Why Kenya’s Burgeoning Bamboo Industry Seeks Support and Know-how From China

Bamboo sticks
Credit: Zoo Monkey

Though having 12 percent of the world’s bamboo resources, Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, accounts for just 1 percent of the estimated 60 billion U.S. dollars global bamboo market. So far, Kenya and other East African countries seem to be benefiting from cooperation with China in developing their bamboo industry. 

According to media reports, China is assisting bamboo industry players and development in the East Africa region. Joseph Kaguai is a Kenyan hospitality and bamboo business investor who has received technological aid from China to boost his business. In a Xinhua featured news article, Kaguai’s Chinese friend is said to have facilitated his acquisition of made-in-China machines to manufacture toothpicks using bamboo, making him convinced the new venture will open new revenue streams through exports to regional markets.

Kagui told Xinhua that, “the cost of toothpicks in my hotels was quite high and it prompted me to explore how I can produce them locally using bamboo…the factory is doing well and we are working on the capacity for smooth production.” Kagui, whose toothpick production has created opportunities for farmers to angle themselves for a steady market for their produce, said that “we are getting machines from China but also require technology from the country to manufacture a range of products from bamboo.”

On a regional level, “there is already a joint Dutch-Chinese project in east African countries that aims to support the government and privately-owned bamboo industries. Currently, various factors such as the properties of the various bamboo species, the market potential of the bamboo sector, policy directions needed to boost bamboo industry, as well as capacity building and value addition needed in the bamboo sector are under study,” Jayaraman Durai, Regional Program Manager, International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) East Africa regional office, said in an interview with Xinhua in 2019. 

Durai further stated that “countries like China have been able to utilize bamboo for various purposes ranging from fashion clothes, medicines as a source of energy. There is no reason Ethiopia can’t replicate China’s success in the bamboo sector.”

Experts Call For Effective National Strategy And Cooperation With China

Nellie Mugure Oduor, director of the national forest products research program at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), speaking about the implementation of a national bamboo policy made known that “we want the bamboo to become an industrial crop and hope that once the policy is enacted, the country will attract investors to develop cottage industries using bamboo products.” The director, according to Xinhua news also added that Kenya has benefitted from China’s expertise and technology to develop household and industrial products from the grass sub-species.

Fu Jinhe, director of East Africa Regional Office at International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) underscored that “there is need for investment and technology transfer to boost the development of bamboo resources in Africa,” adding that the INBAR has encouraged Chinese investors to venture into Africa’s nascent bamboo industry, Xinhua News noted. 

Speaking at a World Bamboo Day event, Keriako Tobiko, cabinet secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said that the government will scale up the growing of bamboo across the country towards the actualization of bamboo commercialization.

Indeed scaling up the bamboo industry through sound policies and strategic cooperation with China has the potential to provide sustainable revenue to farmers scattered across central Kenyan highlands and beyond. 

Which other practical measures can enable Africa to have a greater share in the 60 billion U.S. dollar global bamboo market?

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