Description of bamboo plants:

Bamboos are woody grasses that grow up to 40 meters tall. Bamboos can be classified by the types of roots they have. Some, called runners, spread widely, and others, called clumpers, have roots that slowly expand from the original planting. Bamboo culms (stems) are normally round, jointed, sometimes thorny, and can be either hollow or solid. The leaves of tropical bamboo species are usually deciduous, meaning that they fall every year.

Interesting facts about the bamboo plant:

Bamboo is the world’s strongest and fastest growing woody plant. In parts of Kenya, the giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) grows 20 metres high with a diameter of 0.2 metres in one year. The world record holder for growth is the species Phyllostachys edulis, whose shoots can grow as much as 121 cm in 24 hours.
There are more than 1200 species of bamboo worldwide, with most growing in tropical and semi-tropical climates, such as are found throughout Africa.
Bamboo matures in just three years, and can be harvested thereafter every second year for up to 120 years.
After harvesting, bamboo does not need to be replanted, as it re-sprouts from the old stem.
Growing bamboo requires only a modest investment and generates steady income for farmers.
Bamboo fibres are ten times as strong as the wood fibres used in construction. This means that the much smaller and lighter-weight bamboo products can be used in place of timber products, which reduces the amount and weight of material to be transported and used.

Where does the bamboo plant grow?

In Africa, bamboos grow naturally in East Africa from southern Mozambique to northeastern Sudan, in West African countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in southern African countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are also large commercial plantations and smaller on-farm plantations which grow both local species and species introduced from Asia.

What are the uses of the bamboo plant?

Construction of many high-value goods, including floor tiles, paper, utensils, toothpicks, plywood, high-value furniture, carvings, baskets and fences.
Introducing bamboo species into deforested mountainous areas can help retain water in the soil and reduce the risk of flash floods and landslides.
Food: over two million tons of edible bamboo shoots – rich in vitamins and low in carbohydrates, fats and proteins – are consumed around the world every year, mostly in Asia.
Some species have large thorns, making them ideal for security hedges. Others grow tall straight poles that form ideal windbreaks that can be sustainably harvested annually.
Planting certain types of bamboo, like the giant bamboo, may remove hazardous pollutants from soils which have been contaminated by sewage or industrial waste.

How can farmers grow bamboo?

Bamboo can be grown from seeds, but most species produce seeds just once every 15-120 years. Usually, propagation involves tissue culture, rhizome cuttings and vegetative cuttings.
Giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) grows well in areas traditionally used to grow sugar cane and coffee, thus providing an alternative or additional cash crop. Arundinaria alpina, a species of bamboo native to Kenya, will yield as many as 20,000 bamboo poles per hectare per year, with each growing to a height of 12 metres.

Tips for farmers interested in growing bamboo

Farmers might receive $5 for sales of raw bamboo. But, with training on how to convert bamboo into saleable goods, they can receive $100 for goods crafted from the same amount of bamboo.

Challenges with the use of bamboo

One of the main problems with bamboo is that it has been regarded as a natural resource which is simply there to take. This can lead to overexploitation and rapid depletion of bamboo resources, especially near paper mills and factories. Harvesting bamboo from natural stands too distant from mills and factories results in transportation costs becoming too high for bamboo to be economical.
Though bamboo is relatively pest-free, cuttings can be attacked by diseases, so must be protected with proper pest management practices.


Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.

Information sources

For more information, contact:

African contacts for INBAR:

  • Mr. Mustapha Kaluwe,, fax: 86-10-64702166/64703166
  • Ms. Song Shuang,, fax: 86-10-64702166/64703166, or
  • Michael Kwaku, P.O.Box UP 982, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana. Telephone:             +233-051–60310      ,
  • For other experts working on bamboo, search the database on INBAR’s website. Click on the country name to find the name of experts in that country.