ECDC looking to consolidate province's position as premier bamboo grower

Development financier, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) has pumped R300 000 into a Uitenhage bamboo trial which should entrench the province's leadership position as a pioneer in the industry.

The two hectare trial is being run by a 15-member Tinarha Agricultural and Tourism Initiative Cooperative (Tati). The bamboo industry is at an infant stage in South Africa with only 692 ha of commercially planted bamboo. About 80% of this is planted in the Eastern Cape. Three pilot plantation sites with five (5) hectares each were established in Centane, Ndakana and Uitenhage and amount of R1m invested. A further R2m was received from DEDEAT to expand the Ndakana to 100 hectares.

After three years, the financier will be able to measure the success of the pilots in preparation for commercialisation. Currently, the largest bamboo farm in South Africa is 400 hectares and is located north of Bathurst. Between 1 000 and 2 000 products can be made from bamboo.

"ECDC has injected R300 000 into one of the pioneering bamboo trials in South Africa. The money has been used for site development, to buy implements and for general support for the trial. The corporation is one of very few funders willing to test these new industries which have the potential to create massive employment opportunities.

"We expect to harvest the bamboo in three years. This is instructive of the value of bamboo if you consider that bamboo takes five to seven years to mature. It take half the time to harvest to make some of the products made from traditional trees which can take up to 15 years to mature," says project manager Andile Yani.

Yani says some of the 1 000 products that can be made from bamboo include coal replacement, carpets, pellets as well as bio-efficiency products. Bamboo has a value chain that can create thousands of jobs and self-employment opportunities from processing, manufacturing, distribution, financial services up to the retail phase.

 "The Tati trial which has 800 bamboo plants has access to 100 ha should it need to expand. The trial needs 50 to 100 ha for it to be commercially viable.

"Bamboo offers a second phase of industrialisation through the green economy and we want to be part of this development. There is no available feed of bamboo to manufacture these products hence the cooperative is participating in this process," Yani explains.

ECDC's risk capital specialist Phakamisa George says no formal bamboo industry currently exists in the Eastern Cape providing an open door for first-movers such as the Tati cooperative. The ongoing extension of the bamboo product line requires additional supply on a local and global scale.

 

"ECDC is therefore excited that the Eastern Cape is at the forefront of the bamboo industry in South Africa. The corporation has pumped R1 million into these pilots which are community-owned in the form of co-operatives. They are being trained in bamboo-specific skills," says George.

Last year the corporation announced a plan to form a cluster of growers who will also do the first stage of processing such as the splitting of the bamboo. The bamboo will then be transported to a cluster of value addition which will use the bamboo for different products such as boards, furniture, textiles, Charcoal, biochar and biocomposites. Bamboo waste could go to energy.

There is also a bamboo value-adding project in Gasela village in Ndakana which is making bamboo products. This is a pilot project which is transferring skills to the communities. The communities are taught to cut and drill bamboo to make bird nests, ladders, fences as well as baskets among others.

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