If you were asked to list a hundred things you could do with bamboo, your first thought might be that bamboo poles can be tied together to make a fence, a bridge, a shack or some kind of settlement. Bamboo’s uses do indeed include construction (the costs of bamboo dwellings compare very favourably with conventional materials).
You would think that it can replace the need for trees as a source of wood (isn’t that great!) All types of furniture can be made, as well as fittings such as window blinds, fencing and flooring. It might come to you that charcoal can be produced, cutting-boards and various arts and crafts.
But would you think textiles? Bamboo towels and socks? Bamboo soap? Bamboo toilet paper? Bamboo beer, bamboo bicycles and bamboo corrugated roof sheets?
Bamboo does not have a hundred uses: studies done by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and other role players show over a thousand! Clearly there is a lot more to bamboo products and bamboo processing than would immediately occur to the reader. Not only does bamboo have many uses, it is a non-invasive crop that can help develop agriculture and contribute towards lifting human beings out of poverty by creating jobs in rural areas.
2. Benefits of Bamboo
- combats soil erosion
- reforests areas denuded of vegetation caused by demand for cooking fuel
- removes heavy metals and other pollutants from polluted water
- responds to climate change through carbon sequestration
- provides shade and creates windbreaks for food crops
- can be grown as a living fence to keep animals in or out
- provides food for humans in the form of shoots and animal fodder in the form of leaves
- assists in capturing water allowing it to percolate instead of flowing away
- can be planted as noise barriers and windbreaks
- develops greener more aesthetically pleasing settlements and a better living environment
- provides a habitat for wildlife and improved biodiversity
- contributes to economic development and creation of jobs at a local level
- increases environmental awareness through communities locally and from publicity nationally
- creates opportunities for communities to enter the New Green Economy and so creates rural wealth instead of the standard poverty relief programmes
Source: www.trees.co.za. Find the above list and many other notes by selecting the “Bamboo for Africa” programme.
3. International business environment
China is the global market leader, exporting vast quantities of bamboo products to the US, the EU and Japan.
Bamboo “composite products” are the most popular exports globally, with a total world export value in 2011 of almost $280m. Next most popular were bamboo shoots, with a total world export value of $250m. Baskets (about $230m) were the third most popular product, ahead of bamboo and rattan furniture and mats and screens. These together made up more than half of all bamboo exports. Other bamboo products exported include seats, plywood, plaited products and even raw bamboo.
Source: Jolanda Jonkhart of the International Network for Bamboo & Rattan in Financial Mail, 1 Oct 2012
Job creation potential of bamboo cultivation and processing
On the Internet, find “New Bamboo Industries and Pro-Poor Impacts: Lessons from China and Potential for Mekong Countries”, a study done by Oxfam Hong Kong and the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (MPDF).
In the industry, 75% of the total market value is pro-poor, and much of the processing equipment uses manual power and so can be used in villages where there is no electricity.
Along with the incredible potential in this industry, it is perhaps inevitable that some investment schemes arise that sound too good to be true. Be cautious when bamboo plantation investments promise 25 to 25% returns from year one. Bamboo needs around four years to develop the 80 – 100mm culms. These culms have to mature for at least 24 months to gain the strength needed for the products.
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