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Riding to riches on bamboo

lady displays bamboo shoots (malewa) packed in a plastic container

Bamboo: Plant of many uses

Bamboo is an evergreen perennial flowering plant in the subfamily Bamboosoidea of the grass family Poaceae. Bamboo is classified as a grass and not a tree as many people think.

Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. According to research, certain species of bamboo can grow 3ft (about half the height of an adult person) within a day. It means they grow at a stunning rate of almost one inch every 40 minutes.

According to the website of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), a multilateral development organisation of 42 states including Uganda for the promotion of bamboo and rattan, bamboo has a higher specific compressive strength than wood, brick, or concrete and a specific tensile strength that rivals steel.

The Dutch-Sino-East Africa Bamboo Development programme, a project implemented by INBAR to support poverty reduction, sustainable development, climate change action and international trade says Uganda has an estimated 40,000 – 50,000 hectares of bamboo. The project covers Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia which have sub-Saharan Africa’s largest natural bamboo forests and accounting for 3-4% of the world’s total known bamboo coverage.

Alternative uses of bamboo  

Andrew Ndawula Kalema, a farmer and bamboo enthusiast, who is the national coordinator for INBAR in Uganda and he says bamboo has gained increasing importance worldwide as a substite for timber in a wide range of innovative products. Bamboo shoots can be eaten as food, poles for agriculture and structures, panels and composite materials for houses and buildings, versatile household products (furniture, kitchen utensils), vehicles for transportation (such as bicycles, boats, skateboards, and even ultra-light airplanes), pulp and paper, fibre for textiles, medicinal and bio-¬chemical products (including bio-plastics and bio-fuels), charcoal for cooking and heating, and so much more. Kalema has a carboniser drum which he said is used to make bamboo charcoal from bamboo stems. He describes how bamboo is being used in making lotions, shampoo and vaseline.

Carol Tusiime and Gertrude Newumbe of the House of Bamboo Cosmetics make cosmetics from bamboo products under the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI); a government incubator which supports research in industrial projects.

Other companies have added value to the Bagisu traditional delicacy of “malewa” made from bamboo dried shoots. Noordudin Kasoma, the proprietor of BOOGAALI Bikes Uganda Ltd which makes bamboo bicycle frames and make other artifacts like lamp stands, chandeliers, and key holders.

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