Bamboo Plantation in Benin

Just arrived in tropical Benin, still need to get used to the tropical temperatures but with a lot of energy to start up a new bamboo plantation. After a 10 hour bus trip I arrive in at he town Parakou. Approximately 30 km away from that town you can see the freshly new bought location of 400 hectares, On our way we see that they are building a new school, from the proceeds of the sale of the land. At this point it is not easy to get to the location. We are busy with making a road with a bulldozer to get there with our small truck.


 

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A view view of savannah on the location

Some of the surrounding area is used used for agricultural purposes by the locals, and small pieces of forest where the locals get there wood for cooking. The locals are self-reliant nomadic people who travel from the one place to another. They spend between 1 to 3 years at the same location until the soil fertility is depleted, then they move to the next plot. The site  for this project is as not been productive for some years.

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Local agriculture production of Liam

The first task was to preparing the nursery site and put up a shade cover structure of ± 4000m². To Construct this structure we used local materials where possible, other materials we had to ship in from Europe. The site nursery and shade structure is needed to acclimatise and grow-on the baby plants to suitable size before planting into the plantation.

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Groundworks

The plants are first produced inside a tissue culture lab in Indonesia (BNV), after that there hardened of till they are 10–20cm high in South Africa (Hortus Capensis), they were then airfreighted to the client Bambu Mass Benin. The plants arrive in carton boxes, it is important that they are shipped at the right temperature (around 18 degrees). Great care was taken unpacking the trays under the protected shade cloth, any plugs which had come out of the trays were replaced.

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Shade cover structure

We are working here with two main bamboo species, around 75% is Bambusa balcooa and 25% Dendrocalamus asper. We also did a few tests with some other types like Guadua angustifolia, Phyllostachys Moso, Phyllostachys nigra and Bambusa tuldoides.

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With the arrival of 120 000 new plants it is recommended to have someone with experience by your side

For the planting out from the trays we made up a potting mixture from local materials (composted soil from the forest, rice husk and some natural animal compost) supplemented partly with organic fertilizer brought in from Europe.

We started planting with approximately 40 people, communication was a challenge :-), half of the people only spook their local language, thankfully the other half also spoke French. I can tell you my French vocabulary at that time was no more then 20 simple words. Luckily this was not the first time that I had to work with people that I couldn’t understand. After a while you get used to it.

With our team of 40 staff, we where able to plant around 10 000 plants a day inclusive preparing the soil and filling the pots. Water was also an issue we where hand drilling a well to pump up some fresh clean water, but some things went wrong and it took us some more time then planned, so for a few weeks we had to go to a nearby lake and use some water from there.  After one week the plants where showing there first signs of growth with new leaves growing and the roots where active.

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Planting out of the plugs into locally made potting mixture, from locally sourced media

The purpose of the plantation is the bamboo will be used for as a fuel crop.  In 2 or 3 months they will be planted out into the field. So those little plants that you see in the picture will be more then one meter in only 2 months of growth. 5 years after planting the first harvest begins, 2 till 3 years later the plantation comes close to full production. This is the beauty of a bamboo plantation once established you can harvest every year because you only harvest the 3 year old culms. The bamboo plant keeps on making new culms and the plant refreshes himself every year.

This article was written by Marc Oprins, who consulted on a project project for the client Bambu Mass Benin, the containers with materials arrived on site in March 2014 and the nursery was constructed and plants were potted in April 2014.

Mark Oprins
Mark Oprins