Bamboo power

24 11 2011

I turned into the entrance and my misgivings rose. The property was not well cared for. There was not a blade of grass anywhere so clearly there was no money for a borehole and the house was in serious need of some repairs and maintenance. The rubbish pit was clearly visible further down the slope and cans and other detritus lay scattered around it. A tall, thin man in his seventies, who introduced himself as Mr G, greeted me and thanked me for coming over. He’d been at the nursery the previous day when I was out and when I phoned back had enquired if we could establish imported tissue cultured bamboo plantlets. I’d been intrigued and besides it was a business opportunity so had agreed to and early morning meeting. As he turned to go into the house I noticed that his trousers were in need of some repairs and maintenance too and I wondered if I would still be having to work at his age.

We made our way into a sparse office and he invited his black colleague to come and join us. They were indeed importing large quantities of a type of timber bamboo that I’d not heard of, primarily for fuel for four proposed 100MW power stations in a joint venture with what I gathered to be a South African company. The bamboo has many uses and is used in Malaysia for house contstruction too. They were also hoping to get tobacco farmers to grow it for burning to cure their crop in place of gum trees (it not surprisingly grows faster) and for live fences and a myriad of other uses. They hurridly emphasized that it was non-invasive. I asked what the plantlets would look like and was passed a folder that they’d put together. The photographs were enlarged to fit the page and so badly pixelated that I couldn’t really see what was going on. Clearly basic photo manipulation was not something they were familiar with and I momentarily thought of offering to do it for them then decided not to; there was a pervading, rather sad air of desperate hopefullness and I didn’t want to deflate it in any way.

When I asked about quantities I was told that initially they would be very small, a few thousand plantlets at most. They thought the power stations that would require some 10,000t per year of bamboo to maintain sustainability would probably do their own plant establishment but they did ask me if I could cope with up to 1 million plantlets. I thought this was probably wishful thinking on their part but did not say so.

At the intersection of Borrowdale road not far from the meeting place there was a newspaper billboard; “1 MILLION FACES STARVATION!” it blared. I thought it ironic that people were prepared to invest large amounts of money in a power generation project but not in producing food in what had to be conflicting land useage. I had been told that there were 4 power stations planned (but not where) and the 40,000ha of bamboo plantation (not just for the power stations) was unlikely to be virgin land. Now 40,000 ha could conceivably produce 200,000 tonnes or more of maize. Obviously making money is more important than feeding the population though I have to admit we are desperately short of power in Zimbabwe.



5 responses

25 11 2011
Big Blister

Sad from many perspectives….

26 11 2011

This does not need to be a sad story………..bamboo has huge potential in Zimbabwe in many dimensions = fuel, food, shelter, export. Not to mention habitat, carbon sequestration, climate mitigation, etc.
See World Bamboo,

29 11 2011

Maybe it does have potential. I just hope the background work has been done properly; we also thought Jatropha had potential and thousands of ha were planted only to find that it is sub-economic in our climate and also has the potential to be invasive. Bamboo does grow here of course but I don’t know if it will grow fast enough to sustain the demands of power stations. While we do have a sub-tropical climate it is moderated by altitude and we have a long dry season which is why the Jatropha projects failed.

16 10 2012
Biomass Organisation

1. Bamboo has many varities including, job creation, we have lost 800,000 hectares of trees, how many trees are in a hactare probably 3000, this is due to veld fires. 2. we are loosing 300,000 hectares of trees to tobbacco curers every year, so soon our country could be a desert, so try growing food in a desert ask Ethiopia…….Bamboo is non evasive and creates wood for rural communities so they can cook food. Bamboo also provides timber for Construction, Irrigation Pipes, Fuel, Furniture, Stock Feed from the leaves, Organic fertlizer and textiles. Look at China whos whole economy is based on Bamboo and they are the largest economy in the world. We all cant grow food SOMEONE has to care about the ENVIRONMENT and the carbon emmisions in the atmosphere. Bamboo absorbs 12 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per day, the biggest of all plants.
Do some research a lot of African countries as all growing Bamboo SA, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia as its a non-evasive plant. the key is 4 years to maturity were indegenous trees take 25 years, you do the maths Andy.
Andy I am also surprised at your negativity as you own a nursery for plants and we placed our plantlets in your nursery for hardening, you were keen to accept our money then, why did you not object?

Thank you

18 10 2012

It is not a case of me being negative, I just need to see the proof that it is going to work and I guess that will take at least 4 years. Yes, I agree that something must be done (it should have been done 40 years ago or more) and I am pleased that you have gone to the effort of looking at a different approach. I think that just about ANY tree is better than none and would even go so far as to recommend wattle provided it is properly controlled (it is hugely invasive but it is quick growing and has multiple uses).

My nursery is a commercial enterprise, I would not turn away business on the premise that I think something may or may not work. The only time I have tured away business was when I was approached to propagate some illegally imported cuttings. By the way, I never said BAMBOO was invasive, I said JATROPHA was invasive. I know little about bamboo and I really don’t mind if you prove me wrong!

Please note that this is NOT a commercial blog. I will promote charities by name but nothing else. The fact that I give your details to everyone who asks me about re-afforestation should tell you that I think your project has merit and yes, I know that they have talked to you. If you are looking for more exposure seriously consider getting onto LinkedIn.

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