At present, East Africa’s bamboo sector remains largely untapped, although the region is home to sub-Saharan Africa’s largest natural bamboo forests, which account for 3-4 per cent of the world’s total known bamboo coverage. As a result of low-value products and a lack of capacity to meet international standards, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are largely excluded from the global export trade in bamboo products already valued at some USD 2 billion.
Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable woody grass, with the characteristics of wood. It can be used to create thousands of products, from paper and packaging to food and flooring. It can also be used to store carbon, restore degraded land and create disaster- resilient construction, making it an important part of climate change mitigation and adaptation. As the example of China’s USD 30 billion domestic bamboo sector shows, an enormous potential exists for this plant to be part of countries’ economic and environmental policies.
Towards a Solution
This programme applies the experiences and lessons learned from the hugely successful transformation of Asia’s and Europe’s bamboo market to East Africa, thereby enabling Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to fully participate in and benefit from the new bamboo economy of the 21st century. This initiative addresses a number of sustainable development imperatives: poverty alleviation; food security, sustainable production and consumption; and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The project is implemented by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), with support from local, Chinese and Dutch partners.
The project uses several forms of South-South and triangular cooperation across a wide range of organizations for maximum impact. Technology transfer and cross-learning occurs not only from China and the Netherlands to East Africa, but also among the East African beneficiary countries.
A wide range of partners from China and the Netherlands work in tandem with partners in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. These include government ministries and bodies and universities and research institutes. These partners have worked together to compile bamboo resource inventories, produce three in-depth market studies regarding each beneficiary country’s most important bamboo commodity markets, and share practices and technologies regarding bamboo planting and management. In 2017 alone, they restored around 300 hectares of degraded land with bamboo and helped some 200 households to plant additional plants at their farms, homesteads and as shelter beds. They are also helping to develop a carbon methodology for indigenous bamboo species, which will be tested using a carbon demonstration project.
Training and policy support is also an important component in terms of developing the bamboo sector. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce provided ”trainer training”, through Chinese research and training organizations, to over 60 representatives on a wide number of subjects. Beneficiaries included farmers, entrepreneurs, and Ministers of beneficiary countries. In 2017, almost 2,000 participants were trained in bamboo propagation, sustainable management, value-added product creation and marketing. Moreover, high-ranking government officials from all three beneficiary countries took part in a training course in China, providing a unique opportunity for policymakers to witness the transformative potential of a bamboo economy on-site.
The private sector and standards agencies are also involved and are helping raise consumer awareness about bamboo products and building standards within beneficiary countries. A company in the Netherlands is working with East African businesses and national agencies to build capacity and develop standards for bamboo products. A conference, based at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, has worked to raise international awareness about bamboo’s use as a source of everything from food and fibre to housing. Finally, the project is working to raise public awareness about bamboo among East African consumers via workshops, events and product exhibitions, as well as a radio talk broadcast across five Ugandan radio stations and a 500-kilometre bamboo bicycle tour.
The project is scheduled to end in 2019, so the long- term impact of this work is still unknown. However, its policy impacts are expected to be sustainable in the long term. Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are already integrating bamboo sector development into their forestry, climate change, watershed and development policies and programmes; these impressive steps forward are based directly on the research, training and assistance provided by the project. To help provide support after the project ends, Chinese partners are helping to establish ‘bamboo value-addition demonstration centres’, which will demonstrate the possibility of value-added bamboo products. Most importantly, the project is assisting the Governments of China and Ethiopia to establish a China-Africa Bamboo Development Centre. This Centre should provide a powerful source of support to African countries who wish to develop their bamboo sectors.
There are many opportunities to harness South- South and trilateral cooperation to encourage sustainable development with bamboo more widely across INBAR’s 44 member states and other bamboo- producing countries. This is due in part to an increasing recognition of bamboo’s benefits for poverty alleviation and environmental protection, as well as to an increasing demand for low-carbon, renewable bamboo commodities across the developed world. Importer countries and international businesses seek increasingly to build sustainable supply chains in bamboo-producing countries. This in turn provides developing producer countries with an opportunity to learn about the many ways in which bamboo is processed and marketed for international markets. To ensure replicability, it is important to convince governments about the potential of bamboo, which can be achieved by providing national demonstration projects and programmes.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 1.1, 1.4, 7,1, 7,5, 12.2, 12.7, 13.1, 17.2, 17.3