They are 12 bam­boo spe­cies cer­ti­fied to be grown across the coun­try’s vari­ous eco­lo­gical zones.

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    “The Bam­boo As­so­ci­ation of Kenya serves as an in­form­a­tion portal and con­nects farm­ers with nurs­ery op­er­at­ors as well as people within the bam­boo value ad­di­tion space and aca­dem­ics. The plat­form, though not a trad­ing en­tity, also provides farm­ers with mar­ket link­ages and we are try­ing to stand­ard­ise the buy­ing prices of the dif­fer­ent bam­boo vari­et­ies. We work with farm­ers to teach them how they can add primary value to their wood through cut­ting, split­ting, plan­ing and sand­pa­per­ing this helps them earn more,” Mwanga ex­plains.

    The as­so­ci­ation is also work­ing to train en­gin­eer­ing stu­dents in TVET in­sti­tu­tions, on the use of bam­boo as an al­tern­at­ive to wood in con­struc­tion.

    Vic­tor Mwanga, Bam­boo As­so­ci­ation of Kenya Chair­man:0714636238

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