Bamboo and Rattan Business in Ghana

A few weeks ago, I was in Ghana, one of the 18 Member states of INBAR in Africa, and the host of our Regional Office for West Africa.  The INBAR office is in Kumasi, where we are sharing the premises with Tropenbos Ghana.

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Michael Kwaku and Paul Osei Tutu – INBAR Office

The main reason for coming to Ghana was to speak at the workshop on “Innovative Management and Utilization for Bamboo Biomass in Agroforestry Systems”.  The workshop presented results from INBAR’s work under the project: “Improving food security in Africa through increased system productivity from biomass-based value webs – BiomassWeb”.

The workshop was organized at the premises of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Accra.  FARA is an African institution, representing agricultural research in all of Africa.  INBAR and FARA are discussing how to upscale cooperation to the continental level, and I hope I can write about this in the not too distant future.

The workshop was well attended and generated a lot of very frank and lively discussion about the need for market development, the lack of planting material, the challenges with inter-ministerial cooperation, and the fact that there is not enough understanding and awareness about bamboo and rattan in Ghana.  We had representatives from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Bamboo and Rattan Development Programme (BARADEP), the Forestry Commission, the Forest Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), the Ghana Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the Embassy of China.  The overwhelming recommendation was to organize a follow-up meeting next year, with a wider list of invitees, presence of the media, and more discussions about the challenges for development of a bamboo industry.

This involvement of the local private sector was one of the exciting aspects of my visit to Ghana, and I was able to talk with several local entrepreneurs and business people.  In the workshop I met Janette Poku Akom from Kwamoka Farms and Processing Ltd .  Kwamoka Farms is a bamboo agro-forestry business that produces bamboo seedlings and reforestation services.  They state that their aim is to help in the reduction of deforestation through the promotion of wider use of bamboo as a renewable natural resource whilst contributing towards rural development and poverty reduction.

Janette and Gloria

Janette Poku Akom and Gloria Asare Adu

During the workshop, I also had a long discussion with Gloria Asare Adu, the CEO of Global Bamboo Products Ltd   Gloria has attended several INBAR training courses in China, and she worked with INBAR during the EC-funded charcoal project.  As a result, she has launched her own bamboo charcoal manufacturing plant, and she is selling her charcoal for household consumption in the local supermarket in Accra.

 

Ghana is well known for the manufacturing of bamboo bicycles, especially after Bernice Dapaah, the CEO of Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was profiled at the 2013 Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention. The photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on a bamboo bicycle went viral.

Ban-Ki-Moon

The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is a Ghanaian social enterprise that addresses youth unemployment by creating jobs for young people, especially women.Netherlands-Embassy-Accra

Bernice employs nearly 35 workers, and they manufacture high quality bamboo bicycles.  She has good connections all over the world, and I was pleased to see one of her bamboo bikes in the reception of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Accra.

I last met Bernice during the 2015 World Bamboo Congress in Damyang, Korea.  She is a World Bamboo Ambassador, and she is passionate about using bamboo to create jobs for local women.  This time, we met at the INBAR Office in Kumasi, and she agreed to join me later this year to present her experiences during the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Congress (GSTIC2017) in Brussels, Belgium.

I also visited the workshop of the other bamboo bicycle manufacturer in Kumasi, Boomers international.  Their workshop is a good 90 minutes’ drive outside Kumasi into the countryside.  The CEO, Mr Kwabena Danso, was not on site, because he arrived back from UK that day, but I met him for dinner in Accra the following evening.  Boomers is employing approximately 35 young man from the neighbouring villages, and they are manufacturing very nice looking bamboo frames.

Boomers-Bike-workshop (15)

The bamboo is harvested from nearby clumps, treated, sorted and used to make sturdy bamboo frames.  Boomers-Bike-workshop (13)They told me that the main market for the frames is currently in Germany and the Netherlands, and the bikes are assembled there.  I saw a large number of frames ready for dispatch, so business seems to be good, and Mr Danso confirmed that Boomers International is doing well.

Back in Accra, I visited several of the bamboo and rattan furniture stalls in the centre of town.  The furniture is manufactured and sold at the roadside, and there is a thriving business of local people who stop their car to have a look at the wares of display.  Several of these local artisans were in China last year, during a three-month bamboo training programme which was organized by INBAR and the Chinese International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (ICBR) with funding from the Ministry of Commerce of China.  I had joined the students during the closing ceremony last November in southern China, and wished them good luck back home.  It was therefore very nice to meet some of them again, but this time in Ghana.

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The former students told me that they were doing well, and that business had improved significantly after their return from China.  Apparently, customers specifically ask for the “Chinese students” when they visit the roadside markets, and the students told me that they had seen an improvement in their designs, their manufacturing process, and the finishing of the products.  It was very encouraging for me to learn about this positive outcome, as I had asked myself if the training in China would have made a big difference.  Clearly, it has made life and the living conditions of this group of furniture manufacturers a lot better.

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One aspect that particularly bothers the artisans, is the fact that they have no electricity in their manufacturing space along the road side, and therefore they cannot use any equipment or machines.  They also lack proper storage facilities, and during the rainy season all the new furniture gets wet.  They want to move to a proper furniture market where they have better services, and they have asked the Bamboo and Rattan Development Programme (BARADEP) to help.  The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, which is the host of BARADEP, has allocated land for such a common facility, and they are currently looking for funding to make it happen.  I agreed to help find a solution.

It is clear that there is a keen interest to develop the bamboo resources in Ghana, and there is already a local market.  Improved quality will make the local trade more lucrative, and an increased supply of bamboo will reduce the price of the raw material and consequently the price of the manufactured products.

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The ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is planning a major national programme to reforest some of the areas that have been devastated by small scale mining, and this could include bamboo plantations.  Such a large-scale intervention could be the game-changer that Ghana needs, and I have offered to work with the ministry to encourage the establishment of large-scale bamboo plantations

 

 

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Bamboo Bikes

When I visited the Bamboo museu in Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China last week, I was photographed next to a bamboo bike.

INBAR Director-General in bamboo museum, Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China

INBAR Director-General in bamboo museum, Anji County, Zhejiang Province, China

I know many people see bamboo bikes are a bit of a gimmick, but there are now a number of companies around the world that are producing bicycles made from bamboo.  The arguments are that the bikes are made of a sustainable product, they are as sturdy as traditional bikes and they even feel more comfortable as the bamboo is slightly flexible and absorbs bumps and shocks better than a steel frame.  I have never been on a bamboo bike, so cannot vouch for the reliability of these claims, but let me tell you about some of the activities that I am aware off.

In Ghana there are at least two organisations making bamboo bikes.   Bamboo Bikes Limited (BBL) is a Ghanaian owned manufacturing company located in Kumasi, which is where the INBAR Regional Office for West Africa is also located.  According to their website, the principal aim of the company is to provide affordable transportation to many poor rural inhabitants who are denied access to market for their produce, face difficulty in reaching medical facilities and many other challenges as a result of inadequate or no roads.

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A fully grown bamboo tree has an average length of 16 metres, and their bicycle production unit uses only 4 metres of the pole for its production.  BLL Ghana has therefore added a toothpick section to make use of the remaining two-thirds of the bamboo tree that would otherwise go to waste.  The company employs 34 workers in the factory and also provides an alternative source of income for the communities where the bamboo is harvested.

The other initiative in Ghana is the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative.  They had some unexpected publicity when United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sat on one of their bikes at the Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland late last year.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres with bamboo bike

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres with bamboo bike

The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative claims to address climate change, poverty, rural-urban migration and youth unemployment by creating jobs for young people, especially women, through the building of high quality bamboo bicycles.  They explain on their website that compared to the production of traditional metal bicycles, bamboo bikes require less electricity and no hazardous chemicals.  They say the bikes are light and stable, can handle rough terrain and can carry large farm loads and passengers.

The woman-led Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative trains people, especially women, with little or no education in the manufacturing and assembling of bamboo bikes.  The activity has created 30 jobs (10 jobs for farmers and 20 jobs for bamboo bike assemblers), and they were recently featured in a Rockefeller Foundation web story.

Ghana Bamboo Bikes women

Zambikes says that they exist to change lives in Zambia by developing and providing efficient transport solutions throughout the country.  The vision of the company is to be the leading supplier of high quality and customized bicycles and accessories in the Southern African region, and this includes bamboo bikes.  Their bamboo bikes are custom handcrafted by skilled Zambians, using locally grown and sustainably sourced materials.  And the process to build a frame takes over 2 months.

Zamnikes-Zambia

A similar initiative called Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise in the Philippines that hand-makes bamboo bicycles with fair-trade labor and sustainable building practices. The Bambike builders come from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine based community development organization for the poor, working to bring an end to poverty.  Bambike says that it is also working on a bamboo nursery for reforestation and has plans for a scholarship programme.  Their goal is to do better business and to make the greenest bikes on the planet.

Bambike-Philippines

I have also seen a bamboo bike in the INBAR Regional Office for South Asia in New Delhi which is produced by our partner the Centre for Indian Bamboo & Technology (CIBART).

Even the USA has bamboo bike manufacturers.  A company called Erba advertises that riding one of their bikes made with natural fibers means you’re taking environmental conscience a step further – as bamboo is one of nature’s fastest natural growing resources, and the joints of Erba bikes are apparently made from plant-based hemp and flax.

ERBA-bikes-USA

Bamboo bikes sell for two thousand dollars or more, so the market is small.  I do not expect this to be a major development area for any of the INBAR Members, but bamboo bikes are very good publicity tools for the benefits of bamboo.

I have listed a few of the better known initiatives, but there may well be others.  Let me know and send photos if you are aware of other initiatives.

Best regards, Hans