It might be a policy in Rwanda that bamboo trees are fully integrated into forestry and overall development strategies, but a section of society still feels that little attention has been paid regarding bamboo’s potential to offer solutions to the country’s employment challenges.
Jean Bosco Uwizeyimana, the managing director of Bambousa Ltd, said a public-private partnership in the management of bamboo plantations in Rwanda would not only shore up government’s bid to increase green cover, but will also go a long way in guaranteeing socio-economic and environmental benefits, to the population.
Uwizeyimana, whose company produces toothpicks, skewers (barbecue sticks) from bamboo trees, said apart from addressing several pressing environmental concerns, such as rampant soil erosion and deforestation, bamboo can also play a crucial role in creating employment, income generation, as well as foreign exchange through value addition.
“People like brochette (roasted meat) so much in Rwanda, but you can’t imagine that most of the skewers we use come from China, yet they are made out of bamboo. I am confident that once government and private sector come together to exploit this opportunity, we can get many valuable products, such as fibre, food and others underlined in Made-in-Rwanda campaign out of bamboo trees,” said Uwizeyimana.
He urged the Government to invest in capacity building to influence extra potential of bamboo tree, other than meeting the national target of 30 per cent forestry cover.
Uwizeyimana was speaking to The New Times, yesterday, on the sideline of a private sector stakeholders meeting on bamboo potential. The meeting, held in Kigali, was hosted by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Vincent Biruta, the minister for natural resources, said the meeting was called to share experiences between policy-makers and private sector in bamboo processing, improve collaboration and discuss ways to develop the bamboo value chain.
Since 2010, the ministry has promoted bamboo for use as a buffer zone on riverbanks, including Akanyaru, Sebeya and Nyabarongo.
However, few investors have picked interest in the initiative, which would lead to harvesting bamboo forests that have “outgrown” their intended purpose to the extent of causing destruction of the riverbanks.
“We need people who can harvest bamboo trees and use them for processing toothpicks, crafts, among others,” Biruta said.
Bamboo plantation in Rwanda covers 4382 hectares of land surface, corresponding to 1.82 per cent of total national forest cover.
While sharing the many potential uses of bamboo, from food to flooring, Bonaventure Ntirugulirwa, from Rwanda Agriculture Board, also said the potential to scale up its use and value is immense, as it can be used for construction, handicrafts, as stakes to support climbing beans, and to make various household items.
“Bamboo sequesters 30 per cent more carbon than other tree species,” Ntirugulirwa added.
The New Times understands that, as part of ongoing efforts to increase bamboo cover in the country, the Government has partnered with the Government of China to set up a project that seeks to increase not only production but also utilisation.
The project involves training artisans from cooperatives, local NGOs, and companies on how to make furniture, handicraft items, toothpicks, barbecue sticks and other items that have demand in local and regional markets.
Opportunity to tap into
Biruta said besides the rapid growth of bamboo trees and its ability to protect soil against erosion, there is an opportunity to set up vibrant a local bamboo industry.
“Rwanda is well suited to harness the potential of bamboo and its benefits can be realised for both the environment and people. Given the dispersed nature of bamboo plantations across Rwanda, there is an opportunity to set up vibrant local bamboo industries that do not require sophisticated technology but add value to the raw bamboo product. The Government is looking to work more closely with the private sector to achieve this, which would create jobs and boost incomes in rural areas,” Biruta said.
In Rwanda, there is a variety of bamboos species, including Bambusa vulgaris, Arundinaria alpine and Oxythenanthera abyssinica. Research carried out in the Ruhande Arboreum showed that Dendrocalamus giganteus is another species that grows well in Rwanda.
Research shows that, due to its woody properties, fast growth rates and general ease of processing, bamboo cultivation can provide farmers with the opportunity to significantly increase supplies of timber and biomass without compromising limited resources.