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.