LEFT: Farmers participate in the bamboo farming sensitisation workshop. RIGHT: Trainees receive bamboo seedlings to plant on their farms.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing and highest yielding renewable natural resource contributing to economic growth of many countries across the world, including Kenya, although this potential is yet to be fully exploited in Kenya and many other African countries.
Kakamega County lies in the Western part of Kenya spanning an area of 3,051.3 KM2. Kakamega is boardered by Vihiga County to the South, Siaya County to the West, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia Counties to the North, and Nandi and Uasin Gishu Counties to the East. Kakamega county’s altitude is between 1,240 metres and 2,000 metres above sea level.

Environmental Degradation and its Effects in Kakamega County:

According to the County’s Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) 2018-2022, environmental degradation is mentioned as a major challenge to sustainable development. The main causes of degradation are indicated as pollution, deforestation, uncontrolled quarrying, poor land use practices, inefficient enforcement of environmental laws, and encroachment on gazetted forest land, hilly tops and slopes.

The combined impact of various forms of environmental degradation has led to adverse effects on the lives of people in the County including: declining water volumes/levels and drying of many springs and streams, unreliable weather patterns resulting into reduced farm yields, frequent flash floods and reduced land productivity due to loss of soil fertility - partly arising from leaching and soil erosion.

Relatedly, climate change has led to increased incidences and intensity of flooding, arising from modified climatic patterns, including increased precipitation during certain periods of the year. As a result, farming on the lower lands has been reduced due to regular destruction of crops when it floods, intensifying the already low food production in the county. Other effects include displacement of populations, poor quality water, and waterborne diseases.

Sensitization Workshop:

In a bid to address some of the environmental challenges in Kakamega County, the Regional Centre of Expertise – Western (RCE-W) organized a sensitization workshop on promoting bamboo growing for sustainable land management as well as water conservation. The workshop that was held in May 2022 and brought together 29 members of the community (mainly small-scale farmers) - representing more than 8 CSOs, most of whom are members of the Kenya Nile Discourse Forum (KNDF). The event was facilitated by Eco-Green Kenya – an NGO that focuses on promoting bamboo growing and its value chain for livelihood improvement, and climate change adaptation and mitigation under the Dutch-Sino East Africa Bamboo Development Programme.

The workshop aimed at sensitizing farmers on the importance and benefits of growing bamboo on their farms, and the current value chains in the bamboo industry for income generation.

Key highlights from the workshop:

  • Bamboo is one of the fastest growing and highest yielding renewable natural resource contributing to economic growth of many countries across the world, including Kenya, although this potential is yet to be fully exploited in Kenya and many other African countries.
  • Poles from bamboo had various construction uses – ranging from building shelters to fencing and scaffolding
  • Control of soil erosion – planted along river banks, bamboo has a high capacity to control erosion, as it has an elaborate root system that spreads wide and deep – thus holding soil particles firmly and preventing erosion. This reduces siltation of rivers, dams and lakes while also improving water quality – especially for domestic use
  • Purification ability – bamboo has natural filtering properties on water, including removal of chemical impurities. For this reason, it is recommended for wetlands to help purify water flowing through it into reservoirs.
  • The leaves from bamboo are good for use as mulch in organic farming, thereby helping conserve soil moisture, control weeds as well as improve soil fertility upon decomposition.
  • Source of Renewable Energy – bamboo was a good raw material for charcoal, whose use would reduce deforestation in natural forests. Its fast regeneration and growth rate make it a renewable source of fuel.

The following resolutions were reached:

  • Farmers whose farms bordered rivers/streams, and those on slopes/hills were encouraged to plant bamboo on the riparian sections and sloping land to prevent/reduce erosion.
  • A planned follow-up workshop will focus on basic training on practical aspects of bamboo growing including choice of species, propagation, spacing, pruning and harvesting.
  • Farmers to place orders for bamboo seedlings, as these would be delivered by Eco-Green in a few days. In the spirit of cost-sharing, Eco-Green would take on the costs for procurement and transportation of the seedlings, while the farmers would shoulder costs related to planting, protection and general care of the plants.
  • Extension service – Eco Green would continue supporting farmers who plant the crop through extension services and training.
  • Artisan Training for Value-addition – Youth and women interested in undertaking artisan training in value addition to bamboo products would be trained by Eco Green, upon request.
  • Farmers were encouraged to set aside a part of their farms for growing bamboo as a cash crop in order to tap into the growing potential for income generation through trading bamboo products.

Uptake of bamboo growing in Kakamega County will have many benefits, including:

  • Enhanced Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation benefits through developing inclusive and sustainable industrial and bamboo value chains resulting in enhanced livelihood opportunities, food security and environmental management.
  • Improved water quality, thus reduced water-borne diseases in the community.
  • Creation of green jobs - especially for youth and women who would engage in establishing and managing of bamboo nurseries for income generation, artisans for bamboo furniture, weaving, handicraft, charcoal-briquettes making, and construction.
  • The overall benefits accruing to the Nile Basin include increased water volumes and quality, reduced resource-based conflicts, reduced siltation rates in rivers and Lake Victoria, as well as reduced loss of biodiversity arising from enhanced forest protection and enrichment with bamboo micro-forests.

Two important lessons stood out:

  • Participants learned that there was great un-exploited potential for bamboo farming, following the government’s decision to gazette bamboo as a crop through the Bamboo Act 2019. This opened opportunity for development of the crop through research and value addition; and farmers across the country would benefit immensely, if they engaged in farming bamboo. There exists both local and export market for bamboo products.
  • The Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Directorate of the Ministry of Education has already rolled out a training programme on value chains and entrepreneurship in bamboo in pilot TVET institutions targeting the youth.

From the first sensitization meeting, farmers made requests for a total of 783 bamboo seedlings to plant on their farms. In this regard, Eco Green delivered and distributed 800 seedlings to the farmers on 27th May, 2022.

The Regional Centre of Expertise – Western (RCE-W) is a network of organizations implementing projects that contribute to attainment of Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to education and capacity building in matters of environmental conservation.
Tom Barasa Wafula,
National Technical Support Expert - Kenya NDF

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