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Making money from all things Bamboo

Using environmentally sustainable bamboo as a substitute for wood to make furniture is not common in Kenya.

Nevertheless with wood getting more expensive, an alternative is needed and Kenya Bamboo Centre offers — as the name suggest — its expertise on bamboo; from supplying seedlings, passing on the knowledge on planting, propagating and finally making the furniture and crafts.

“The centre started making furniture two years ago. It started off as a way to show people the benefits of bamboo. You can use bamboo to make over 1,500 products,” says Pollycurp Akoko Mboyah, the manager of Kenya Bamboo Centre.

Based at Nairobi International Trade Fair Ground, the centre has furniture on display; beds, chairs, shelves and wine bottle holders, as well as plenty of bamboo ready to turn into furniture.

It is also a training centre for those who want to learn to make bamboo furniture. The biggest difference between wood and bamboo furniture is that the latter does not use nails as they would make it susceptible to cracks.

The centre started when a friend financed Pollycurp in 2011 to buy and sell bamboo seedlings.

He managed to get 1,000 cuttings for propagation from farmers in Migori and, although he was relentless in searching for a buyer, the seeds were quickly overgrew and started turning into unmanageable bush.

Then an opportunity presented itself; an international Italian organisation that does poverty eradication development programmes and emergency interventions in Africa, was working on an urban project in the Huruma slums and wanted to incorporate bamboo in their project.

Their only problem was that they did not know where to find it. In a strange twist of fate, the two were introduced to each other.

After helping them plant 1,000 seedlings, Kenya Bamboo Centre also organised a small workshop on how to take care of the bamboo, how to harvest, treat it then use it to make furniture and crafts.

The centre has since been working with communities in Huruma and Korogocho, training them on bamboo furniture and craft making and helping them to plant bamboo to improve the environment along the river banks in the slums.

Expert information

Disseminating bamboo information has given Pollycurp the command to fight the perception that bamboo is not good or strong enough to make furniture.

“Products made of bamboo last very long if you get the whole process right; from planting, harvesting to treating. It is advisable, for instance, not to harvest bamboo during the rainy season as it absorbs water faster than other plants,” he says

When the centre participated in the 2012 Nairobi International Trade Show in October, they got a lot of enquires from hotels, some orders and invitations to various craft fairs like Soko Soko and Nairobi Fashion Market to display their products.

Pollycurp argues that bamboo would be a better and a more appropriate alternative to wood.

A giant bamboo plant — the species that is mostly used to make the furniture and crafts — takes four to five years to mature. Once it matures it can be harvested every year without having a  negative environmental impact.

“Bamboo is eco-friendly. They say that some species can absorb as much as 12 per cent of atmospheric carbon dioxide per hectare. It is a very valuable asset to be use against global warming,” he says.