Sunday, July 29, 2012

Farmers benefit from bamboo farming as a new cash cow

Millicent Atieno tending to her Bamboo groove at Kadika Village, Migori County   

A group of bamboo farmers in Kadika Village of Migori County are reaping major benefits after veering away from the common tobacco and sugarcane farming in the area.
The about 80 farmers who benefited from an initiative by Maseno University which gave them 30 seedlings each a decade ago now boast of a steady income and are safe from health risk from tobacco curing and smoking which causes TB and makes children to be smokers when they grow up.
In addition the farmers are now avoiding the long queues and delays they had to be content with to get their pay from tobacco and sugarcane firms in the area.
Among the farmers who started with only a quarter an acre when approached is Mrs. Millicent Atieno who has so far increased her area to 5 acres after getting the befit of bamboo farming.
“I started harvesting my bamboos after two years and haven’t stopped ever since which gives me a steady income, a shoot can give up to 200 suckers in one hole and can be used in different stages and functions” Atieno says.
 “When the shoots are young they only require minimal tendering as the leaves that fall at the base of the bamboo grooves act as a herbicide and mulch which goes on to retain moisture and preserve the soil” she adds.
The farmers are now turning the venture on a full scale basis as they benefit from making furniture, buildings, firewood and twigs and trunks used to make ornaments and sandals.
A bamboo yacht from the group
“Right now I’m sitting on a chair and using a table made of bamboo with my house having structures from bamboo. Apart from making ornaments to sell in the market, I have a steady supply of firewood and charcoal in my homestead which i also sell to my neighbours” she adds.
When the farmers started harvesting the bamboos they came together to help cut out middle men who were exploiting them and help give value to their products.
Under the Kadika Bamboo Sacco, the farmers have established a workshop at the village which is only four kilometres from Migori town to make out finished products, look for the market and offer advise with the farmers getting 90% if the income with the remaining being ploughed back into running the Sacco.
The Sacco makes trays for display which sell at Sh250, office pens and mobile holder for Sh200, yacht for Sh250, Sh1,200 tables, chairs for Sh650 among other products.
“From these proceeds we have managed to employ 5 artisans and sales people who are helping us with turning finishing the products and get the bamboos directly from farmers” Mr. Ezekiel  Onganjo, a farmer who also the manger at the Sacco says.
Ongajo adds that the Sacco runs a tree nursery of the three species of bamboo with the giant specie mainly used for making building and chairs going for Sh250 while bambusa and vulgaria going for Sh150.
“The sales from these seedling is high as it surpasses eucalyptus which seedlings which are sold at Sh2 and grows three times with easy propagating as only a shoot can producer over 200 suckers” he says.
“The roots of the giant and bambusa species are also used as tubers as food and vegetables. With the most buyers being from Chinese and Korean constructors in the county involved in water and infrastructure projects” he adds.
Mr. Zabedeus Nyamari, the Migori county forest officer has lauded the group and calls on Kenyans to take bamboo farming seriously to help reach the 10% forest cover in the country as envisioned in Vision 2030 and Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.
Bamboo chairs from the group
“Bamboo has the ability to absorb up to 12 tonnes of carbon for every hectare which makes it ideal for reducing the effects of global warming in the world. Sadly for over 150,000 hectares of 22 species of bamboo in the country, 95% are protected in government forestes which gives the number in farmers’ hand to be very little even with this huge benefits” Mr. Nyamari says.
In Africa Ethiopia leads with over 1 million hectares of the plant while China is the biggest producer in the world at 80% with 60% consumed internally. This shows how far Kenya is placed in the bamboo industry is globally worth $11 billion annually and sustains over 1.5 billion people according to figures obtained from the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).

©Manuel Odeny 2012

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