Wangari Maathai’s bamboo project lives on

Ms Julia Wangari, one of the women in the project, displays some of the products made from Bamboo tree at Bamboo Biomass and Entrepreneurship project at Small Athi in Murang'a County. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A group of 720 women in Murang’a County seek to transform a Sh300 million worth bamboo farming industry, initiated by Nobel laureate environmentalist cum politician the late Prof Wangari Maathai.
  • They target to raise Sh1.5 billion by next year to establish a fully-fledged bamboo processing industry.
  • Prof Maathai had in 1992, visited the ‘desert’ in Maragua South Sub-county and mobilised local women into community-based organisations.

A group of 720 women in Murang’a County seek to transform a Sh300 million worth bamboo farming industry, initiated by Nobel laureate environmentalist cum politician the late Prof Wangari Maathai nine years ago.

Their objective is to turn it into a Sh5 billion annual return industry by 2025, if they are able to access the prerequisite support from government and donors.

These women believe that since the coffee sector, dominant in the region, is controlled by men; they can build on the bamboo crop to better their livelihoods.

They target to raise Sh1.5 billion by next year to establish a fully-fledged bamboo processing industry. Their aim is to support at least 100, 000 women, directly employ at least 500 people, and boost farmers’ earnings through supply of raw materials.

The women also make special charcoal and other products from the bamboo plants in an effort to build a vibrant cottage industry.

Prof Maathai had in 1992, visited the ‘desert’ in Maragua South Sub-county and mobilised local women into community-based organisations with an aim of planting trees for environmental preservation and as a source of fuel.

“Bamboo is turning out to be the solution to raw materials that are better for the world and that which will guarantee us every product made out of it would be long-lasting, inexpensive, easy to recycle/compost at the end of its useful life, and made from eco-friendly resources,” she had said during the launch, in a speech preserved in the groups’ head office in Mariki village in the outskirts of Maragua town.

Poor farming practices

“What makes bamboo farming a safe bet is the plant's ability to fight pollution and the crises it causes since it regenerates soil and removes toxins from it that are accumulated due to poor farming practices,” she added.

Bamboo farming requires no specialised care since there are no fertilisers or insect/pesticides needed. 

Bamboo Biomass and Entrepreneurship project director Samuel Kariuki during an interview at Small Athi in Murang'a County. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

“It is in this foresight that Prof. Maathai gathered these women into Community Bamboo Biomass and Entrepreneurship Model for Kenya groups, and solicited 13 acres of land in the outskirts of Maragua town as their demo farms — today valued at Sh50 million, ” reveals Mr Kariuki Mungai, the project manager.

The principal group comprised of 24 women who were first trained on the complete model of bamboo farming and attached value addition ventures — nursery, planting, husbandry, harvesting, treatment, value addition and marketing.

As the project gained shape, members were sensitised on how bamboo farming could multiservice their lives in giving them an opportunity to earn, save on money used to buy firewood, preserve water catchment areas, learn value addition skills and get an avenue to interact hence, amplify their cohesion.

Long poles

“Since its inception, the model has come full circle with an all season population of 2,000 clumps of bamboo, which are harvested upon attaining maturity age of five years,” Mr Mungai says.

The chairperson of the project Ms Wangui Kamau says a good harvest of 9ft long poles each currently wholesaling at Sh300, has a gross value of Sh600,000.

“In our stores we currently have a combined stock of 100,000 bamboo poles; if we were to dispose them in the market, they would earn us a gross return of Sh3 million,” she says, noting that once they harvest they get free firewood from the branches and unwanted pole trunks.

Ms Kamau says many families spend at least four hours in search of firewood in bushes and forests daily, and in extreme cases spend at least Sh50 a day to buy from commercial sellers. The project has thus proved to offer savings to its members.

She adds that bamboo farming comes with added advantage of being a source of livestock fodder. One clump can remain productive for 40 successive years.

Though there are many varieties of bamboo plants, the most favoured by this group is the semi-solid variety whose botanical name is Oxytenthera Abbysinica, and most ideal for value addition endeavours since it is not hollow.

To sustain and spread the benefit of the enterprise, group members are required to plant at least 10 culms of bamboo and pool together harvests for the bulk market.

Supply tenders

Some of the products the women make include bathroom ladders, which they sell at Sh3,000 per piece, pastry trays, sugar dishes, utensil holders, chapatti rollers, barbeque skewers, necklaces, biros and straws, among others.

To achieve their target, they want both the national and county governments to award them supply tenders for their products.

 “We are also exploring ways to effectively market our products since we currently bank on goodwill. We want to take our products to the market. We have a combined stock worth Sh100 million and should we get our marketing drive right, we will soon be a point of reference as an industry that is transforming lives of Murang’a women,” notes Ms Kamau.

She says they have sent emissaries to industrialization ministry, Murang’a County government as well as their elected leaders, to help them fundraise so as to implement their expansion agenda.










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