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Home News People In Disaster-prone Areas Urged To Grow Bamboo

People In Disaster-prone Areas Urged To Grow Bamboo

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Javier Silas Omagor

In the face of the growing climate crisis, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Aw Bamboo Enterprises Ltd, with the support of Uganda Wildlife Authority, are turning to an unlikely hero: bamboo.

This fast-growing, flexible plant is being hailed as a potential game-changer in the fight against climate change impacts, and for good reason.

It is against this background that the UNEP’s associate programme management officer, Sabine McCallum, arrived into the country this week to officially launch the bamboo growing initiative.

This initiative is part of the Austrian government-funded project, Mountains ADAPT, which is setting up a small-grants-funding scheme in the East African Community to support local initiatives for mountain climate change adaptation.

The coveted event took place on May 9 at the slopes of Mount Elgon, specifically in the village of Lutsakha, Matuwa Parish, Bushiyi sub-county, Lutsekhe county in Bududa district.

“We were looking for a local promising approach for mountain adaptation and this bamboo growing initiative, providing various benefits to communities, and the environment had convinced us to become one of our piloting projects,” McCallum said as she unveiled the initiative.

Preventing soil erosion

While rallying locals to embrace bamboo growing, McCallum said local women-led agency Aw Bamboo Enterprises Ltd, founded by Irene Walimbwa, champions soil retention among other activities.

“Bamboo’s extensive root system also helps to prevent soil erosion, which is a major problem in many developing countries like Uganda and, in particular, here in Bududa and the entire Elgon zone,” McCallum said.

McCallum continued: “By stabilising soil and preventing landslides, bamboo can help protect vulnerable ecosystems and prevent the loss of biodiversity.

“UNEP is impressed by the fact that local communities are beginning to appreciate the significant contribution their native conservation interventions can turn out to be.

“Adaptation to climate change and its sustainability must be local. It can only be local.

“The reason we are inclined to this local-driven conservation is because the risks and impacts are felt locally.

“You can see soil erosion, drought, mudslides, flooding and all these climate change effects affecting our people.

“In particular, Aw Bamboo Enterprises Ltd drive to educate and sensitise communities about bamboo environmental benefits in this area, caught our attention.

“Local communities are the best champions to adapt to climate change impacts affecting their livelihoods as they can use indigenous knowledge in the best way, historically knowing their villages and ecology.”

McCallum assured that UNEP is supporting this bamboo-growing project as a pilot for the Austrian-funded small grants funding scheme, Mountains ADAPT.

Benefits, local support

Walimbwa, the director of Aw Bamboo Enterprises Ltd, expressed her gratitude to UNEP for identifying and earmarking her contribution which started in 2021.

“I am humbled by the coming of McCallum to Uganda to launch and encourage both our communities and leaders to consider bamboo as a vital tool in adapting to climate change impacts,” Walimbwa said.

Using their newly introduced Austrian-funded project, Mountains ADAPT, UNEP is setting up a small grants-funding scheme to support mountain communities in the East African Community and South Caucasus in adapting to climate change impacts and embrace innovative, nature-based and indigenous interventions.

Bamboo is incredibly effective at absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with some species able to absorb more than many types of trees.

This is especially important in developing countries, where deforestation and land degradation are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The bamboo farm

As she steps into the one-eighth-acre plot, she could easily be mistaken as a nature lover looking for quality tree seedlings.

In actual sense, she is a woman on a different mission as she propagates bamboo seedlings in Bugema, Mbale city. Her nursery is thriving as evidenced by the more than 50,000 seedlings sprouting on her piece of land. As she bends down to support a weak seedling, a large bamboo spreading its branches and leaves provides a cool shade over her head.

Walimbwa, 63, an environmental enthusiast, says bamboo plays a crucial role in both urban and rural greening and has numerous environmental and economic benefits.

There are 12 bamboo species grown at Mount Elgon’s various ecological zones. This is the home to several bamboo species, primarily belonging to the Bamasaba sub-family.

The species are; oxytenanthera abyssinica, Arundinaria alpina, Yushania alpina, Bambusa vulgaris, Dendrocalamus asper and Gigantochloa atroviolacea.

Journey to bamboo farming

“I started in 2002 by packaging and generally adding value to normal dried malewa (smoked bamboo shoot) which is a delicacy in Bugisu and amongst the people who hail from that aforementioned area,” Walimbwa said.

But Walimbwa’s turning point came in 2018 just after registering her own company, Aw Bamboo Enterprises Ltd.

“When I attended a trade show, I met Sarah Watemwa who advised me to write a proposal to Uganda Development Cooperation (UCD).”

The proposal called for capacity support to enable her expand the bamboo value addition enterprise.

“After three weeks, I was called to defend my proposal at UCD,” Walimbwa said.

“They advised me to go back to Bugisu and mobilise farmers into bamboo farming.”

Luckily enough, in 2021, Uganda Wildlife Authority, under the regional leadership of Fred Kiiza (chief warden Mount Elgon National Park conservation) gave her 112.5 acres of land for bamboo growing.

To ensure community involvement, Walimbwa gave each interested resident a piece of land for bamboo growing.

“Initially, people could not understand the idea of bamboo farming because from time immemorial, our people were used to harvesting it from the wilderness,” she said.

When Walimbwa started her commercial bamboo farming journey, she did not give much thought that it would change lives.

Uganda is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change because of a year-long drought, matched with torrential rains, floods and diminishing forest cover.

Mount Elgon sub-region is the hardest hit when it comes to landslides, mudslides, water logging and erosion among other climate effects.

“We continue to lose our beloved ones every year to these catastrophes yet we can initiate community driven interventions such as bamboo growing,” she said.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: McCallum plants a bamboo tree in Bududa district. She urged residents to embrace local conservation for climate change action. Photo by Javier Silas Omagor

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