Zimbabwe: Bamboo is the green gold that spares forests (Trust)

| September 19, 2016

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Lush tracts of tall bamboo spread across southeastern Chipinge district in Zimbabwe. Local villagers see the plant as green gold, and are harvesting it commercially.

Natalia Sithole has been growing bamboo since she was 17. Ten years after she started, she earns about $120 US weekly by selling the plant to people across the country.

She says, “My life has changed for the better thanks to bamboo, and I’m managing to support even my poor parents and siblings, besides my own children.”

An acre of bamboo can fetch $220 US. This is less than the $350 US per acre farmers can get for timber, but bamboo matures more quickly, reaching full growth in two or three months. The giant grass stays green all year around, and its woody, hollow stem grows rapidly.

Bamboo plants can be harvested three to five years after initial planting. And they can be harvested sustainably for over 40 years.

Commercial production of bamboo is growing, and is helping to preserve forests. The giant grass can be used in many of the same ways as wood, reducing the need to cut down trees.

Buyers are using bamboo to make furniture, cooking utensils, toothpicks, coffins, fences, and more. It can even be used to build houses. Bamboo is also used to make newsprint, toilet paper, and cardboard, as well as mats and baskets.

Melford Dhilwayo is a local bamboo buyer. He says, “Furniture made from bamboo is quite durable even for outdoor use, unlike wood, and this means forests now are at [less risk] of being destroyed.”

Regis Mhandu is an agricultural extension officer. He says bamboo thrives in wet areas, but can tolerate harsher conditions. He explains, “Bamboo is drought-resistant as it has roots that grow slightly deeper, enabling it to reach out to more water underground.”

Bamboo grows naturally in Zimbabwe and some 20 other African countries.

While bamboo is slowing deforestation, conservationists admit that it’s the plant’s profitability that is attracting growers. Patience Chiri is an environmental activist. She says: “While bamboo is helping in the fight against deforestation, its popularity is set to grow owing to the financial returns the grass offers to growers. So as people fend off deforestation, they also make money from it.”

To read the full story on which this article is based, Zimbabweans spot green gold in bamboo that spares forests, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160810093203-9nwjy/

With files from, Bamboo: Africa’s untapped potential (Africa Renewal): http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2016/bamboo-africa%E2%80%99s-untapped-potential

Photo credit: TRF/Jeffrey Moyo