Joseph Kaguai is among pioneer investors in the hospitality industry on the outskirts of central Kenya's industrial town of Thika whose passion for bamboo is unmatched thanks to multiple benefits offered by the grass.
The middle-aged ex-banker who incurred huge expenses to procure toothpicks for customers in his resort hotel located in central Kenya's Murang'a county, has found respite in bamboo whose sturdy bark is ideal for producing the critical accessories for hospitality industry.
Kaguai's Chinese friend facilitated his acquisition of made-in-China machines to manufacture toothpicks using bamboo and is convinced the new venture will open new revenue streams through exports to regional markets.
"The cost of toothpicks in my hotels was quite high and it prompted me to explore how I can produce them locally using bamboo," Kaguai told Xinhua. "The factory is doing well and we are working on capacity for smooth production", he added.
The entrepreneur's toothpick manufacturing start-up located at the heart of Thika town's industrial belt herald boom to bamboo farmers who are angling themselves for a steady market for their produce.
According to Kaguai, bamboo farmers scattered across central Kenyan highlands and beyond are excited about his toothpick manufacturing venture that he hopes will be a game changer in the country's industrialization agenda.
He said that Kenya's bamboo industry that is still at infancy has potential for growth if the government and industry forge partnership with China in diverse areas like research, training of manpower and technology transfer.
"We are getting machines from China but also require technology from the country to manufacture a range of products from bamboo," said Kaguai.
Keriako Tobiko, cabinet secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said at an event to mark World Bamboo Day on Friday that the government will scale up growing of bamboo across the country towards actualization of bamboo commercialization.
Bamboo is a largely underutilized resource in Kenya and Africa as a whole. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, despite having 12 per cent of the world's bamboo resources, Africa accounts for just 1 percent of the estimated 60 billion U.S. dollars global bamboo market.
Government statistics indicate that Kenya has a total bamboo growing area of some 133,273 hectares while a policy is being developed to enhance commercialisation of its products.
Nellie Mugure Oduor, director of national forest products research program at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) told Xinhua in an interview that implementation of a national bamboo policy will boost its use in conservation of soils, water as well as production of furniture, tiles and roofing materials.
"We want bamboo to become an industrial crop and hope that once the policy is enacted, the country will attract investors to develop cottage industries using bamboo products," said Oduor.
She said that Kenya has benefitted from China's expertise and technology to develop household and industrial products from the grass sub-species.
An estimated five million hectares of land in Africa is under bamboo cultivation as the continent forge partnership with China to promote research, training and adoption of technologies required to commercialize the crop.
Fu Jinhe, director of East Africa Regional Office at International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) said that investments in capacity development and new technologies is key to revitalizing growth of Africa's bamboo industry.
"There is need for investment and technology transfer to boost the development of bamboo resources in Africa," said Fu, adding that the INBAR has encouraged Chinese investors to venture into Africa's nascent bamboo industry.