Embracing Bamboo domestication

Embracing Bamboo domestication for human development and environmental services in Echuya-Bunyonyi Landscape

Bamboo now favorably competes with tree species such as pine, eucalyptus and mahogany to provide products and services. It is recommended for its eco-friendly characteristics that are critical in addressing climate change and its associated effects. Bamboo, if well managed, has numerous benefits-including income generation for communities, landscape restoration, biodiversity protection, provision of poles for construction, weaving, art and crafts, source of energy for cooking as well as fencing and protection of water sources. The bamboo found in Echuya forest reserve is a montane bamboo (Yushania alpina K. Schum). Its a perennial woody grass with woody culms growing from underground rhizomes and forming clumps. Once established, new bamboo shoots can attain full heights and diameters within 2-3 months and by 2-3 years are mature and strong enough to be utilized.

Bamboos in Echuya forest is a rare habitat and has a wide range of functions for biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing. For instance, it protects water catchments, prevents soil erosion and provides food for animals of global conservation concern such as blue monkeys and baboons in Echuya and Mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, elephants and buffaloes in the neighboring national parks of Bwindi and Mgahinga. Bamboo is widely used by forest adjacent communities in Echuya Landscape particularly the indigenous group (Batwa) and far offices places for multitude of uses, both commercial and domestic.

Coupled with overharvesting and other threats like climate change and ecological processes, the bamboos quantity and quality in Echuya are dwindling. This has led to a concern by both conservationists, development practitioner, politicians and local people based on the fact that subsequent loss of the bamboo forest from Echuya forest will not only lead to the loss of fauna and flora that depend on it, but also loss of rural income for the local people that depend on it.

Aware of this, Nature Uganda (NU) piloted bamboo domestication initiatives in and outside Echuya forest as a long-term strategy of mitigating the threats and effects of bamboo loss. Unlike other tree species, bamboo is regarded as grass and regenerates quickly in a short period of time with multiple conservation and livelihood improvement benefits.  The first trial was done in 2008 by uprooting of bamboo rhizomes from Echuya forest and planting them on private land. A total of 8,065 bamboo rhizomes were planted in eight parishes around Echuya forest. Todate, different the domesticated bamboos are being harvested by benefiting households for multiple uses, both commercial and domestic. Much as this approach of propagation was successful, it was laborious and costly.

Bamboo nursery bed

Based on experiences and lessons learnt from bamboo domestication pilot, NU under People Partner with Nature Programme (PPN) established a bamboo nursery, in partnership with NFA in 2017. Two types were raised-Asper and Highland Bamboos. Asper established with above 90% while Highland bamboos failed.  8,042 bamboo cuttings were raised, out of which 6934 established successfully, and were planted at two bamboo mother gardens at Muko and Echuya CFRs

With a survival rate of over 85%,  at the mother gardens, we envisage that bamboo mother gardens will provide sufficient planting materials for subsequent replication/multiplication by different stakeholders in the landscape including NFA, LG and the forest adjacent communities in future. This initiative will contribute to reducing pressure on ECFR, landscape restoration, and conservation of L. Bunyonyi among others. Bamboos also have elaborate fibrous root systems which will help in stopping erosion, mudslides and landslides in the landscape. Bamboo is considered to be a sustainable and renewable alternative to hardwoods because it regenerates at exceptionally fast growth rates. A bamboo forest can be harvested after three to four years from the time of planting and so can provide quick return on investment. This makes it a good candidate for poverty reduction and enhanced livelihoods in rural communities.

According to the UN Comrade database 2014-16, annual trade of bamboo from Uganda stood at $304,000 for import and $203,672 for export. Therefore, there is a great untapped potential to promote bamboo growing as a business for both conservation and human development.