Bamboo can help us fight climate change in Africa


Peter kinyanjui, an environmental ecologist at the natural bamboo propagation centre in Narok. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The COP28 president, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, said in 2015 that the world had agreed to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2050.

To remain on target, science tells us emissions must be halved by 2030 and this requires a commitment to action from everyone.

Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is a term adopted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to denote work under Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.

The over-arching goal for ACE is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action, through the six ACE elements - climate change education, public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues.

Implementation of all six ACE elements is crucial to the global response to climate change. In Kenya, everyone must understand and participate in the transition to a low-emission, climate-resilient world. And that’s where bamboo presents as a vehicle for action.

According to a research done in 2018 by Victor Brias and Tesfaye Hunde, both United Nations Industrial Development Organisation consultants, about 18 million hectares of bamboo are distributed in world forest ecosystems in Asia, Africa and America.

Bamboo is a fast-growing woody grass with over 1,200 different species with some species reaching mature heights of over 30 metres. In September 2020, bamboo was designated as a crop under the Crop Act (Number 16 of 2013).

The decision was taken to foster the commercialisation of bamboo plants as part of Kenya’s Greening Campaign as well as creating employment through agroforestry.

Tropical landscapes

This designation expands the possibilities of use of bamboo beyond its application for ecological purposes, such as afforestation, soil stabilisation and erosion prevention on hill slopes and verges. Bamboo agroforestry becomes a well-appointed option for conserving and protecting tropical landscapes while creating enduring supplies of wood, cellulose for other industrial products.

 Bamboo is also used as construction materials, furniture, fencing, handicrafts, pulp and paper, edible shoots, biofuels and animal fodder.

Bamboo as a construction material has a sustainability edge over other materials as it is both a fast growing and a self-regenerating natural resource. New shoots that appear annually ensure continued future supply of raw materials after mature culms are harvested.

Bamboo processing to produce most of the products does not require high capital investment but is labour intensive and would contribute significantly to employment. The utilisation of bamboo fences and poles is common in tropical Africa. However, its application for structural construction, walls, ceilings, room partitions, windows, furniture and ladders is common in Asia but it is yet to take a solid root in Kenya.

Growth in the use of bamboo in Kenya will take deliberate promotion and development of the entire supply chain.

From propagation of the seedlings to growing, harvesting, processing in both cottage and big industrial setups, research and training on the possibility of its uses, granting of incentives to manufacturers of bamboo products and relentless marketing of bamboo to the larger population.

Bamboo is a natural vehicle for development in Kenya. The abundant rural land resource and the growing transport infrastructure networks provide a sufficient enabling environment as it can be easily grown, accessed and harvested at the perimeter of forest areas or under agroforestry schemes.

Bamboo agroforestry requires only a modest capital investment and would generate a steady income to farmers where the full supply chain is established.

We certainly should include bamboo in the discussion of development strategies for affordable housing, sustainable agribusiness, food security, manufacturing, creation of employment, protection of our ecosystems, increase in our collective carbon sinks and eventual carbon sequestration.

- Ms Wahinya is an architect and a sustainability [email protected]