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‘RMRDC set to overhaul bamboo value chain in Nigeria’

By Femi Ibirogba
12 November 2020   |   4:23 am
Currently, at industrial level bamboo is mostly used for toothpick production, although there are floor and wall tile manufacturing facilities in the country.

H. D. Ibrahim

Bamboos are plants in the Bambusoideae subfamily of the grass family.  Bamboos include some of the fastest-growing plants in the world and this makes bamboo to be competitive as a raw material in several manufacturing sectors. Prof. H. D. Ibrahim, Director-General Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC), explains the benefits of developing the value chain. FEMI IBIROGBA writes.

What are the current uses of bamboo in Nigeria?
Currently, at industrial level bamboo is mostly used for toothpick production, although there are floor and wall tile manufacturing facilities in the country.  It is also used for scaffolding. Bamboo is gaining prominent attention in construction of houses in many parts of the country. At local level, bamboo is used in the South-East and South-South states by farmers as yam stakes and in the handicraft industry to make special items, such as cups, decorative objects, baskets etc. The use of bamboo as fuelwood is very common in some parts of Edo and Delta States. 
In many rural communities where bamboo is available in abundance, it is used in making fences around compounds. Apart from these, several other uses exist, though on a relatively small scale.  For instance, there are some situations where bamboo is used as poles for aerial antenna, electrification, rafters, fishing traps, etc.  However, I wish to state that all the current uses of bamboo in Nigeria only form a fraction of its potential in the industrial sector.  Given the desired attention, bamboo can become a major industrial raw material, not only for the domestic market, but also for export.

What roles do you think bamboo can play in Nigeria’s economy?
The multifunctional application of bamboo can be tapped by several industries in Nigeria. An area of immediate concern is the utilisation of bamboo as a substitute or complimentary raw material to wood, most especially in the wood products sector.
This is because most of the wood-based panels-producing companies have closed operations since the mid-2000’s as a result of unprecedented and uncontrolled deforestation, which has led to the over exploitation of economic wood species in our forests. Ply bamboo and various other types of bamboo panels/composite boards, particle boards, etc, have been developed, most especially in China. These products are increasingly being utilised in building and bridge construction and in furniture making.
In view of its properties, the use of bamboo in the textile, electrical, electronic, chemical and pharmaceutical industries as well as in the food industries is expanding. Another increasingly important use of bamboo is in production of bamboo reinforced cement concrete for construction purposes. The bamboo-cement reinforced material has replaced steel in the construction of concrete slabs, beams, electric posts, etc. 
In addition to this, bamboo can be used for pulp and paper production and production of engineering materials. Its use in the pulp and paper industry was demonstrated in the 1990’s by the Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba, before it was discontinued. 
The chemical, textile, food and pharmaceuticals industries can also use bamboo for various poducts. Many nutritious and active minerals, such as vitamins, amino acids, flavine, phenolic acids, polysaccharide, trace elements and steroids are now extracted from bamboo culm, shoot and leaf globally. Many of these have anti-oxidation, anti-aging, anti-bacterial and antiviral infection properties. Consequently, bamboo is valuable in health care delivery and can be processed into beverage, medicines, pesticides and other household items such as toothpaste, soaps, etc.

Bamboo leaf contains two t – five per cent flavine and phenolic compounds that have the power to remove active oxy-free radicals, stopping nitrification and abating blood fat.  Figures of nutrient contents of Bambusa vulgaris, a major bamboo species found in West Africa, show it to contain crude protein (10.1g), crude fibre (21.7g), ether extract (2.5g), ash (21.3g), phosphrous (86mg), iron (13.4mg), vitamin B.1 (0.1mg), vitamins B2 (2.54mg), and carotene (12.3mg)/100g), respectively.
Bamboo beverage and beer are now widely accepted, particularly in China, Korea, and Japan mainly because of their value in healthcare, and these can also be produced in Nigeria.
Some materials extracted from bamboo are used in fresh flavour and preservation of food. Bamboo shoot, which is vegetable, is free of pollution, low in fat, high in edible fibre and rich in several minerals. It functions well in removing sputum, enhancing digestion, relieving toxicity, improving dieresis and it is often used for healing swollen tissues or edema and abdominal disease in which watery fluids collects in cavities or body tissues. The shoot also contains saccharine, which can resist little mouse tumor and also has anti-aging elements.
Research has also shown bamboo charcoal as one of the base materials for human health, from water treatment to its use as shield from electro-magnetic radiation. With its high growth rate, wide range of applications and high renewable ability, bamboo resources can occupy a significant position in the 21st Century as a versatile and important raw material in Nigeria.  It can save Nigeria trillions of naira in foreign exchange equivalent if adequately and sustainable developed for industrial use in the country. 

What are the major properties of bamboo that influence its uses?
There are several differences between bamboo and wood. In bamboo, there are no rays or knots, which give bamboo more evenly distributed stresses throughout its length. Bamboo does not contain the same extractives as wood and can, therefore, be glued very well. In addition, bamboo’s diameter, thickness and internodal length have a microscopically graded architecture which enhances its properties and utilisation.  As a result, the current industrial interest in bamboo as a versatile raw material is premised on its inherent properties. Bamboo is also characterized by high toughness and hardness, which makes it ideal for structural engineering purposes.  The fibres are usually 1.5 – 2.0mm long and 15 – 18um wide which endears it for use for structural and industrial purposes. 

What is the council doing to promote its sustainable development and industrial utilisation in Nigeria?
RMRDC and other stakeholders have initiated a number of programmes to promote development and utilisation of bamboo locally. The first step taken was to carry out an indicative inventory of bamboo occurrence, availability and utilisation in Nigeria.
The council, in collaboration with the Federal University of Technology, Akure, University of Ibadan and a host of other stakeholders carried out the inventory. The study provided the fulcrum on which bamboo utilisation and development locally is now premised.  The study indicated that bamboo is widely distributed in the south and middle belt regions of Nigeria. The distribution of bamboo was observed to be related to ecological conditions with the rainforest areas having the most abundant distribution. Bamboo is found in abundance in all the states of Southern Nigeria except Lagos and Bayelsa, where the distribution is relatively less.
The most endowed states in terms of bamboo occurrence as observed were Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra and Imo States. 
The reconnaissance survey indicated that at least, 10% of the natural vegetation in these states were dominated by bamboo, with existing bamboo clumps showing appreciable gregarious growth that is contiguous over large areas.  Lagos, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Kogi, Kwara, Benue and Nasarawa states belong to the second category where bamboo distribution is frequent.
Pockets of bamboo clumps were found in Niger, Taraba and Plateau States as well as within the Federal Capital Territory. There are 12 states where bamboo occurrence is rare.  These are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe and Zamfara states.

States such as the Rivers, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra and Imo States can successfully support bamboo-processing industries, though; plantations may also have to be established to boost availability.  In states where occurrence was observed to be frequent, industries may have to be supported with establishment of plantations right from the on-set.  The study was mainly carried out to provide basic information on occurrence and distribution patterns of bamboo in Nigeria and to elucidate current utilization patterns in order to enable informed recommendations to be made on how to sustainably develop the bamboo resources of Nigeria.

Based on your experience, how do you think that bamboo resources of Nigeria can be sustainably developed?
From the results of the study, it is apparent that bamboo production and utilization in Nigeria is largely uncoordinated with untapped potential.  In an attempt to upgrade the bamboo economy and accord it a strategic role in the national industrialisation strategy, employment generation, rural development and poverty reduction, the council, in collaboration with stakeholders, commenced taxonomic characterisation of the existing bamboo species. Since different species have specific uses, this step is fundamental to determining the appropriate use for the Nigerian-grown bamboo. 
In addition, the council has commenced a detailed inventory and quantitative assessment of bamboo clumps in addition to coordinating the characterisation of Nigerian bamboo species so as to determine their industrial potential.
The anatomical, physical and chemical properties of local bamboo species are being analysed to determine the suitability of the existing bamboo species for various uses. From these studies, economic bamboo species, which are not currently available in Nigeria, would be introduced in line with necessary protocols. 

Let me also say that the council from time to time, obtains information on modern technology for producing globally competitive new generation bamboo products which are disseminated to investors in Nigeria.  This is important as some investors are currently producing bamboo wall and floor tiles including toothpicks locally.  To facilitate this, the council, some few years ago, brought Prof. Zhu Zhuaoa, an International Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) expert in China, to Nigeria in collaboration with Gamla Group in Asaba, to assess local bamboo resources. The group also met with members of the wood and wood products sector of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and discussed the importance of developing bamboo for use in the sector.
An encouraging development that may assist in moving the nation’s bamboo bio-economy forward is the registration of the Association for Bamboo Development in Nigeria (ABDN), a non-governmental organisation committed to the promotion of bamboo as a viable resource for sustainable economic diversification, wealth creation, employment generation, youth and community development as well as environmental protection.
Now, the council is interacting with the Furniture Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria on the production of plybamboo, etc., in the country as most of the pioneer integrated wood base panel industries are now moribund. As a result of this, efforts are being put in place to establish industrial bamboo plantations in collaboration with interested members of the group.  Apart from supplying bamboo for conversion to ply bamboo, etc, this initiative will lead to job creation, sustainable industrial development and wealth creation for farmers.

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