The benefits of bamboo: support for livelihoods, the environment and women’s empowerment

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The benefits of bamboo: support for livelihoods, the environment and women’s empowerment

An IFAD grant-supported programme has demonstrated the enormous potential of bamboo in contributing to rural poverty reduction in several countries in Africa. One of the fastest growing plants on earth, bamboo has been used to create jobs, economically empower women and protect the environment.

Bamboo is a perennial crop that provides year-round income, generating jobs for women and men. It is fast growing and easy to cultivate. It grows on degraded land and reduces erosion and reliance on threatened forests. It can be processed into a huge variety of products, including furniture, boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed. Bamboo is earthquake-proof, has greater tensile strength than steel, and withstands compression better than concrete – which is why it is so valuable in construction. Used as a substitute for concrete, it also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases. These are among the many reasons why bamboo is referred to as the "poor man's timber".

The goal of this grant was to enable effective and wider application of bamboo technologies for market-based sustainable rural livelihood development and environmental protection in Eastern and Southern Africa, especially for poor women and youth. ©IFAD/Rama Rao

Since 1997, IFAD has supported the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) in developing and transferring technologies for smallholder bamboo and rattan production across Africa, Asia and Latin America. IFAD's most recent grant to INBAR supported a three-year programme to improve livelihoods and reduce environmental degradation in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The programme, which finished in September 2013, targeted unemployed young rural people, households headed by women, and disadvantaged groups such as the landless. Bamboo training centres were established in all four countries, and farmers were helped to plant bamboo. More than 100 bamboo nurseries were established and 7 new species were introduced in new locations. More than 1,000 people received training, enabling them to improve bamboo quality. They also learned how to make bamboo products, including charcoal briquettes, which are good for the environment and require less labour than traditional charcoal. Production sites were set up in rural areas to provide jobs for those who need them most. Several sites were dedicated to building desks for local schools.

©IFAD/Rama Rao

Women and men work in different aspects of bamboo production, and the programme focused on activities typically undertaken by women, such as processing and crafts. About 5,000 women in the United Republic of Tanzania, many of them single mothers, now have stable incomes from making and selling bamboo briquettes. In segments such as furniture and construction, production systems were modified to encourage women to get involved.

South-South cooperation was another important aspect of the programme. Staff from India trained people in Ethiopia and Madagascar, and an Ethiopian staff member then trained communities in Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania. The programme has also enabled communities to substitute wood-based fuels with bamboo, thus contributing to energy security and reducing environmental degradation.

This story was originally published in IFAD's 2013 Annual Report.