By Nelson Kiva
Andrew Tumusiime began bamboo farming four years ago after retiring as a lecturer at Makerere University.
“After my retirement, I went back to Kabale and started a bamboo nursery, and at the same time, I applied to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute to be incubated so that I could produce bamboo products. I was accepted and given the facility at Kabale; I am now producing bamboo toothpicks, bamboo furniture and bamboo mats,” a beaming Tumusiime said.
Tumusiime, who is also in charge of investors at the Uganda Bamboo Association, says under their umbrella, they are now planting 500 acres of bamboo on degraded land at Nakasongola.
They have so far planted 300 hectares of bamboo that was given to them by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) as part of their efforts to restore the depleted forest.
He is personally planting bamboo on over 14 hectares of land in Nakasongola, and he has already planted six hectares. When the market is available, I will benefit a lot from the bamboo.
“I make toothpicks, furniture, and bamboo mats, which I sell at my crafts shop in Kabale,” he said.
The Ambassador of China to Uganda, Zhang Lizhong, announced on Wednesday that China was boosting its support for the bamboo industry and mushroom-growing technologies.
“We aim to introduce Chinese technology to the mushroom and bamboo farmers in Uganda to increase output, expand production, and add value to their products,” Zhang said.
He made the remarks while addressing reporters and representatives of different think tanks on the pragmatic co-operation between China and Uganda at the Chinese Embassy in Kololo.
Last week, nine experts arrived in Uganda to conduct a feasibility study, and they have already briefed me about their activities. It is very impressive, and this programme will be a success,” he said.
Zhang disclosed that the experts will support the projects for a duration of two to three years while preparing Ugandans for project sustainability.
The top Chinese diplomat in the country added that the projects were being jointly implemented by China and Uganda as part of the nine-point programme announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the last Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) meeting in Beijing.
Wang Jing, the head of the delegation (scoping mission), said part of their mandate is to carry out field trips based on the project proposals put forward by Uganda’s government to co-operate with China in the bamboo and edible mushroom sectors.
“After that, we will make a comprehensive analysis on the feasibility of the projects based on the information we’ve collected and see to it that the projects are successfully implemented and yield rich fruit,” she said.
She added, “It is an optimum plant that could generate ecological, economic, and social benefits.”
Wang said China, the home of the richest bamboo resources in the world, has 7.01 million hectares of bamboo forest and 857 bamboo species, accounting for 52% of global bamboo species.
“At present, China produces over 10,000 types of bamboo products in 10 major categories, including bamboo shoot products, bamboo weaving crafts, bamboo charcoal and bamboo vinegar,” he said.
She added that there are nearly 10,000 bamboo processing enterprises in China, directly employing 10 million people.
By the end of 2020, the total output of China’s bamboo industry was valued at $45.7b (about sh169.4 trillion), and its import and export were valued at $2.21b (about sh8.1 trillion), accounting for over 60% of the world’s total.
Flavia Munaaba, the former state minister of water and environment and the chairperson of the Uganda Bamboo Association, said in 2015 that she oversaw the signing of the agreement between China and Uganda to co-operate on bamboo growing.
“We are working together with the Ministry of Water and Environment, and we have built a concept and a bamboo strategy to promote bamboo growing,” she said.
The 10-year strategy
According to Flavia Munaaba, the bamboo strategy provides that within 10 years, the plan is to plant 375,000 hectares in Uganda.
“Statistics show that currently we have 67,000 hectares, and we have made some strides, but we still have to do much more,” he said.
The areas that have already embraced bamboo growing include Kisoro, Kabale, Kanungu, Nakasongola, Mbale, Kaliro, Mityana and Masaka.