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Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities in Uganda’s Bamboo Industry

ThinkBamboo Podcast: Season 1, Episode 8

Welcome to the 8th episode of the ThinkBamboo Podcast, where we interview the movers and shakers in the bamboo industry. In this episode, JJ sits down in this latest remote interview, with Thomas Quirynen, the founder of Bamboo-Uganda, to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the bamboo industry in Uganda.

Bamboo-Uganda, a social business, aims to advance the bamboo value chain in Uganda. Transition: Founded by bamboo enthusiasts, the organization addressed the lack of bamboo access by identifying plantations and starting a processing facility.

In this episode, we delve into Bamboo-Uganda’s efforts to empower Uganda’s bamboo industry. Transition: They establish a carbon credit component and explore an agroforestry model.

Furthermore, we examine the challenges of maximizing environmental and social impact through agroforestry. Transition: Additionally, we explore ongoing research on producing structural bamboo using green glues and heat treatment.

Video Interview

Video podcast interview with Thomas Quirynen from Bamboo-Uganda and JJ from ThinkBamboo.org

Interview Quick-Links

00:05 Social business focused on pushing the bamboo value chain in Uganda
04:59 Umbrella organization overseeing multiple bamboo-related businesses
09:16 Maximizing environmental and social impact through agroforestry model
13:19 Bamboo is a renewable and viable solution to tackle carbon credits
17:46 A traceability platform for bamboo used to track carbon footprint
21:42 Transparency in production is key
25:42 Using biochar in collaboration with a fertilizer company
29:57 Currently constructing a bamboo Cosmo Golem sculpture

Read on to learn more about the fascinating insights shared by Thomas Quirynen in this episode.

Umbrella organization for multiple bamboo businesses

Bamboo-Uganda, an umbrella organization, manages various bamboo businesses: Plantation, Plantation Services, Nursery, Processing Facility, and Construction. It aims to strengthen Uganda’s bamboo industry value chain, incorporating a carbon credit component and investigating an agroforestry model.

Bamboo-Uganda: Social business creating the bamboo value chain in Uganda

The group of enthusiasts included an agronomer who had a nursery for three years and wanted to focus more on bamboo, an environmental analyst, and a financial guy who had a passion for bamboo. Together, they identified the main gap in the bamboo value chain in Uganda, which was a processing facility.

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation in Uganda, where there’s limited bamboo available for commercial use, and people are not willing to plant bamboo if there’s no market. The group decided to start by identifying what was already available and mapped out the area to see if it was enough to justify a small processing facility. After a year of feasibility studies and investigation, they registered the processing facility and started construction.

The facility is very young, with the machines arriving in September/October of last year. It’s impressive how fast they have progressed, considering they are located in Africa and not Europe or the US. The goal of the processing facility is to experiment and make quality products, and the group is already seeing positive results.

Bamboo Plant Nursery

Bamboo-Uganda currently holds approximately 50,000 seedlings in their bamboo plant nursery. Taking care of these seedlings and ensuring their robust growth is a significant task. However, it forms a crucial part of our bamboo value chain. These seedlings, derived from meticulously chosen bamboo species, undergo nurturing under optimal conditions before they are planted in the plantation. Our diligent nursery team ensures proper nourishment, watering, and protection against pests and diseases for these seedlings.

They believe that a strong and healthy bamboo plantation starts with high-quality seedlings, which is why we put so much effort into our nursery. By growing our own seedlings, we can ensure that they are well-suited to the local environment and have the best chance of thriving. It also allows us to control the entire production process, from seed to finished product, which helps us to maintain consistent quality and ensure that our bamboo products are sustainable and eco-friendly.

Overall, the nursery is a vital component of their bamboo value chain, and Thomas is proud to have such a dedicated team at Bamboo-Uganda working on it. He believes that by investing in high-quality seedlings and sustainable plantation practices, we can help to create a better future for both people and the planet.

Setting up a carbon credit component and exploring agroforestry model

As the battle against climate change intensifies, carbon credits play a growing role, and Bamboo-Uganda strives to develop a carbon credit solution. This solution tracks both carbon footprint and potential product output. Unfortunately, the existing carbon credit system lacks transparency and is overly complex. To address this, Bamboo-Uganda has created a traceability platform that enables the tracking of carbon loss throughout the process, promoting transparency. The tax system acts as an independent verifier to guarantee accuracy. Furthermore, the platform serves as a marketplace for buyers and sellers of bamboo products.

Challenges with enabling value chain in bamboo industry

One of the main challenges facing the bamboo industry in Uganda is the lack of access to bamboo. Bamboo-Uganda is working to address this challenge by identifying existing plantations. Starting a small processing facility to experiment with making quality products. The organization is also working to train farmers for proper plantation management and inputs to make it economically viable.

Photo: Local Bamboo-Uganda Team
Photo: Local Bamboo-Uganda Team

Maximizing environmental and social impact through agroforestry model

Bamboo-Uganda is exploring an agroforestry model where coffee and bamboo grow well together. This model aims to maximize the environmental and social impact of bamboo production by integrating it with other crops. However, the success of this model depends on proper plantation management and inputs, which require training for farmers.

Bamboo is a renewable and viable solution to tackle carbon credits

Bamboo is a renewable and viable solution to tackle carbon credits. Carbon credit approach is trending but not viable economically. Bamboo can be used for long-term storage products, such as biochar. The renewable energy and biochar usage in bamboo production are still in their initial stages. Using biochar in collaboration with a fertilizer company is a good approach for farming.

Composite materials and bamboo have great potential

Composite materials and bamboo have great potential, but there is a need for transparency in production and use to ensure sustainable practices are followed. Bamboo can be used as an alternative to wood in the production of composite materials. Such as laminated bamboo lumber, bamboo fiber-reinforced polymer, and bamboo-based particleboard.

Photo: Bamboo added value products prototype from Bamboo-Uganda
Photo: Bamboo added value products prototype from Bamboo-Uganda

Bamboo Research and Development

Researchers are currently studying the production of structural bamboo using green glues and heat treatment, offering a sustainable alternative to conventional building materials. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that bamboo, despite being fast-growing and renewable, can still have adverse environmental and social impacts if not properly managed.

To make informed decisions about bamboo production and transport, transparency plays a vital role. A traceability platform for bamboo emerges as a valuable tool in this regard. By tracking the carbon footprint and potential product output, the platform ensures both economic viability and environmental sustainability of the carbon credit approach. Additionally, the tax system serves as an independent verifier, guaranteeing accuracy, while the platform also functions as a marketplace for bamboo product buyers and sellers.

Bamboo Biochar

In addition to its various applications, bamboo can serve as a source for long-term storage products, such as biochar. Biochar, a carbon-rich form of charcoal derived from organic material, holds great potential. It acts as a soil amendment, enhancing fertility, crop yield, and carbon sequestration. While renewable energy and biochar usage in bamboo production are still in early stages, a promising approach is to collaborate with a fertilizer company for farming purposes. Acting as a sponge, biochar retains water nutrients but possesses a high pH value. Its usage should be considered based on crop types, avoiding application on seedlings.

Creating bamboo biochar from bamboo “waste” resource. True circular economy.

Bamboo Construction

Bamboo Uganda is focusing on the local market and collaborating with a Dutch architectural firm for bamboo construction. There is interest in bamboo construction in Uganda, and it has been integrated into some schools. Bamboo Uganda is investigating larger lodges and constructing a bamboo Cosmo Golem sculpture using the Bambusa vulgaris – bamboo species. This species is stronger in Africa than it is in Asia, making it a viable option for construction in Uganda.

Bambusa vulgaris – bamboo species

When asked about the bamboo species they use, Thomas mentions that they mainly use Bambusa vulgaris. A bamboo species that is not typically used for construction due to its perceived weakness. However, Thomas points out that this bamboo species is actually stronger in Africa than in Asia. Depending on the microclimate and soil. Bamboo Uganda is already using Bambusa vulgaris bamboo in some serious construction projects. A platform of 15 meters high with water tanks that can hold 3 of tons of water.

Bambusa vulgaris is actually the most widely planted species of bamboo in the world! It is a large, clumping bamboo species that is native to Southeast Asia. Bambusa vulgaris is highly versatile and adaptable, which makes it a popular choice for a wide range of applications.

Bamboo Community at Bamboo Expo in Germany

Thomas emphasizes that he is excited about connecting with the larger international bamboo community. Bamboo Uganda will be attending the Bamboo Expo in Germany, the first large-scale bamboo event in Europe. Thomas is looking forward to the event and the opportunity to interact with other bamboo enthusiasts.

In conclusion, Bamboo Uganda is doing incredible work with bamboo.