By Umar Nsubuga
Uganda joined the rest of the world to celebrate World Bamboo Day, on September 18 with a call to action for environmental preservation.
The day was established on September 18 at the eighth World Bamboo Congress held in Bangkok in 2009.
It is celebrated worldwide as a way to raise awareness of the economic benefits of bamboo and to promote its use in everyday products.
Uganda is among 12 developing that participated in a seminar on bamboo industry and green economy development for developing countries sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China and organised by the China National Bamboo Research Centre.
A section of Ugandans has been awakened to the challenge of climate change and the need to reverse the avert destructive human activities that negatively affect the environment.
For example, bamboo has been planted to fight desertification and soil erosion, leading to the conservation of biodiversity. Bamboo growing has become a source of income for millions of people in both urban and rural areas.
Bamboo is a fast-growing, flexible and strong perennial plant that regenerates quickly, providing economic returns within three to four years.
It can be used to create a wide range of products. It has undergone a remarkable transformation and has replaced steel and cement as a low-carbon alternative for household items, flooring accessories, house finishing materials, drainage pipes and more.
What it takes to grow bamboo
Kennedy Rwaboona a resident of Kabaare village in Isingiro district cannot recall the number of times he has had to answer that question.
He could not blame the people asking, aware that their experience with bamboo is limited to the times they got in contact with the teacher’s cane, back in school.
Without caning, Rwaboona, who is in charge of many agricultural positions in the district has found a unique way of rehabilitating prisons’ inmates using bamboo.
On his 100-acre garden, Rwaboona has reserved two acres for bamboo growing.
In the background of the pine forest, there are scattered stands of young bamboo, featuring different species, which will serve as mother gardens for the bamboo project in four to five years to come, Rwaboona, says.
Two other species are being multiplied. Although sourced from Kenya, these species are originally from China. One is bamboo dentocalamus (with a giant stem) and bamboo aspa (with a normal-size stem).
Unlike the local variety with a yellow stem, the two imported species have green stems. There are about 300 bamboo species worldwide.
“This bamboo multiplication project at my farm is part of a major campaign in my district because I want to promote bamboo growing to help Ugandans tap into the international bamboo industry which is worth billions of dollars,” he explains.
The start of the project
The multiplication project started last year with 320 bamboo seedlings obtained from Kampala.
The objective was to keep the environment safe, “Bamboo absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere than an equivalent stand of hardwood trees,” Rwaboona says.
Rwaboona says after bamboo has matured, it produces poles every year for more than 50 years. He adds that one bamboo plant can produce a minimum of 50 shoots a year.
That means that a farmer with 500 plants will harvest 25,000 poles every year.
Sold at a minimum of sh5,000 each, 25,000 poles will fetch the bamboo farmer sh125m a year, from one acre of marginal land that would otherwise not support any other farming activity. Harvesting is done using a chainsaw.