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Uganda turns to bamboo farming to combat deforestation

Growing bamboo on farmers’ fields was something unheard of a few years ago, as the plant was mainly seen growing in the wild   -  
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Some 65 kilometers north of the Ugandan capital Kampala, a lush green bamboo forest, it's the brainchild of former journalist-turned farmer, Andrew Ndawula Kalema.

Kalema switched from journalism to bamboo farming in order to contribute to the reversal of environmental damage being seen in the East African country.

In 2010, Uganda had 6.93 million hectares of tree cover, extending over 29% of its land area.

In 2021, it lost 49,000 hectares of tree cover, equivalent to 23.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the East African country has lost over a million hectares of tree cover, nearly a third of the country’s total.

With Uganda losing hundreds of hectares of forest cover due to population pressure and illegal logging, both public and individual efforts have become key to restoring degraded land.

Ndawula Kalema says bamboo, which is fast-growing and can adapt to different weather conditions, is key to mitigating the effects of climate change in Uganda.

“It can do the job of restoring our environment much faster. It can absorb 30% more carbon dioxide and generate 30% more oxygen and it can create the green effect very fast and it will take pressure off our precious trees," he says.

"Bamboo, you cut it down, it takes one season, it is back, it grows back, so it is a magic bullet of sorts that we need to use in our fight to save our environment.”

In recent years, Ndawula Kalema has been upgrading his bamboo farm, which he started in 2009 as a hobby.

Growing bamboo on farmers’ fields was something unheard of a few years ago, as the plant was mainly seen growing in the wild.

That's no longer the case, as increasing numbers of farmers adopt bamboo planting, due to its income-generating benefits.

But bamboo seedlings are costly, which Ndawula Kalema says can deter farmers.

“The challenge we are seeing the price of a seedling is still very high, one seedling is about 1 dollar. There are others that are even more expensive costing up to 10 dollars one seedling - it is a put off," he says.

"People are now becoming aware of the value bamboo has as in conservation work, in conserving our soils, conserving our environment, and they want planting material, but they can't afford the planting material."

To help spread knowledge of bamboo farming around the country, Ndawula Kalema has opened his farm to learners from different institutions.

He says students will act as ambassadors for bamboo farming.

Julius Ssebigajju, a student intern at the farm, says his views about bamboo farming have changed since he started working with Ndawula Kalema.

"When bamboo drops these leaves, they leave there down after all they decay and decompose so it adds nutrients in the soil, so it will not need much manure or fertilizers to apply on,” says Ssebigajju.

Another intern studying landscaping, Elizabeth Kiwummulo, is impressed by the versatility of bamboo.

“It is good for digestion and you can make herbal soap from it," she says.

Bamboo is best known for its strength and durability. Ndawula Kalema. says there's thousands of potential products, even bicycle frames.

“One frame costs 500 dollars and you need about 3 to 4 poles to make that bicycle frame," he says.

"So, there are many high value products, however the export market comes with standards and volumes, we don’t have the volumes yet, we need to encourage more people to grow bamboo.”

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