Alloys Barasa Mulla at his bamboo farm in Butula, Busia County.
Bamboo farming has good returns on investment
Bamboo tree is a valuable plant. However, many farmers do not consider farming the crop, which according to those who have ever had a chance to engage themselves in growing and selling the crop can give a farmer a lot of money.
Alloys Mulla is one of those farmers who know the value of the bamboo crop. He learnt of bamboo farming through an article that he read in one of the newspapers in June 2004, and did not hesitate to venture into this kind of farming, after developing a keen interest on the multipurpose crop.
“I learnt about bamboo farming through an article I read in one of the newspapers on June 10, 2004. It was about a farmer who was doing it in Gatanga, Murang’a County,” reveals the sixty-year-old farmer, who carries out bamboo farming in Butula constituency, Busia County.
He decided to venture into the agribusiness in 2004, after seeking consultation from the right authorities.
“I called Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI) in Nairobi and they directed me to Njoro, where I purchased six seedlings- two of them were of Giant variety while four of them were of Yushania Alpina,” he reveals. He is currently farming the crop in one acre.
“I have ten acres of land, but I farm bamboo in only one acre,” says the farmer, adding that the crop takes five to seven years before maturing and becoming ready for use or sale.
The farmer, who also grows other crops such as millet, bananas, sorghum, and rice, says that bamboo seedlings ought to be planted by leaving a space of 30 cm by 30 cm. But he adds that he leaves a space of 60 cm by 60 cm when he grows bamboo cuttings instead of the seedlings.
Before planting the crop, a farmer has to prepare the land well by digging it and mixing the soil with manure.
Mulla says that a bamboo pole goes for Sh300 to Sh500. However, sometimes he has to slash the prices.
“I sell Giant bamboo stem at Sh400 each. Most people buy them to propagate seedlings. I also sell Yushania at Sh200 each,” he reveals, adding that students, mainly scouts, also buy them at Sh150 per pole, which they use to make tents when they are in camps.
“I can sell around 100 bamboo poles per month, to those who use them to make several items. I also sell bamboo seedlings which propagate, at Sh50,’’ he reveals.
Mulla can make Sh40,000 per month by selling 100 Giant bamboo poles alone, which can translate to Sh480,000 per year. In addition, he sells around 80 poles of Yushania bamboo per month, at a price of Sh200 each, which total up to Sh16,000 per month. This translates to Sh192,000 per year.
“I can sell an average of 100 bamboo seedlings per month at Sh50 each, making an average of Sh5,000 every month,’’ says the farmer.
In total, Mulla makes a cool Sh60,000 per month by selling the poles plus the seedlings. On average, he makes Sh732,000 per year when the market is constant. Nevertheless, finding a market at times could be a tremendous challenge.
According to the farmer, his crops have neither been attacked by pests nor diseases since he started venturing into the agribusiness, more than a decade ago.
Besides getting money by selling bamboo stems, he also gets income from selling bamboo seedlings.
“Young plants can also be consumed like arrowroots,” adds the farmer, who farms giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) as well as the Yushania Alpina varieties.
Albeit facing challenges finding a market for his produce, the farmer reiterates that bamboo farming can enable one to make millions of money if well raised. “If you plant them using the right spacing, you can get up to Sh1 million in one acre of land,” he reveals.
The crop, when mature, can be used to make various products such as floor tiles, baskets, boats, furniture, toothpick among other products. Mr. Mugo, a forest conservationist says that the crop helps in curbing soil erosion.
“Bamboo forests, even when planted in small parcels of land by farming communities, help to control soil erosion, conserve biodiversity, beautify the landscape and essentially contribute to purification and regulation of the environment,” he says.
He adds that one of the advantages of bamboo is that it is a highly renewable resource. “Even as you harvest what is mature, it continues to regenerate,” says the conservationist.
John Muiruri, an agronomist, says that there are many species of bamboo in the world. “There are many species to choose from but those that do well in Kenya, include Bambusa tulda, Bambusa Vulgaris, Dentrocalamus gigantis, Dentrocalamus asper, bush bamboo, and Oxtenanthera Abyssinia,” reveals the agronomist.
Nevertheless, he urges farmers to first know where they can sell the produce, before engaging themselves in this kind of farming. He adds that when planting, a space of six feet by six feet should be left.
Bamboo farming has huge potential if it is done right
For all farming ventures, there some farmers who jump in and suffer losses, while there are others who make a kill. That has been the case with bamboo farming. While some have likened it to ‘another quail scam’ others have tasted the fruits. One of the farmers who has struck good luck with bamboo is Kelvin Kaloki, the managing director of Africa Plantation Capital.
“Some people have stated that bamboo is like quails. But far from it. Unlike quails, bamboo has a ready market that is insatiable,” he says.
Having seen the potential in bamboo farming, Kaloki started African Plantation Capital in 2015 to encourage other farmers to grow the trees for commercial purposes and environmental conservation.
“We are on a mission to preach the bamboo message. We are telling farmers that bamboo has great potential if they do things right. Bamboo is magical and it is an industry yet to be exploited. The global bamboo market is worth billions of dollars given that it feeds textile, construction and food industry,” he says.
African Plantation Capital is an ambitious project where Kaloki is lobbying farmers to grow bamboo in masses on a commercial basis.
With help of farmers, so far he has put 700 acres under bamboo in various parts of the country. The project recruits farmers to grow bamboo and when it is mature they sell to the company which exports the trees. They are working with farmers in nearly all the 47 counties. The most recent is Kilifi County.
The beauty of bamboo Kaloki says, is that from it, various value-added products can me made. They include furniture and construction materials. Recently, bicycles made of bamboo have become a sensation.
Kaloki says the tree’s stem is strong, which makes it durable and ideal for construction. In addition, bamboo takes a relatively shorter time to mature compared to other plants. The trees are ready for harvest in three to four years.
A number of investors have shown interest in it because of its economic value.
A few months ago, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta presided over a bamboo planting ceremony at the Ruiru Dam in Githunguri.
Bamboo, Kaloki says, is also great for environmental conservation. It has ability to raise the water table unlike water guzzlers like eucalyptus.
However, Kaloki points out that bamboo is not a ‘get-rich-quick’ project. “Those who want to grow bamboo must be patient. It is not an instant project. It requires a lot of time and dedication. But the rewards are guaranteed,” he says.
Bamboo also leads to creation of jobs. For instance, his company which started with just three workers now has 300 workforce.
Like any venture, bamboo has also had its fair share of challenges. Kaloki says there has been little support from government despite the enormous potential the plant has. But the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has been instrumental in development of bamboo varieties.