First thing that comes to your mind on seeing this topic is, how can bamboo farming be possible? You may have imagined what economic products and benefits are derivable from bamboo farming. Well, you may be right, simply because bamboo grows naturally in the wild along river courses and people cut it without re-planting mainly for scaffolding, shed and farm hut construction. Really, commercial bamboo farming is not very common in Africa and you hardly find any dedicated bamboo research institute in Africa.
It will interest you to know that bamboo farming and value chain is one of the thriving agribusinesses in Asia, South America, Europe and East Africa. Bamboo is the fastest-growing and most versatile plant on earth that is able to survive in both tropical and temperate regions. Bamboo is the only group of tall grasses that has ability to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse effect making it a useful resource for mitigating climate change effect. With increasing deforestation and over-exploitation of natural forests, bamboo is now gaining importance as substitute for timber.
Surprisingly, there are over 1,250 ‘species’ in approximately 75 ‘genera’ of woody bamboos in the world. Each species and genera differ in characteristics, usage and technologies for processing. Some of the commercially important cultivated ‘genera’ and ‘species’ are identified as follows; Phyllostachys pubescens, Bambusa vulgaris, Bambusa textilis, Dendrocalamus giganteus, Dendrocalamus asper, Oxytenanthera abyssinica, Bambusa spinosa etc. Bamboo is propagated by seeds, rhizomes or culm/stem cuttings. Bamboo is harvested from year 1 to 3 depending on purpose of use.
Phyllostachys pubescen is the most economically valuable bamboo species in the world contributing to more than US$3 billion annually to bamboo economy in China. It is a multipurpose variety.
Some of the economically important products from bamboo are as follow;
Bamboo Wine, Beer or Liqueur: Bamboo wine is basically the fresh sap tapped from the bamboo culm (stem) while bamboo beer or liqueur is the fermented sap containing flavonoid of bamboo leaf extract in low quantity. This product can be bottled or canned for selling locally or for exportation. Oxytenanthera abyssinica that has grown up to 1 meter during raining season is often utilized for the sap tapping.
Edible Bamboo Shoot: It is the harvested young bamboo shoot or sprout. It is a staple food rich in essential nutrients, micronutrients and vitamins as well as medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immunity boosting, etc. Edible bamboo shoot is often harvested 1-2 times a year. Bambusa spinosa is reputable for its high protein, calcium and phosphorus content. It is used to produce both fresh and canned bamboo shoots.
Bamboo Leave Tea and Sap: Bamboo leave tea is a delicious and health drink made from youngest broad bamboo leave. It is rich in protein, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Bamboo leave tea is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and improves hair growth. Bamboo leave sap is an extraction of young bamboo leaves. Due to its rich medicinal property and flavonoids content, it is utilized in soft drinks, shampoo, toothpaste, and pharmaceuticals.
Pulp: Bamboo is an important source of pulp for paper industry. Bambusa vulgaris is good for pulping. In Brazil, it is grown for pulp in large plantations and harvested mechanically on a 3-year rotation.
Handicrafts, Furniture and Interior Design: There is a growing interest in the use of bamboo for handicrafts, furniture and interior design around world. Bamboo products used in bars, show rooms, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, wellness resorts, etc. always attract the attention of customers and visitors. Bamboo culms used for these purposes are often treated hence producing long lasting products. Bamboo handicrafts have been used to develop products such as kitchen utensils, bowls, mugs, bottles, jars, key holders, flower vases, xylophone, flute, etc. Bamboo furniture includes chair, table, bench, ply, veneer, fiberboard etc.
Activated Bamboo Charcoal: is produced from pyrolysis of matured bamboo culms (of 3-4 years). It is the most valued bamboo products used in numerous industrial applications including air conditioning appliances, media filters, bags, pillows, mattresses, cigarettes, black soaps, shoes, outerwears or protective wears, etc.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that Africa is yet to harness bamboo farming for economic products. The good news is Africa has one of the best climates for bamboo farming and value chain development. However, thorough research and development that will fully engage key stakeholders need to be in place. Furthermore, long term funding and support as well infrastructure development from Government is crucial.