Bamboo as a sustainable alternative

Bamboo Characteristics

The tropical and subtropical species which are typically pachymorph or sympodial (clumping) varieties of bamboo are well suited to the task offering: -

  • Numerous cultivars to meet utility requirements, weather and soil conditions
  • Fast growing and sustainable harvesting, when mature after 4 to 5 years, 30% of the culms can be harvested annually
  • Lightweight strong and flexible (bamboo has the tensile strength of steel)
  • Low barrier to entry, bamboo can be harvested, extracted and processed by hand
  • Non invasive and low maintenance
  • Excellent windbreak
  • Effective barrier for livestock
  • Duel purpose solutions, culms can be harvested for: -
    • cooking fuel and charcoal production
    • crop supports for tobacco, bananas, tomatoes, beans, etc
    • building and construction materials
    • utility materials for craft, furniture and implements
    • edible shoots (high in fibre)
  • Good soil retention reducing erosion, their fine shallow and densely knitted root mass acts like a sponge absorbing runoff water and binding the soil
  • Excellent water efficiency their shallow roots (60cm) means bamboo does not impact the lower water table
  • High intercropping potential, clumping bamboo species have localised roots that do not spread and compete with other crops
  • The waste material like branches and leaves can be used as compost or animal feed for goats and cattle
  • Scaffolding and ladders, reinforcing in concrete for lintels and water tanks.
  • High potential for downstream processing and job creation, in recent years numerous developments in R&D and processing techniques has given rise to a range of high end bamboo products.
    • Laminated bamboo for structural beams, flooring and furniture panels
    • Bamboo fibre for textile and new light weight composite materials for the auto and aerospace industries
    • Supplements for the cosmetic (high in silica) and food nutrition (high in fibre) industries
    • Medical and pharmaceutical applications
    • Biomass for gasification and power generation
    • High fibre pulp for paper and carton manufacture
    • The production of granular activated carbon, GAC is used in gas purification, decaffeination, gold purification, metal extraction, water purification, medicine, sewage treatment, air filters in gas masks and respirators, filters in compressed air and many other applications.

    Challenges and Opportunities

    Malawi together with many of its neighbours has growing populations who rely on timber for their basic fuel and utility requirements. Due to habitat depletion and long cropping cycles the natural forests are unable to recuperate. Bamboo has the potential to alleviate the pressure by offering a sustainable alternative.

    Afribam aims to meet this challenge by offering bamboo species that can be grown for multi purpose use:-

  • Bamboo’s low barrier to entry makes it an ideal crop for low resource based rural communities; we wish to promote the planting of several bamboo plants per homestead, this will reduce the need for families to forage for fuel or timber, improving the ability of particularly young girls to attend school.
  • Establish commercial plantations that can be sustainably harvested to produce fuel and raw material for domestic and industrial fuel needs; as well as employment opportunities for manufacturing a wide range of utility products for both the local as well as export markets. We have established a trial plantation 30 minutes from Lilongwe.
  • The supply of plants to other commercial farmers. We have established a bamboo nursery on the edge of Lilongwe that has a trail plot of several species for evaluation and customer appraisal.