Across the developing world, much has been made of the need for economic diversification and development. But what does this really mean? For countries like Burundi, where farming is the predominant occupation of the people, it would be unrealistic and even dangerous to attempt to change the fundamental structure of the economy in the short-term. Instead, a transformative period is required wherein productive agricultural energies are directed towards more lucrative and practical sectors.
At the same time, Burundi suffers from extreme deforestation of 99 percent and is critically short of this important construction and building material. Without tree coverage, landslides are very common and the soil quality degrades with every rainfall. But reforestation efforts have proven slow and ineffectual due to the demand for firewood. To help address these issues, Two Lakes has launched a research and investment project in Burundi to develop a national bamboo industry in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Office of the President.
Bamboo is a highly versatile and hardy plant that is well-suited for the Burundian environment. Unlike trees or plantation crops, bamboo thrives in mountainous terrain and requires much less water to grow. Moreover, it can survive a wide range of temperatures and is a better construction material than most types of wood. At all stages of its growth, bamboo shoots, leaves, and stalks can be used in some way. Across Asia, India, and other parts of Africa, it is a primary material for making charcoal, baskets, furniture, and soft fibres. Best of all, bamboo grows extremely quickly and is easy to harvest and store.
In terms of development, bamboo is a “foundational” crop whose many uses enable it to support other businesses. A bamboo plantation therefore yields direct and secondary benefits to the economy for the entirety of its lifetime. For example, in the first year of operation, some of the crop could be used to establish a bamboo charcoal facility. Similarly, leaves and smaller stalks could be used by weavers to make baskets. A few years later, the more mature plants would develop much harder stalks that are suitable for export, furniture making, and construction.
Besides the benefits to job creation and development, bamboo will also help Burundi solve its present challenges with deforestation, soil erosion, landslides, and environmental degradation. In the time it takes for a single tree to reach maturity, numerous bamboo crops be harvested. The fact that bamboo grows so quickly and easily means it can fulfil the function of the trees that have been cut down. With careful management, Burundians could grow to use bamboo as both a construction material and fuel.
Moving forwards, Two Lakes is currently setting up a bamboo nursery using two types of timber bamboo seeds. It is hoped that a healthy grove can be established by 2022 and a national propagation programme setup the same year.