Farmer overcomes odds to thrive in bamboo farming

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Juvenales Njuguna — who studied philosophy in his youth but became a sheep and horticultural farmer in later years — had tried his hand in many farming ventures with little success until one of his neighbours advised him to try bamboo farming about a year ago.

In 2004, Njuguna bought a 50 acre piece of land in Isinya, but did not start farming immediately.

Often, he would go there to enjoy the natural beauty of the trees and other shrubs that grew there.

Herdsmen who saw the land said it was a beautiful place to while away the time, so Njuguna called the farm Kitil, which in the Maasai language connotes a beautiful place.

Initially, he had planned to start a ranch, but a friend advised him against the idea since cattle theft is rampant in the area. Because he had already bought some equipment, including feeding troughs, he decided to venture into pig farming.

“Pig farming was a mistake,” Njuguna said with the benefit of hindsight. “A week would go by without any sale yet the stock was ready”.  The major challenge that he faced was that middle-men were taking advantage of the farmers and refused to buy from those who would not comply with their demands. Seeing that he was not making much money from the venture, he resolved to practice rabbit rearing which he also abandoned soon after. He decided to lease the land.

“When I was going about looking for someone to lease the land, a neighbour advised me to try bamboo farming”.  That was how the seed of his current venture at Kitil was planted although he was also rearing sheep at his farm in Kinangop and growing flowers at another farm in Nyahururu.

Finding bamboo seedlings turned out to be Njuguna’s biggest challenge. “I realised that there are no bamboo seedlings around since not just anyone is authorised to transact in seeds,” he told the Business Daily.

The challenge of procurement was made worse by a ban on bamboo trading which enforced stringent penalties for those found dealing in bamboo. Unbeknownst to Njuguna, the directive made bamboo growing a preserve of the government.

Unable to find seeds and documentation on bamboo farming locally, Mr Njuguna went online. There he found a wealth of information which grew his interest in the crop.

With adequate information and a market where he could secure seeds, he was ready to start his privately-owned bamboo farm.

The farm now employs 15 workers including some who work in a laboratory that Njuguna has set up to carry out research on bamboo farming

He started off with a million seedlings that he grew in a tray but they dried up upon being transplanted. After the failure, he decided to try growing them in a greenhouse.

Today, he has bred five million seedlings and sells them mostly to farmers who grow the trees as windbreakers around greenhouses.

Njuguna grows Oxytenanthera abyssinica variety, which is the scientific name for solid bamboo which is a drought resistant shrub and can thrive with minimum annual rainfall of between 350 and 800 mm. An acre of land can grow 100 shrubs.

Each clump consists of  a full grown bamboo that sprouts upto 300 stems measuring 9m tall and 10cm in diameter.

Bamboo is used as fencing poles and for construction. Bamboo is also used in the manufacture of tooth picks and matchsticks.

It can also be used to make furniture. Bamboo foliage can be used as fodder for animals while young bamboo shots can be cooked and eaten as food. Its juice is used to make vinegar. In Western Kenya, the sap is used to make

Bamboo is used as fencing poles and for construction. Bamboo is also used in the manufacture of tooth picks and matchsticks.

It can also be used to make furniture. Bamboo foliage can be used as fodder for animals while young bamboo shots can be cooked and eaten as food. Its juice is used to make vinegar. In Western Kenya, the sap is used to make ulanzi, a local brew.

Bamboo is also good source of charcoal. Bamboo makes a great hedge. A pole of bamboo goes for Sh200

By EVELYN SITUMA, Business Daily, Kenya.

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