The forestry sector in Rwanda is presenting the potential for bamboo harnessing but the society still pays less attention to bamboo’s ability to find an answer to the country’s employment problems.
Located in Masaka sector, Kucukiro district, Masaka Business Incubation Center (MBIC), has been training Rwandans to process bamboo into useful materials through China Aid Bamboo Project since 2011.
The training consists of three parts. Bamboo weaving training including all types of baskets, vases, and lanterns among others.
There are also bamboo furniture training including all types of chairs, tablets and shelves. Machine training includes bamboo toothpick and barbecue stick machine production line and mat weaving machines to name a few.
Some trainees start several bamboo processing sites on their own at the end of this technical training that takes 3 months.
One of the trainees Jeannette Uwera is from Ayabaraya in Kicukiro district. She started the training in 2015 but now she works on her own. Thanks to the skills she acquired from the center, she started to work on her own just after three months.
At the center’s workshop, Uwera is weaving a lantern using bamboo strips. This handicraft is changing her life because she does not always rely on parents and friends for money.
“There is a difference between how I was before I came here. I did not have all these skills. I used to take bamboo for granted but after training here, I experienced some changes in my life.”
Uwera says that bamboo can provide a living if well harnessed, but few people value this plant. As a result, Uweras are missing who to feed with bamboo materials.
“We do not have a market for our products because people are not yet familiar with bamboo products and do not give them their value. But bamboo can be converted into many useful tools apart from just being used for construction.”
She says that to get the market, she takes her products to the city where she hopes she can meet with new interested customers.
Diogene Kagango, MBIC’s acting manager, also agrees that bamboo can be turned into many things but people are still not aware of that.
“We have not developed enough to harness them well but bamboo provides food, medicine, beer, clothes and other artistic tools.”
He also said that bamboo is more valuable than it is perceived to be.
” In fighting erosion and climate change, bamboo is thirty percent more effective than other trees. And they mature in a short time because a bamboo is ready for harvest after three months.”
Kagango says that the reason behind less bamboo exploit is due to unsatisfactory skills about bamboo uses.
He said that they are partnering with Chinese bamboo processing specialists to impart skills to Rwandans and much focus is put in assisting them to create their own business rather than seek for jobs.
He added that they showcase their products by participating in exhibitions.
Meanwhile, the startups rear in the center for one year after which they are weaned from the center to create their own businesses but while in the center the government provides them with every facilitation except for bamboos that they have to buy on their own.
They then work and save money to sustain their own companies outside the center.
Every three months, the center weans around 40 trainees and more than 200 every year.
The Ministry of Land and Forests (MINILAF) projects to plant trees and forests at the rate of 30% in 2020.
However, the Rwandan indigenous bamboo is blamed for its fragile timber that is vulnerable to insects.
Augustin Mihigo a bamboo production and NTFPs (Non-timber forest products specialist says that “because local bamboo is not convenient for making all the needed tools, Chinese brought five species of bamboo in Rwanda.”
Four of them are bamboo Dendrocalamus which are bigger and include bamboo Dendrocalamus latiflorus also known as Taiwan Giant Bamboo, bamboo Dendrocalamus barbatus, bamboo textilis and bamboo chimes.
At the same time, Bamboo Project established a modern nursery greenhouse to ensure the rapid breeding of bamboo seedlings even in the dry season.
In the suburb of Kigali, Masoro, Bamboo project established plantation base of demonstration bamboo forests about 6 hectares planting the Chinese bamboo while promoting afforestation about 14 hectares in different provinces of Rwanda.