Can bamboo drive Africa’s emerging green economy?

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Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that brings to many African countries a significant untapped potential for generating rural income, restoring degraded landscapes, and combating climate change. To harness bamboo to drive a green economy in Africa, robust national policies and international frameworks that support bamboo development are needed.

As African countries shift to the post-2015 development agenda and develop strategies to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, there is one resource that many may not have previously considered – bamboo. Despite the many benefits this plant brings and the huge reserves of indigenous bamboo found across the continent, the resource remains largely untapped in Africa.

This represents a missed opportunity: bamboo is strong and versatile, lending itself to over 10,000 different products; it helps tackle the effects of climate change – providing rapid reforestation and demonstrating the potential for large-scale carbon sequestration; restores degraded landscapes; and offers a more sustainable alternative to wood – helping reduce pressures on already depleted forest resources.

Production also means a quick return on investment – bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth, reaching full height in just one growing season – and an opportunity to participate in a growing global sector estimated at 60 million USD.

A new report published by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) outlines the policy options, models and approaches that Africa needs to reap these benefits and realize the potential of its bamboo resources.

The first attempt to link bamboo with the continent’s sustainable development agenda, the report offers a practical framework to mobilize this strategic resource ahead of the UN General Assembly in September, which will finalize SDGs for the post-2015 era.

‘Bamboo for Africa: A strategic resource to drive the continent’s green economy’ encourages Africa’s policymakers to consider the following options – based on successes and impacts elsewhere, particularly in Asia:

  • Equipping farmers with the skills to plant and manage bamboo as a crop
  • Propagating and supplying seedlings
  • Teaming-up with the private sector for processing and adding value to raw bamboo
  • Investing in market research, product innovation, and marketing
  • Promoting awareness of the benefits of bamboo – helping to undermine some of the myths that surround bamboo production.

A pioneer in terms of bamboo production, Ethiopia offers a potential model for other countries across Africa. Ethiopia has approximately one million hectares of indigenous bamboo and has benefited from a partnership with INBAR and China to exchange knowledge and expertise.

At a high level consultation of African ministers and senior policy makers, convened by INBAR in Addis Ababa last year, Ethiopia’s President, Mulatu Teshome, committed his country to even greater bamboo production – perceiving the plant as a significant contributor to environmentally-friendly accelerated development, which could play a significant role in landscape restoration, poverty alleviation, biodiversity, and job creation.

A bamboo training center and a new bamboo-led sustainable land management initiative are just two of the innovative projects being rolled out by the east African nation. Where Ethiopia leads, the rest of Africa would be wise to follow.

The ‘Bamboo for Africa’ report was released on September 9 2015 at the World Forestry Conference, an event convened by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to bring together the world’s forest community to review and analyze key issues affecting forests and ways of solving them. 

Blogpost by Jack Durrell – jdurrell(at)inbar.int
Picture courtesy INBAR

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