Bamboo trees can protect the soil, purify water, provide firewood and used to make many products.
Although Kenyan farmers know and plant many types of trees, very few of them plant bamboo, yet the tree is one of the most valuable among the tree species in the country. Bamboo can play a very important role in Kenya’s afforestation and conservation efforts. The tree grows three times faster than eucalyptus trees, reaching maturity in only three years. It can be harvested after every two years for up to 40 years.
Some species of bamboo can grow at the rate of 1 meter a day. Besides, the tree can be put to many uses because of its many good qualities; it can be used for building purposes, bamboo shoots are a source of food, other parts of the trees can be used to make floor tiles, baskets, boats, bridges, brushes buckets, charcoal, furniture, roofing toilets, toothpicks as well as water pipes. Edible varieties of bamboo are available locally.
It can prevent soil erosion
The bamboo roots form a network of roots in the soil, therefore binding it and preventing soil erosion especially in steep slopes and riverbanks where soil erosion is greatest. The abundant foliage that dry and fall off create a thick humus layer that enriches the soil. Studies done in Kenya and Southeast Asia have shown that natural bamboo forests have excellent water purification qualities, which also help improve soils. The roots help prevent the soil from being washed away by runoff water during heavy rains.
It absorbs carbon
Some species of bamboo absorb as much as 12 tones of atmospheric carbon dioxide per hectare- the tree is therefore very important in addressing some of the effects of global warming and climate change. At the household level, bamboo can provide a valuable source of firewood and charcoal. It yields more than 7000 kilocalories of energy, half the yield from the same amount of petroleum. Farmers can also plant bamboo species that have large thorns along the fences for security purposes.
Planting Bamboo trees
The first step in production of bamboo involves the selection of planting material. The planting material may come in form of seeds or wildings (seeds collected from the forest). Bamboo trees take a long time to flower and produce seeds. Flowering intervals may range from 40 to 80 years and when the seeds are finally produced, they are only viable for a few days before they die. Farmers should therefore be careful when buying seedlings from hawkers or vendors.
Bamboo seedlings growing wildly in forests can be collected and used to start a bamboo plantation. The seedlings can be collected in a few areas in high mountains such as Aberdare ranges, the Mau and Mt Elgon. The seedlings, often found in young clusters can be scooped using a spade and taken to a nursery and planted in polyethylene bags. The roots should not be disturbed during the transportation and planting.
Bamboo can be propagated vegetatively. This offers a better source of planting material. A section of the root system of the bamboo (rhizome) is cut and planted but farmers should take care not to damage the roots, buds and rhizomes. Culms (bamboo stems) can be cut and planted. Multiplication of seed from bamboo stem is faster than wild seedlings and root cuttings.
Varieties available in Kenya
There are many varieties of bamboo that can be grown in Kenya. Below we provide farmers with a number of common bamboo species including their qualities and uses;
Yushania alpine: An indigenous species that grows in mountainous areas in Kenya. It is mainly found in Aberdares, Mt Elgon and the Mau ranges.
Dendrocalamus giganteus: This is the largest bamboo species in terms of size. It can grow well in highlands and other wet areas in the country. It has edible shoots.
Dendrocalamus Asper: A giant bamboo species which is mainly used for weaving, making pipes, fencing and basketry. It has edible shoots.
Bambusa vulgaris ‘’vitata’’- An exotic species found mainly found in lowland areas such as Machakos. It is mainly used in papermaking, poles and handicrafts.
Bambusa hamiltonii: A fast growing species from China.It is used in the construction industry and has edible shoots.
Nigra: A species of bamboo that has good water purification and filtration purposes. It grows well in highlands and wet areas.
Psedosassa Japonica (arrows): An exotic species mainly planted in water catchment areas. It has water conservation and purification qualities.
Farmers interested in buying any of these bamboo species can contact KEFRI Tree Breeding and Silviculture Centre Muguga P.O Box 20412, 00200 Nairobi, 0722 157 414, 0722 801 539.