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British firm takes up mega bamboo farming to produce textile items

NEWS
By Moses Michira | September 4th 2016
Philip Karoki, a worker at a bamboo farm in Gathehu Village, Nyeri County. Bamboo has plenty of uses such as construction, charcoal, pulp, furniture, toothpicks and crafts. [PHOTO:KIBATA KIHU/STANDARD]

A United Kingdom agricultural firm is seeking to open major commercial bamboo cultivation along the Kenyan Coast for the manufacture of textiles, food and fragrances.

Africa Plantation Capital, a subsidiary of Britain’s Plantation Capital, is at advanced stages of planting the first phase of commercial bamboo farming on 1,000 acres in Kilifi County.

On Friday, APC said it was seeking regulatory approvals before undertaking cultivation of the first 200 acres of the plant just beginning to find traction in Kenya as a cash crop. “Africa Plantation Capital Management Limited is proposing to establish a 200 acre bamboo plantation in Kilifi...” the firm said in its application to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) contained in The Kenya Gazette of September 2, 2016.

Kenya Forestry Research Institute is already developing the bamboo nursery for the firm after the two entities entered into partnership in July that sought to promote commercial cultivation of the plant. Experts from Kefri said the bamboo plant is highly sought after in the manufacture of textiles because of its qualities in water absorption.

APC Regional Manager Kosta Kioleoglou said during the signing of the MoU with Kefri that bamboo was now competing with cotton as material for textile making since it is able to take in moisture or water that is up to three times of its weight.

“Bamboo textile retains this ability pulling the moisture away from the skin so that it can evaporate. This means that the fabric will help the wearer stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” Mr Kosta said. The water absorption qualities makes bamboo fibre the ideal material for the manufacture of garments like socks and other underwear.

He added that the Kenyan coastline has the near perfect climate and soils for the variant of bamboo being cultivated by the firm, with plans to scale up the production to 5,000 acres in parcels between Mombasa and Lamu.

Sisal is the biggest cash crop in the region, grown on huge tracts of land that was until last year owned by British heirs known as the Robinow brothers – the majority owners of Rea Vipingo plantations.

Low-value crop

Centum Investments acquired the stake held by the Robinow brothers and has reported that it was acting landlord to the sisal plantation only for the short term, before the change of use for the estate from agricultural to mixed use that includes real estate.

Ending of the sisal production and the subsequent entry of bamboo by APC would mark a major turn as the prior crop is widely considered low-value. Kilifi plantation would be the latest addition to the nearly 130 bamboo farms owned by the UK firm all over the World, with most of the others being in Asian nations including Thailand.

Thailand and Sri Lanka have the biggest number of bamboo plantations owned by the firm at 101 and 11, respectively, according to the company website resources.

A spokesman of the firm told Weekend Business that it was also seeking individual and institutional investors to take part in the project, at a cost of Sh3 million per acre, promising returns over the 15 years of the crop’s life.

Globally, the size of the bamboo industry is estimated at Sh5 trillion ($50 billion) with projections of a steady growth as new uses of the different parts of the plant are discovered.

In Kenya, the bamboo plant is mostly used in the manufacture of furniture, and has in the recent past attracted thousands of farmers who are now venturing in its commercial production.

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