About an hour outside the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe, lies southeastern Africa’s largest bamboo farm, owned by the company AfriBam and set up in 2014. The bamboo farm was set up with the aim of providing a renewable source of fuelwood for locals. Local Malawians are benefitting from this already. However, bamboo has a lot of other benefits to offer to both locals and those living further away.
A RENEWABLE SOURCE OF FUELWOOD
Bamboo is the world’s fastest growing plant, so it is a rapidly renewing source of fuel. Bamboo can also be continually harvested every year without damaging the plant or the environment – other sources of timber can usually only be harvested every 8 to 12 years.
Bamboo also burns exceptionally well and contains a lot of energy per kilogram. This means that it is a rapidly renewed and reliable source of fuel every year for local Malawians.
A SOLUTION TO DEFORESTATION
Before the bamboo plantation, Malawi’s forests were the country’s primary source of fuel, meaning nearly 10% of its forests have been cut down since 2001. The bamboo plantation provides a sustainable alternative to cutting down trees. Malawi has committed to restoring 4.5 million hectares of deforested land by 2030 and the bamboo farms are helping to do this. Bamboo is especially good for restoring land because the whole plant does not need to be harvested in one go. This means that part of the bamboo can be harvested and people can benefit from it, whilst the rest remains and helps to restore the land.
A STORE FOR CARBON
Bamboo is a good store of carbon dioxide. This means that it absorbs the gas and keeps it within the plant. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change by trapping heat within the atmosphere. Increases in greenhouse gases cause more heat to be trapped and this has resulted in the climate change we are seeing today. Planting bamboo means that carbon dioxide is absorbed out of the air; this means that the rate of increase in carbon dioxide is reduced and this helps to limit the negative consequences to the environment.
A FILER FOR WATER
Bamboo can be used to filter polluted water, particularly in urban areas. Bamboo grows rapidly and this allows it to absorb heavy pollutants found in wastewater without damaging the plant. This makes water in urban areas cleaner and helps to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. This is being done in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
It is clear that bamboo has a lot of benefits to offer. The bamboo farm in Malawi has helped other countries to recognise the amazing environmental benefits of planting bamboo. Kenya’s Green Pots Enterprises has realised the extraordinary properties of bamboo, calling it the “magic grass that brings wealth, safeguards the environment and generally makes the world a much better place”. Hopefully other countries, and individuals, will start to invest in this amazing plant to achieve these environmental and personal benefits.