If you were asked to list a hundred things you could do with bamboo, your first thought might be that bamboo poles can be tied together to make a fence, a bridge, a shack or some kind of settlement. Bamboo’s uses do indeed include construction (the costs of bamboo dwellings compare very favourably with conventional materials).
You would think that it can replace the need for trees as a source of wood (isn’t that great!) All types of furniture can be made, as well as fittings such as window blinds, fencing and flooring. It might come to you that charcoal can be produced, cutting-boards and various arts and crafts.
But would you think textiles? Bamboo towels and socks? Bamboo soap? Bamboo toilet paper? Bamboo beer, bamboo bicycles and bamboo corrugated roof sheets?
Bamboo does not have a hundred uses: studies done by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and other role players show over a thousand! Clearly there is a lot more to bamboo products and bamboo processing than would immediately occur to the reader. Not only does bamboo have many uses, it is a non-invasive crop that can help develop agriculture and contribute towards lifting human beings out of poverty by creating jobs in rural areas.
Benefits of Bamboo
- combats soil erosion
- reforests areas denuded of vegetation caused by demand for cooking fuel
- removes heavy metals and other pollutants from polluted water
- responds to climate change through carbon sequestration
- provides shade and creates windbreaks for food crops
- can be grown as a living fence to keep animals in or out
- provides food for humans in the form of shoots and animal fodder in the form of leaves
- assists in capturing water allowing it to percolate instead of flowing away
- can be planted as noise barriers and windbreaks
- develops greener more aesthetically pleasing settlements and a better living environment
- provides a habitat for wildlife and improved biodiversity
- contributes to economic development and creation of jobs at a local level
- increases environmental awareness through communities locally and from publicity nationally
- creates opportunities for communities to enter the New Green Economy and so creates rural wealth instead of the standard poverty relief programmes
Source: www.trees.co.za. The above list accompanied the previous “Bamboo for Africa” programme.
International business environment
- Chinese firms account for 90% of the international export market for laminated bamboo flooring, the appeal of which has grown as Western consumers go green.
- Since 2012, Chinese companies can offset their carbon emissions by buying credits in bamboo plantations (bamboo releases lots of oxygen into the air, swallowing four times as much carbon as some trees).
- The annual value of the bamboo industry has grown 500-fold since 1981, to $32bn; in three years China plans to boost this to $48bn, and to have 10m employed.
Source: The Economist, 2018 (find article citation below).
- Reporter. 2018, January 20. “Innovative materials from bamboo are helping a new industry to sprout”. The Economist. Available at www.economist.com/business/2018/01/20/innovative-materials-from-bamboo-are-helping-a-new-industry-to-sprout
- Find the proceedings from the World Bamboo Workshop, Peru 2018 at http://worldbamboo.net.
- International Network For Bamboo And Rattan, www.inbar.int
- The World Bamboo Organisation, http://worldbamboo.net
- Environmental Bamboo Foundation – www.bamboocentral.org
- Find “New Bamboo Industries and Pro-Poor Impacts: Lessons from China and Potential for Mekong Countries”, a study done by Oxfam Hong Kong and the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (MPDF).
Along with the incredible potential in this industry, it is perhaps inevitable that some investment schemes arise that sound too good to be true. Be cautious when bamboo plantation investments promise 25 to 25% returns from year one. Bamboo needs around four years to develop the 80 – 100mm culms. These culms have to mature for at least 24 months to gain the strength needed for the products.
Local business environment
Find the overview of the bamboo industry in China, Africa and South Africa in the article by Scheba, A., Mayeki, S. & Blanchard, R (see below for full citation). The points below are taken from it.
- EcoPlanet Bamboo in the Eastern Cape belongs to a leading multinational company specialising in substituting wood fibre products with bamboo.
- Green Grid Beema Bamboo in KwaZulu-Natal received funding from South Africa’s Green Fund and is a national demonstration project for generating bioenergy from bamboo.
- Smaller bamboo projects also operate in the Eastern Cape or KwaZulu-Natal, because these provinces are considered to be the most conducive regions for commercial growing due to soil, climate and rainfall conditions.
- In addition to commercial growers, there are nurseries/tissue culture companies, specialised retailers, government agencies and consulting companies across the country, which have engaged in the local bamboo industry.
Source: Scheba, A., Mayeki, S. & Blanchard, R. 2018. “Bamboo for green development in South Africa?” Human Sciences Research Council. Available at www.hsrc.ac.za/en/review/hsrc-review-jan-march-2018/bamboo-for-green-dev-sa
- Amathole Economic Development Agency Tel: 043 721 2070 www.aspire.org.za
- Bamboo Industries Tel: 011 025 5941 / 082 301 0513 www.bambooindustries.co.za
- Bamboo Network Tel: 010 001 4959 www.bamboonetwork.co.za
- Bamboo Revolution Tel: 066 465 4040 https://bamboorevolution.world
- Bamboo Warehouse Tel: 011 794 4768 www.bamboowarehouse.co.za
- Bright Fields Natural Trading Company Tel: 021 448 8548 www.brightfields.co.za
- CCL Flooring Tel: 021 790 0377 www.cclflooring.co.za Panda Bamboo is one of its brands
- Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) Tel: 043 704 5600 www.ecdc.co.za
- EcoPlanet Bamboo www.ecoplanetbamboo.com EcoPlanet Bamboo owns Kowie Bamboo Farm in the Eastern Cape. Find its videos like EcoPlanet Bamboo’s Kowie Bamboo Farm on Youtube.
- Faithful to Nature Tel: 021 785 3268 www.faithful-to-nature.co.za Bamboo clothes
- Food & Trees for Africa Tel: 011 656 9802/3 www.trees.co.za FTFA previously ran the internationally accredited programme “Bamboo for Africa”.
- Friends of Chintsa Tel: 043 738 5523 www.friendsofchintsa.org The Thuba Bamboo Weaving Co-operative was one of its projects.
- Hortus Capensis Tel: 087 702 4650 / 076 402 4470 www.hortuscapensis.co.za
- Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) Tel: 011 269 3000 www.idc.co.za
- National Bamboo Association of South Africa contact Willem Malherbe at 021 828 4202 or info [at] emergy.co.za
- Ndakana Wood Products Primary Co-operative Limited c/o ECDC
- Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Eiland Research Station, Upington Tel: 087 630 0303 / 086 545 2250
- Original Agricultural Business Systems (OABS) Tel: 087 095 2108 www.oabs.co.za Ken Bern of OABS has experience in the bamboo sector.
- Panda Bamboo Tel: 086 111 4971
- The Biomass Corporation Tel: 021 876 3100 / 083 454 7236 www.biomasscorp.com
- 5 Star Cover Willem Malherbe Tel: 083 226 0967
Websites and publications
- See the websites listed earlier on this page. Those of role players provide useful information e.g. find the presentations by numerous bamboo role players on the ECDC website, www.ecdc.co.za.
- Whiting K. 2020, August 3. “Meet the Woman Making Bamboo Bikes in Ghana”. World Economic Forum. Available at www.ecowatch.com/bamboo-bike-ghana-2646871008.html
- Find the Human Sciences Research Council presentation “How can South Africa’s Green Economy projects work better for the poor?” (2017, May) at www.hsrc.ac.za/uploads/pageContent/8216/EPD%20seminar.31%20May%202017.Andreas.pdf
- Paramita E. 2018, March 22. “How to grow a bamboo industry”. World Agroforestry Centre. Available at http://blog.worldagroforestry.org/index.php/2018/03/22/how-to-grow-a-bamboo-industry/
- Find the thorough notes on bamboo at www.plantationsinternational.com/bamboo/
- Although “Bamboo products and trade” is dated, it gives a paragraph or two for the various products made from bamboo. Find it at www.fao.org/docrep/pdf/010/a1243e/a1243e04.pdf
- Several EcoPlanet and other videos on bamboo can be found on YouTube. See “The Power of Job Creation: EcoPlanet Bamboo” and “Bamboo: The Miracle Plant”. Others are “Bamboo for Africa” and “RES BIO ENERGY – DGB Bamboo Plantation”
- Laville, S. 2018, November 22. “Bamboo house: easy to build, sustainable Cubo wins top prize”. The Guardian. Available at www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/22/bamboo-house-easy-to-build-sustainable-cubo-wins-top-prize
Our thanks to Willem Malherbe (National Bamboo Association of South Africa) and Pieter Joubert for feedback on the draft chapter.
Share this article