Bamboo tree is fast changing the economic status of farmers in western Kenya's Vihiga County.
Victor Shiribwa, a former head of transport and logistics at a company in the capital Nairobi, quit his job years ago to fully venture into bamboo farming.
"I started bamboo farming in 2007 for fun and to beautify my home. We bought a piece of land that people thought was useless as it was so sloppy. Therefore we planted bamboos to control soil erosion,".
The 43-year-old farmer started with 50 bamboo seedlings and increased the numbers with time. "We realized it was a very fast growing plant and decided to increase to 500 trees of bamboo," he said. In 2010, Shiribwa read how bamboo was a huge industry especially in the Far East Asian countries in the Internet. Inspired by the fast growth rate, he cut down all eucalyptus trees in his farm to create space to set up bamboo nursery.
It starts at the green house, then propagation tubes and finally a transfer to shed net. The seedlings take another month in shade inside a net to adapt to the environment and later harden them in an open field. The maturity of bamboo depends on the ecological surrounding and takes about seven years to mature while in the low lands it matures within three years.
In August 2013, Shiribwa and his wife propagated the first batch of 3,000 bamboo seedlings. Lucky there was a World Bank-led environmental program that was planting trees. "We spoke to them if they could get them bamboo seedlings. We sold all 3,000 bamboo seedlings at 3.2 U.S. dollars each," Shiribwa said.
Encouraged, the couple propagated another 16,000 bamboo seedlings that they sold to the community-based organizations. "We have now started selling bamboo to local communities since they are getting financial assistance to promote the growing of bamboo," Shiribwa said. So far, he has sold bamboo to 47 community-based groups in Vihiga County and plans to move to other neighboring counties.
Bamboo seedling sprouts 50 to 100 culms and an acre can hold capacity of 215 seedlings. Farmers are capable of harvesting it for the next 100 years.
"The culms grow at different stages. Out of every cluster, you harvest 10 mature culms per season with two harvesting seasons," Shiribwa said. In 2013, Shiribwa got sponsored by the Vihiga County government to go to China and learn the benefits of bamboo. He now has over 200,000 bamboo seedlings in three shade nets and 500 bamboo trees. He makes various bamboo furniture and products at his four-acre farm in Shamakhokho.
He started the business in bamboo products with the help of Kenya Forest Research Institute that had sponsored artisans who have skills in making bamboo furniture. "I got the contracted and was invited to start making bamboo furniture," he said. The farmer has trained nine women and youths who are well equipped in the making of bamboo products.
"We are looking at the mass production of bamboo desks for children in schools, and developing bamboo curriculum for youth polytechnic sponsored by county governments," Shiribwa said. In Shiribwa's bamboo workshop, soviets holder, chairs, sofa sets, tables, pen holders, bill holders, kitchen tongs, bamboo spoons, jags, chopping boards, toothpicks, baskets, TV stands and coat holders are made.
For a month, they gain over 2,500 dollars from different bamboo products sold in parts of Kenya. And most of the sales of bamboo products are done through referrals and social media platforms. "A single culm of bamboo can make 10 miniature dhows and a miniature boat in the market cost 10 dollars," said Shiribwa.