South Africa’s bamboo-related manufacturing prospects

South Africa’s State-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) is initiating a study into the prospects for bamboo-related business opportunities in the country, with emphasis being given to prospects that could yield rural development spin-offs.

bamboo cultivation

The development finance institution has released a request for proposals for consultants to complete a scoping study that identifies “viable” product opportunities.

The study is expected to narrow down the geographical prospects for bamboo cultivation and generate a ranking of the leading 15 product manufacturing prospects.

The role of bamboo as a so-called “energy crop” in power generation will also be considered, but as a secondary priority.

Sites in the Limpopo province, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga province are believed to enjoy the climatic and soil requirements necessary for bamboo cultivation.

However, the IDC wants the study to match these regional characteristics with specific product opportunities. It has also initiated a process to understand the regulatory requirements for growing bamboo on a large scale, especially those related to water.

The consultants will be expected to assess the potential for value-adding opportunities within areas such as furniture, carpets, bags, flooring, poles, ornaments, blinds and curtains. But other products opportunities will also be considered.

“An initial assessment has revealed that more than 1 000 different products can be manufactured from bamboo,” the IDC says in its tender documentation.

The study will also be expected to define the financial, technical, human resources, and market risks associated with bamboo-related product manufacture and identify potential partners that could operate and/or coinvest in such projects.

The IDC notes that successful bamboo-related enterprises have already emerged in India and China and describes the prospects for similar developments in South Africa as “very promising”.

“The IDC is of the opinion that bamboo could provide a means to unlock opportunities within some of our rural areas,” it says, adding that the scoping study could identify “viable” product opportunities that will not limit applications simply to biomass energy conversion.

Source: Engineering News

Bamboo is an incredibly hardy plant that is also very difficult to eradicate from indigenous, protected areas (I know from experience).  This should be borne in mind when this plant is being considered for cultivation, especially on virgin soil.  Preferably, bamboo cultivation should occur on previously cultivated lands before indigenous vegetation is cleared.  Any projects should be carefully planned with long-term sustainability being of utmost importance.  Many so-called ‘rural upliftment’ projects begin well but then gradually decline due to lack of training and support and lack of funds (South Africa’s Land Reform has many examples of farms being ruined and the land degraded due to these same factors).  Bamboo is also somewhat controversial with respect to it’s ‘eco-friendliness’ of the fabrics produced from it.  Whereas bamboo consumes far less water than cotton and requires zero or minimal pesticide application, the processes used to covert bamboo fibre into usable material are far from ec0-friendly due to the harmful chemicals that are requires; see Bamboo Clothing: Green or Greenwashed? Of course, bamboo is also used for building, furniture and other uses where it requires less processing.

Water Rhapsody supports green initiatives that benefit the environment and our people but proper environmental impact studies should be conducted independently before projects such as this one discussed above go ahead.

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