Fast-growing bamboo fuels farmer’s passion for change

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Having realized the importance of bamboo, Mwicigi Njuguna chose to import seedlings from North American in 2006. But he was unable to do so due to fear by government authorities that the plant would pose a danger to the environment.

He never gave up, thought. He persisted and, finally, he got certification to produce banbloo seedlings for commercial purposes at his 50-acre piece of land at Kitil Farm Isinya. Mr Njuguna has now invested in a greenhouse and sunk two boreholes at a cost of Ksh 3 million. His venture currently employs five permanent workers and 15 casuals. He says he intends to revolutionize the environment and benefit from subsistence and commercial agriculture. “We are in an ambitious scheme in which we want to plant 2.5 million seedlings in the next two months,” he says.

The seedlings are in high demand, with each selling at Ksh 300. They can also be produced through tissue culture. Mr Njuguna plants and sells the seedlings of solid bamboo species. He has built a laboratory for tissue culture- a biotechnology that produces plants through vegetative propagation (a form of asexual reproduction in plants).

The benefits of the plant cannot be understated. “It survives under a wide range of ecological conditions and can be produced virtually in all parts of the country, including arid areas,” says Mr Njuguna who believes that bamboo is the solution to Kenya’s environmental and economic woes.

Seedlings for export are planted on an internationally accepted media, packed and shipped accompanied by the requisite phytosanitary certificate. “This is one of the strongest plants on earth, whose longevity periods is estimated to be about 40 years” he says.

The agriprenuer markets his products through the internet and his customers are currently, apart from Kenyans, drawn from Mali, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania among other countries.

“A small-scale farmer just needs about 50 clumps to start the project,” he advises. One then plants the bamboo seedlings at a spacing of 5 by 5 metres. Usually, 88 seedlings occupy an acre of land. They grow to about 1.2 centimeters in diameter, and 1.8 metres to three metres in height within three years.

A single clump will produce about 300 stems per year, valued at Sh. 200 each, which can raise Sh. 60,000. With two harvests per year, a farmer can make Ksh 6 million from clumps.

The livestock farmer turned horticulturist says this is possible because the plant has no adverse natural pests and diseases as it produces resistant chemicals. The plant is also easy to manage as it requires little care.

Bamboo, he says, has successfully been produced large scale in parts of Asia and is considered both at local and an export product. It takes only three years from seedling stage to maturity stage. The seedlings, as recommended by the forestry department, are sold when two fee tall.

“With the rates at which Kenya’s forests are depleted due to industrial use – timer and charcoal burning among others – bamboo can assuage the environmental predicament,” he says.

Bamboo can also be harnessed for energy. “They can be a source of charcoal briquettes to prevent deforestation,” he says.

BY PONCIANO ONDONGO

DAILY NATION- Thursday July 26, 2012.