Fact sheet on bamboo

| September 19, 2016

Download this story

As we saw in this week’s story from Zimbabwe, bamboo is a crop that can provide income, protection from soil erosion, and other benefits to farmers. If you want to develop a program on the uses and benefits of bamboo, you can use the information in this fact sheet—our Script of the week.

Bamboos are woody grasses that grow up to 40 metres tall. In fact, bamboo is the world’s strongest and fastest-growing woody plant. In parts of Kenya, the giant bamboo grows 20 metres high with a diameter of 0.2 metres in one year. There are more than 1200 species of bamboo worldwide.

Bamboo matures in just three years, and can be harvested thereafter every second year for up to 120 years, depending on the species. After harvesting, bamboo does not need to be replanted, as it re-sprouts from the old stem.

Growing bamboo requires only a modest investment and generates steady income for farmers.
As mentioned in the Script of the week, the bamboo plant has many uses, including:

  • Construction of high-value goods such as floor tiles, paper, utensils, toothpicks, plywood, high-value furniture, carvings, baskets, and fences.
  • Natural resource conservation: Introducing bamboo species into deforested mountainous areas can help retain water in the soil and reduce the risk of flash floods and landslides.
  • Food: Over two million tonnes of edible bamboo shoots—rich in vitamins and low in carbohydrates, fats and proteins—are consumed around the world every year.
  • Some species have large thorns, making them ideal for security hedges. Others grow tall straight poles that form ideal windbreaks that can be sustainably harvested annually.

Farmers might receive $5 for sales of raw bamboo. But, with training on how to convert bamboo into saleable goods, they can receive $100 for goods crafted from the same amount of bamboo.

One of the main challenges with bamboo is that it has been regarded as a natural resource which is simply free for the taking. This can lead to overexploitation and rapid depletion of bamboo resources, especially near paper mills and factories. Harvesting bamboo from natural stands too distant from mills and factories results in transportation costs becoming too high for bamboo to be economical.