Bamboo: Ethiopia’s Untapped Potential

By Mekonnen Hailu /ABN/

Situated in the eastern highland of tropical Africa, Ethiopia is endowed with abundant agricultural resource and has diverse ecological zones. Consequently, the country has the largest area of bamboo in Africa.

Some studies show that several bamboo species are endemic to Africa and mainly found in Ethiopia. The Eastern Africa nation has huge bamboo potential and more than 12 types of bamboo species are available especially in the highland and lowland areas.

Naturally, bamboo has a higher tensile strength than steel and offers greater strength, resistance and thermal tolerance then other timber options. In spite of these qualities, bamboo is also very light and therefore easier and cheaper to transport. In the construction industry, bamboo has started to replace hardwood and steel. It is exciting new prospect of bamboo as a construction material that is creating the current interest in the bamboo as an investment.

It is obvious that the timber that is used worldwide in construction needs to be in the form of big, flat planks. That is why bamboo has not been widely used before now. But new processing techniques now mean that bamboo can be reconstituted and shaped just like traditional timber. Thus, bamboo is now beginning to replace traditional timber for use in building construction and as flooring. Moreover, bamboo can be utilized as a building material as for scaffolding, bridges and houses. Bamboo, like true wood, is a natural composite material with a high strength-to-weight ratio useful for structures. Bamboo has a higher comprehensive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. Apart from these, bamboo plantation is very important in the manufacturing sector such as pulp and paper production. And a number of companies have engaged in this investment sector. These sectors are really driving increased demand for bamboo and this is the real investment story.

As emerging markets grow especially in China, Brazil, India and Africa demand for timber for building materials has also been growing, just with other raw materials and commodities. At the same time as demand grows and the supply also tighten as action is taken to preserve forests and reduce illegal logging. 

The big markets for bamboo include flooring, fiber panel board, construction as well as furniture and the demand grows from time to time almost every parts of the world. Besides, the engineering performance of bamboo in these areas exceeds that of more traditional yet less sustainable timbers. This is because of its fast pace of growth and also has cost advantages.

At the present time, the country has the largest area which is estimated one million hectares of commercially untapped bamboo in East Africa, making it attractive to investment partners from the bamboo industry. Moreover, the market potential of bamboo in Europe is massive. And it is believed that there can be a reliable and effective supply chain built here in Ethiopia to create a bamboo manufacturing industry. There is no question that a combination of an abundance of bamboo and eager foreign investment is making Ethiopia a frontier for the bamboo industrial revolution in Africa.

In comparison to soft wood trees that can take 30 years to reach maturity, bamboo is a fully mature resource after three years, making it commercially and environmentally sustainable. It is known that Sub-Saharan Africa has three million hectares of bamboo forest, around four percent of the continent’s total forest cover. The government of Ethiopia is also working to increase its bamboo plantation coverage area.

The economic liberalization process being undertaken in the country and the commitment of the government to create conducive investment climate for the private sector has positive impact in attracting transnational companies (TNCs) from all corners of the world.

As Ethiopia has the largest area of bamboo resource, conducive investment climate and a rapidly developing manufacturing industry, some foreign companies have shown interest to engage in this and other investment sectors. Taison Group and Green Diamond are renowned Chinese company has signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the margins of Belt and Road Initiative Forum held in Beijing recently. Accordingly, Taison Group and Green Diamond will establish a large-scale bamboo pulp-paper manufacturing in Assosa, Benshangul Gumuz regional state. The company will have a capacity to manufacture one million tons of pulp paper per annum and supply its competitive products to local as well as international markets.

Apart from Benshangul Gumuz regional state, in Ethiopia Amhara, Gambella, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ regions have huge potential for bamboo cultivation.

Parallel with foreign direct investment attraction, the government of Ethiopia is working tirelessly to create ample jobs for its citizens. In this regard, this investment project will have of a paramount importance in creating ample jobs for compatriots especially in the regional state.

To conclude, apart from ensuring sustainable economic growth of the country, the main purpose of investment is creating job opportunities and improves citizens’ quality of life. Consequently, the government, the private sector and other stakeholder should give due attention to develop this investment sector.

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