Bamboo plants will soon be reaching for the skies in central Kenya. Farmers are planting a bamboo variety that can grow up to 20 metres a year. The bamboo is replacing eucalyptus trees near river banks and other water sources.
Last year, Kenya’s environment minister ordered farmers to uproot eucalyptus trees growing near water. The country was facing a drought and water-hungry eucalyptus trees were making matters worse.
Joseck Gatitu is a farmer in the Kamune area of central Kenya. He saw how eucalyptus affects the local water supply. He cut down 15 eucalyptus trees near a stream that had nearly dried up.
Eucalyptus is valued for its fast growth. Farmers in many parts of Africa now grow it for firewood and timber. But where eucalyptus grows, so does controversy. Compared with indigenous species, eucalyptus requires a lot more water. Many agroforestry experts believe it is not sustainable in dry areas.
The Kenya Forestry Research Institute and other groups are promoting bamboo as an alternative. Farmers are being trained to grow giant bamboo.
Giant bamboo is the world’s fastest growing woody plant. It is also self-regenerating. You can chop down a bamboo stem and it will regrow from the roots.
People in Kenya’s Aberdares Forest have already uprooted their eucalyptus and planted bamboo. They were assisted by an NGO that distributes bamboo seedlings.
In the meantime, there is evidence that removing eucalyptus has helped water levels. Isaiah Gichuru is an environment officer in the Aberdares. He says water levels have risen in rivers and springs.
Kenyan farmers still have the option of growing eucalyptus trees, but they must be 30 metres from a water source.