Bamboo: South Africa’s Versatile Renewable Resource

Bamboo is gaining recognition worldwide as a valuable renewable resource that, in addition to having innumerable practical uses, has amazing carbon offset properties. Research reveals that a single clump of bamboo is able to absorb up to 1.7 ton CO² in a period of seven years, which is more than any other soil grown plant. Moreover, bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet and is relatively easy to grow. The list of products made from this versatile member of the grass family is seemingly endless and includes floor boards, counter tops, screens, furniture, ceilings, textiles, biofuel, paper, roof sheeting, food, beer, and much, much more. The commercial demand for bamboo is increasing as more consumers recognize the need to play their part in supporting renewable resources and minimizing their carbon footprints.

Bambusa balcooa is one of the commercially grown bamboos in South Africa. Originally from India, it was introduced in South Africa in 1660 and has since become naturalized. It can grow in virtually any soil type and can reach a height of up to 20 meters if left unchecked, with culms growing up to 15cm in diameter. As a clumping species, Bambusa balcooa does not send out runners as some species do. It also does not set seed, but sends out new shoots at the base of the clump which can be cultivated. These characteristics mean that this species will not be invasive or threaten surrounding indigenous vegetation. The fact that it does not set seed also rules out the problem of attracting rodents, which in turn may attract snakes.

Research reveals that deforestation and land use change are responsible for more than 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The potential for bamboo to address the problem of deforestation is enormous. Bamboo is an excellent alternative to charcoal and wood used by rural communities for domestic purposes. In fact, bamboo charcoal maintains heat longer than hardwood charcoal does. Because it grows so quickly, with proper planning bamboo can continually meet the needs of rural communities, and even generate income.

In some Asian countries, bamboo is traditionally referred to as “the poor man’s timber”, but today bamboo is becoming the choice of an enlightened generation of consumers who are concerned about reducing their carbon footprint and is earning the reputation of being “the wise man’s timber”.

A number of bamboo growing projects have been implemented in South Africa, which are helping to uplift communities while contributing to the health of the planet by regenerating exhausted farmland with carbon-absorbing plants, as well as preventing the destruction of forests for timber. Certainly, bamboo has huge (as yet, largely untapped) environmental and economic potential in South Africa.