Ethiopia has one of the largest bamboo resource potential in the world. However, it is hard to conclude that the country has been getting benefit as per the potential it has.
As many argued, the plant is used to make watches, bikes, scaffolding, chopsticks, flooring, furniture, building and roofing materials, paper and textiles among other items. It's a plant which doesn't require any chemicals -- fertilizers or pesticides -- as it's largely immune to disease and pests.
Some documents suggested that practical policies at the local, national and regional levels are needed for African countries to fully realize it's potential.
Ethiopia is undertaking various activities to efficiently use bamboo resource as alternative energy source to satisfy the current energy requirements. So far, various projects have been implemented to reduce the increasing pressure of deforestation, environmental degradation, household emissions and women and girls health hazards.
The ability of bamboo to withstand drought season indicates the great potential of bamboo forage as source of feed for livestock. Bamboo has been consumed by animals such as cattle; sheep, goat, horse and donkey.
Bamboo resource is widely found in Benishangul-Gumuz, SNNPs, Oromia and Amhara state. Of the listed states, Benishangul-Gumuz has 440,000 hectares of Shimal bamboo (Oxytenanthera abyssinica) which at present is mainly used for subsistence uses such as housing, fencing, kitchen utensils, and agricultural implements and shoots for food.
Some people earn a small income by selling bamboo poles to people in Hawassa for use in traditional houses, and by selling small pieces of poles as fuel wood. According to experts working in the area, if the resource will be exploited properly, the nation can gain 12 million Birr per year.
Bamboo Senior Expert and Technologist, Mulatu Teshale said bamboo isn't utilized beyond constructing a house, boat, fence and in house equipment. Thus, this wealth has not been exploited and unable to play its stake in bringing foreign currency.
As it is one of raw inputs for factories, it attracts investments with a great contribution for the country via generating more jobs. Primarily, there were trials to enhance bamboo's resource utilization via offering training to enterprises even though the attention given to it by the states and federal government is too minimal. Due to this and other hurdles, the desired result is still yet to come.
"Like other countries, devising curriculum in bamboo productions is decisive to enhance the sector."
So far, there are only three manufacturers engaged in the sector. Having these manufacturers alone, it is hard to gain foreign currency as per the desire. So the government should be committed to toil strongly so as to enhance productivity and promote the use of bamboo products.
According to him, over 15 types of bamboo plants are found in highland and lowland parts of Ethiopia. Especially, the resource found in the western parts of the country is by far greater than elsewhere. Thus, exploiting such a wealth is not a task left for tomorrow.
In terms of building the capacity of bamboo products, agreement was signed between China and Ethiopia to establish the first ever Bamboo Products Training Center in Ethiopia some years ago, the plan has not been practical due to unknown reasons.
Had it been a reality, the center would have a vision of benefiting African countries via producing bamboo using scientific methods. It would also offers training to farmers in order to maximize the benefit they earned from this untapped resource.
Enhancing the number of manufacturers interested to engage in the sector is also another method of enhancing the bamboo resources. For this to happen, apart from fulfilling infrastructures in the place where the resource is widely found, facilitating incentives is also expected from the government.
By adding values on the wealth, manufactures engaged in the sector has to enhance productivity applying various innovative ideas, he suggested.
Tefera Mengistu, is another expert in the area. He said that compared to East African countries, Ethiopia has wide forest coverage and bamboo is one among many types of forest vegetation found in Ethiopia.
Citing the research conducted recently, he added that bamboo coverage ranges from 500,000 to 700,000 hectares in the country. The coverage once reached one million hectares of land, he recalls.
Bamboo is a fast growing forest harvest with in short period of time. Once planted it can begin harvesting after three years. It can also benefit a number of people. Nowadays, there has been a potential of cultivating one million hectare bamboo.
Ethiopia is preparing a strategy that would enable it to enhance the development of bamboo forest so as to maximize benefit. The new strategy focuses on the bamboo production from planting a tree to harvesting stage.
It would give direction on how producers can get benefit out of the sector. The strategy also expected to address gapes related to bamboo production, show ways of utilizing bamboo and so on. It also includes the value-chain among producers and cultivators.
BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW