Sustainable Bamboo is Taking Root in Africa

Kenya: A trove of green opportunities

Bamboo, nicknamed the wonder plant, is the strongest and fastest-growing woody plant on earth, and supplies a global trade worth an estimated US$2 billion per year. The lion’s share is earned by Asian countries, whose bamboo-based industries span a vast range from paper making and scaffolding to luxury flooring and foods. But Africa is also witnessing a boom in bamboo.

In African countries that produce bamboo, research and development is usually the work of the forestry or agricultural sectors. However, scaling up requires expertise in specialized areas — such as micro-enterprise development, small-scale or industrial bamboo growing, and production of bamboo products — that might be better found in the private sector.

In Kenya, the bamboo industry involves a multi-stakeholder approach, with consultations among relevant government ministries, NGOs, research institutes and universities and others, facilitated by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).

One of the largest stakeholders to take up bamboo development so far is Green Pot Enterprises, launched in 2014 to promote bamboo farming in Kenya and to help the country maximize the commercialization of bamboo.

So far the organization has farmers covering over 1,000 acres of land in Narok County, with another 2,000 acres to be planted this year. It is targeting 4,000 acres by the end of 2016.

Green Pot has two principal development plans. With a “gated community of forests,” the organization buys a large parcel of land then subdivides it into 10-acre and 2-acre plots for lease by Kenyans at “affordable rates,” according to its website.

Each buyer gets a title deed (the bamboo farm is managed as one whole unit despite the multiple owners) and a 30-year sublease. The company plants and fully maintains the forests and markets the produce once it is ready.

A parallel community outreach programme ensures that for every acre of bamboo planted in the gated communities programme, a corresponding acre is planted by members of the local community. This programme finances the supply of seedlings, Green Pot explains.

“Globally, there is a big push for bamboo because of its immense financial and environmental benefits. It brings wealth to the people, cleans rivers, stops soil erosion, and so on,” Green Pot’s chief executive officer, Caroline Kariuki, told Africa Renewal. She says the gated
communities programme is mainly in Narok County, but the outreach campaign is active in more than 10 counties across the country.

For Kenya, Green Pot selected three main varieties of bamboo—moso, giant bamboo and Dendrocalamus membranaceus—because they are highly suitable for the chosen areas and have more economic viability than other varieties.

“When we began the project, we did a strategic plan to ensure we have a ready market for our growers. We are building factories with three main areas of focus: construction materials such as flooring, block boards and veneer; bamboo textile products; and bamboo energy products ranging from generation of electricity to briquettes for mass domestic use,” said Ms. Kariuki. “Considering that more than 70% of Kenyans use wood and wood-based products as their main source of fuel, this is a massive market.”

The group has partnerships with county governments, NGOs, government agencies and even local universities and is now seeking partnerships with climate change–focused funds for the rehabilitation of the Mara River and Njoro River.

“We are keen to establish partnerships with strong technology expertise and key buyers of our products to ensure that we are on track to deliver the promise to our customers upon maturity of our bamboo in four years’ time,” said Ms. Kariuki, who is also the finance/administrative director of the Open Society Initiative for East Africa.

Tanzania: New income for 5,000 rural women

Bamboo has been increasing in importance as a non-timber forest product in Tanzania over the last two decades, according to INBAR. Locally bamboo is sought for handicrafts, residential fencing, flower farming, farm props for banana plantations, furniture and other minor cottage industry products like basketry and toothpicks.

Almost all the bamboo products made in the country are used domestically. Bamboo farms should be established to ensure a sustainable supply for the handicraft, construction and horticultural industries, among others.

INBAR, in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, helped establish 100 bamboo nurseries and set up micro-enterprises, and trained 1,000 locals in a specially created Bamboo Training Center.

Today some 5,000 women in these rural communities produce crafts and desks for local schools and sell charcoal briquettes.

Ethiopia: The potential of bamboo as a strategic crop

With about 1 million hectares of indigenous bamboo, Ethiopia is the biggest bamboo grower in Africa. It is home to 67% of all African bamboo.

The country has two species—Yushania alpina, planted and managed by farmers in the highlands, and Oxytenanthera abyssinica, which grows naturally in the lowlands.

Despite the size of its natural bamboo forest, Ethiopia has only recently started to tap its potential and is now eager to embrace bamboo technologies and knowledge transfer, mostly from INBAR and a range of Chinese experts.

“Bamboo should be considered the most important, fast-growing, strategic intervention for afforestation and deforestation in the mountainous and degraded areas of the country,” said Ethiopia’s state minister for agriculture, Ato Sileshi Getahun, at a recent event.

In Ethiopia bamboo is being used for protecting watersheds, for intercropping, to create shade for other crops, as a windbreak and as a natural mulch to provide drought protection. People also use it for fuel, fencing and furniture, and sometimes bamboo shoots are used for food and animal fodder.

However, bamboo value-addition in the country is still relatively small, hence limited export earnings.

The country has three factories and the sector employs more than 1,000 people.

Ghana: Once ignored, now big business

Ghana currently has about 400,000 hectares of bamboo, a mostly natural stand in the western region. Some exotic species have been introduced into Ghana, including the thick-walled Beema bamboo from India, and the near-solid Oxytenanthera abyssinica from Ethiopia. These two are particularly useful for biomass energy and are well adapted to drier areas.

According to Michael Kwaku, director of INBAR (International Network for Bamboo and Rattan) Ghana, 18 species of exotic bamboo were first introduced into the country from Hawaii in 2004 by the Ghanaian branch of the Bamboo and Rattan Development Programme (BARADEP), as part of a project with the Opportunities Industrialization Centre. The project was also extended to neighbouring Togo.

BARADEP-Ghana distributed the species to some institutions and nongovernmental organizations, which propagated them and monitored their growth conditions and adaptability in Ghana. It aims to provide adequate planting materials for private and commercial bamboo plantation developers in Ghana.

“Until recently, bamboo was a noncommercial open-access resource in Ghana. Over the past few years, the usefulness of bamboo and its commercial value is being appreciated. Commercial exploitation has begun for such products like bamboo bicycles, bamboo charcoal, furniture, bamboo boards and building support poles,” Mr. Kwaku told Africa Renewal. Bamboo is also being used to restore degraded mining areas.

Challenges to commercialization

Challenges to the development of commercial bamboo planting include the slow pace of state uptake and support as the sector is still young and financial institutions are reluctant to grant credit facilities, including loans. The micro-enterprises are still considered poorly organized, according to Mr. Kwaku, which makes receiving support from stakeholders difficult. The skills and technology gap is a challenge.

INBAR is helping in western Africa with an awareness campaign about the economic potential of bamboo and about forming partnerships with governments. Currently eight member countries in West and Central Africa have conducted training workshops and educational tours to China to acquire firsthand experience of the bamboo economy.

“Bamboo is a big plus for building green economies. It is the promise of earnings at the household level that will attract the most interest across the population,” said Nii Osha Mills, Ghana’s minister for lands and natural resources, at a recent INBAR event.

Zambia: Innovation at its best

In Zambia, a local company, Zambikes, is producing bamboo bikes, bike trailers for transporting agricultural goods, and innovative bike-drawn “Zambulances” to be used at clinics around the capital, Lusaka.

Looking Ahead

Bamboo’s untapped potential to restore degraded lands and forests, store carbon and supply energy to millions of rural communities is immense.

In addition to its prospects for manufacture, bamboo can make a major contribution to reducing carbon emissions, the article said. In China alone, the plant is projected to store more than one million tons of carbon by 2050.

Despite bamboo’s potential, Dr. Hans Friederich, INBAR director general, says many decision makers, planners and national sustainable development action plans have not yet taken into account this resource and the benefits it can bring to society.

“Properly applied, bamboo will help many low- and middle-income countries achieve their sustainable development goals,” says Friederich.


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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: Dil [1], Falco Negenman [2].

New Research Study Looks to Empower Namibian Communities to Champion Environmental Conservation

Namibian Environmental Awareness Training (NEAT) has just launched a three-month research project in the Kunene region in northwest Namibia to understand the relationship and interactions between rural communities and the regions’ iconic nature and wildlife. This study will allow NEAT to develop tailored environmental education programmes for schools and communities, to empower them to actively engage in and benefit from nature conservation.

The Kunene region is one of Namibia’s last wildernesses and home to rare desert-adapted elephants, rhinos and lions, as well as numerous other endangered species. Himba, Herero, Damara, San people and many other indigenous communities also live in the region, often in remote villages and in direct contact with nature and wild animals.

Rural livelihoods often depend on natural resources and are affected by human-wildlife conflict or environmental disasters such as droughts. Wildlife populations are also under pressure, facing threats from habitat loss and illegal poaching. NEAT’s research and education programme will address these issues together, recognising that human prosperity and biodiversity conservation are inextricably linked.

NEAT started the research study on Sunday, 3rd March 2019. Over the coming three months, a team of four conservationists and educators will visit eight different communities from across the entire Kunene region and interview adults, children and school teachers. Two experienced UK-based scientists will assist with data analysis. The results will be shared with Namibian school directors and the Minister of Education, who have already expressed their interest in this study.

The project is led by NEAT founder Steven Maseka, an award-winning Namibian environmentalist who previously worked in Namibia’s world-renowned Community Based Natural Resources Management programme and featured in the 2018 BBC documentary Pangolins – The World’s Most Wanted Animal.

The first phase of the project is supported by crowdfunding, and you can help immensely by donating here.


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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], Richard van Wijngaarden [2].

Climate Financing in Africa Accelerates Alongside Urbanization

When daily power cuts became the “new normal” in Zambia during a 2015 drought, farms, companies, schools, and households experienced anything but business as usual. Zambia’s energy is drawn primarily from hydro power, so when a dry spell plagues the nation, its economy—alongside the potential for long-term socio-economic development—dries up, too.

Although low rainfall that year was especially punishing, Zambia’s energy crisis has been a problem for over a decade because of the nation’s reliance on hydropower. In theory, diversification was possible: since the Zambian sun shines almost 65 percent of daylight hours, solar power was an attractive option. But scalability and affordability had posed challenges.

Scaling Solar, a World Bank Group program that helps developing countries procure grid-tied, private solar power, offers Zambia a solution. The program includes technical advice for large-scale adoption of solar technology and a set of pre-negotiated, template documents aimed at increasing transparency and reducing risks and costs for governments and developers. Financing, guarantees, and insurance to boost confidence about projects in new and challenging markets are also options.

Scaling Solar made it possible for Zambia to achieve some of the lowest solar tariffs in the region. The program has since expanded to Senegal, and mandates have also been signed in Ethiopia and Madagascar. Spreading renewables-based solutions across the continent is important because although Africa is responsible for only 4 percent of global greenhouse emissions, 65 percent of Africans are in some way impacted directly by climate change.

Identifying solutions to help Africans adapt and become more resilient to climate change is one of the objectives of the One Planet Summit taking place on March 14 in Nairobi. The event highlights Africa’s situation as a continent facing climate-related challenges and opportunities, and it will convene African leaders, entrepreneurs, donors, international organizations, and other stakeholders. It is co-hosted by the World Bank Group.

Shining a Light on African Sustainability

The One Planet Summit is built around the idea that resources and solutions for renewable energy already exist in Africa—but there is a need to accelerate financing and mainstream development as the region struggles with rapid urbanization and other challenges presented by global warming.

The figures are daunting. More than 470 million people live in sub-Saharan Africa’s cities, and this is expected to double over the next 25 years. By 2050, the region is expected to house 20 percent of the world’s urban residents. Climate change is a leading factor contributing to the trend toward urbanization, as extreme temperatures and unpredictable rainfall affect income from agriculture.

As urbanization continues, so does the demand for resources and impact on the environment. Currently, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 percent of global carbon emissions. The concentration of people, industry, and infrastructure leaves cities especially vulnerable to climate change–and also uniquely placed to combat it.

Nairobi, the city hosting the One Planet Summit, is a good example of how climate-related challenges can open the doors for climate-smart investment. Although 70 percent of Nairobi’s installed electricity capacity comes from renewable sources, there are opportunities to attract investment in other sectors. IFC analysis found that Nairobi has a $8.5 billion climate investment opportunity leading up to 2030. The biggest investment opportunity—$5 billion—lies in electric vehicles, followed by public transport ($1.6 billion), green buildings ($1.1 billion), water ($360 million), renewable energy ($240 million), and waste ($140 million).

Together, these investment opportunities result from strong policy frameworks such as Nairobi’s Integrated Urban Development Master Plan. The plan focuses on sustainable transport, water and wastewater, power, municipal solid waste, and telecommunications. As with Scaling Solar, these initiatives—along with others that will be proposed and examined at the One Planet Summit—approach long-term climate and development challenges with a determination that sustainability, not crisis, will become the “new normal.”

To find out more about the One Planet Summit, click here.


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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], Karsten Würth [2].

Nigerian E-commerce Startup Jumia Files for IPO on NYSE

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange today, per SEC documents and confirmation from CEO Sacha Poignonnec to TechCrunch.

The valuation, share price and timeline for public stock sales will be determined over the coming weeks for the Nigeria-headquartered company.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African tech startup to list on a major global exchange.

Poignonnec would not pinpoint a date for the actual IPO, but noted the minimum SEC timeline for beginning sales activities (such as road shows) is 15 days after submitting first documents. Lead adviser on the listing is Morgan Stanley.

There have been numerous press reports on an anticipated Jumia IPO, but none of them confirmed by Jumia execs or an actual SEC, S-1 filing until today.

Jumia’s move to go public comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have faltered in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup development on the continent., an early Jumia competitor in the race to wire African online retail, was sold in a distressed acquisition in 2018.

With the imminent IPO capital, Jumia will double down on its current strategy and regional focus.

“You’ll see in the prospectus that last year Jumia had 4 million consumers in countries that cover the vast majority of Africa. We’re really focused on growing our existing business, leadership position, number of sellers and consumer adoption in those markets,” Poignonnec said.

The pending IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The venture became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a $326 funding round that included Goldman Sachs, AXA and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries, spanning Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Egypt. Goods and services lines include Jumia Food (an online takeout service), Jumia Flights (for travel bookings) and Jumia Deals (for classifieds). Jumia processed more than 13 million packages in 2018, according to company data.

Starting in Nigeria, the company created many of the components for its digital sales operations. This includes its JumiaPay payment platform and a delivery service of trucks and motorbikes that have become ubiquitous with the Lagos landscape.

Jumia has also opened itself up to traders and SMEs by allowing local merchants to harness Jumia to sell online. “There are over 81,000 active sellers on our platform. There’s a dedicated sellers page where they can sign-up and have access to our payment and delivery network, data, and analytic services,” Jumia Nigeria CEO Juliet Anammah told TechCrunch.

The most popular goods on Jumia’s shopping mall site include smartphones (priced in the $80 to $100 range), washing machines, fashion items, women’s hair care products and 32-inch TVs, according to Anammah.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

Jumia has not yet turned a profit, but a snapshot of the company’s performance from shareholder Rocket Internet’s latest annual report shows an improving revenue profile. The company generated €93.8 million in revenues in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016, though its losses widened (with a negative EBITDA of €120 million). Rocket Internet is set to release full 2018 results (with updated Jumia figures) April 4, 2019.

Jumia’s move to list on the NYSE comes during an up and down period for B2C digital commerce in Nigeria. The distressed acquisition of, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors, such as South African media, internet and investment company Naspers.

In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down. And TechCrunch reported this week that consumer-focused venture has dropped B2C e-commerce altogether to pivot to e-procurement. The CEO cited better unit economics from B2B sales.

As demonstrated in other global startup markets, consumer-focused online retail can be a game of capital attrition to outpace competitors and reach critical mass before turning a profit. With its unicorn status and pending windfall from an NYSE listing, Jumia could be better positioned than any venture to win on e-commerce at scale in Africa.


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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], Maarten van den Heuvel [2].

New Tech Drives Demand for Mobile Payments Access in Middle East and Africa

Mobile payments represented more than 30 percent of the total social media conversation around payments in the Middle East and Africa, with total mentions doubling over the prior year.

Now in its sixth year, the study, developed in partnership with PRIME Research, analyzed more than 3.3 million conversations globally and 90,000 conversations in the Middle East and Africa from the past year across social media channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Weibo.

Interest in new technologies

People are looking to newer technologies to have an impact on their lives. In the past year alone, such mentions on social media increased 30 percent globally since the last study.

Today, nearly 20 percent of all mobile commerce payments are focused on contactless payments and mobile wallets. Beyond these primary focus areas, consumers are interested in how artificial intelligence, QR payments and wearable payments will impact their lives.

Overall, people are increasingly positive toward these newer technologies. In the Middle East and Africa, virtually all (95 percent) mobile wallet conversations were favorable, with 22 percent of posts praising the speed, efficiency and simplicity of these products.

“In the fast-evolving world of digital payments, it is crucial that we listen and understand the views of the people who ultimately use our solutions. The Mastercard Digital Payments Study highlights a willingness to adopt the latest payment technology solutions from users across the Middle East and Africa, and reinforces the increasingly important role that mobile payments play in everyday life,” said Gaurang Shah, senior vice president of Product Management, Digital Payments & Labs for the Middle East and Africa at Mastercard.

Primed for action with peace of mind

Among the conversations analyzed, consumers clearly continued to be focused on the security of their money and their data as a foundational requirement. In their posts, people recognize the value of new technologies on delivering this peace of mind across mobile payments.

Looking at the newer technologies:

  • Biometrics reached a potential 111 million, driven primarily by an interest in voice payments and fingerprint scanners
  • Tokenization – and its critical role in supporting and protecting payments of all type – was featured in conversations reaching a potential audience of 11 million viewers

While breaking news around data breaches drove one-fifth of data-related conversations, another 13 percent of these conversations noted the potential of digital security technologies, including blockchain, tokenization and biometrics.


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Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: Jonas Leupe [1], [2].