BAMBOO FARMING PROJECT
The one thing that is abundantly clear about South Africa, given our complex history, is that we [like many other emerging economies] are an imbalanced society.
Our imbalances consist of economic imbalances, opportunity imbalances, skills imbalances and sustainability imbalances.
That is what we believe motivated Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) as a driving policy for the new post 1994 governments. The theory of BEE is intrinsically sound, but its implementation has been flawed. In many cases, the very people the BEE policy was meant to help have suffered even more losses as the policy has been hi-jacked by those bent on personal enrichment.
However, Praggia believes that these policies have been successful in many marked cases. Self preservation and profit are not dirty words in themselves, but become such when achieved at the cost of the people who are exploited for short term gains.
Accordingly, Praggia was attracted to the promise of what bamboo Farming could achieve in an environment such as South Africa, given the socio economic, political and geographical challenges that exist in our country. There are many small Bamboo Farming projects and support structures that exist around bamboo farming, but these act individually, leading to splintered activity, non co-operation, information protection, and a general loss of momentum.
There are no all embracing, overriding policies owned or driven by government (or by any strong private sector player) which could create this sectors nirvana.
Praggia has identified the following criteria required to create a significant, sustainable project that will be sustainable, profitable for all, establishing a long term employment base for the rural poor of South Africa.
These criteria are:
- A co-operative driving policy owned jointly by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Water Affairs, Department of Labour, Department of Land Affairs, DTI and IDC. (See project “The Bamboo Job Creation Consortium”)
- A private sector organisation created to implement this policy.
- Joint committees to monitor growth, success and implementation.
- Close private sector and government co-operation to achieve [aggressively] the projects aims and objectives.
- Long term sustainable funding to be available – utilizing private and public sector investment resources.
- Co-operation of the small contributors who are already operating in the country.
- Setting up research projects with various universities, colleges and research organisations in South Africa to assist in obtaining the best possible results.
- In the farming sectors
- And the product development and manufacturing sectors
Why Bamboo Farming?
Bamboo has been identified as a natural product that is very adaptable to many environmental conditions. They grow from near desert conditions to jungle conditions, with hundreds of variants available to suit the particular conditions in any given area.
In addition, these plants are the fastest growing plants on the planet that do not require extraordinary amounts of water to do so.
They also have low penetrating root systems, with the advantage that they can survive in brackish and mildly acidic water. They generate an extraordinarily high percentage of oxygen, and absorb extraordinary amounts of co2.
The plants reach harvestable levels quickly, with over 800 identified applications for the product. These range from using the Bamboo to produce an incredible array of building products, processed wood products, charcoal, woodchip burner additives, cloth and many more.
Praggia’s interest, other than selected items around which various micro industries can be developed, is the use of Bamboo in Bio-Fuel production. This aspect of development will enable access to large international markets.
Will Bamboo grow in South Africa?
The short answer to this question is a definite yes! There are many research projects which presently exist in various universities, development institutions and private research projects that have already produced results around bamboo farming.
The existing small scale farming projects in South Africa prove beyond doubt that this initiative and these products work in micro pockets, demonstrating the sustainability, renewability and adaptability of the Bamboo Plant and its beneficiated products.
Such small scale projects have proved that the chain (from plant development through to products produced for various markets) is not only viable, but profitable as well. In addition, the products are resilient, and save many trees from destruction as bamboo products are stronger, more flexible, and less water absorbent.
How renewable and practical is Bamboo?
Every Hectare of farmland that is under Bamboo Plantations will produce on average 150 tons per hectare per year. Compared to Pine Plantations, this is between 2 and 3 times the result.
Pine can only be harvested every 5 to 6 years, with 300 tons per hectare over 5-6 years. Bamboo will produce in the same area, up to 900 tons per hectare.
The amount of water to produce this result is about half when compared to the water absorbed by Pine trees.
Renewability and practicality are therefore very strong characteristics of bamboo plants.
What is the vision?
Praggia’s vision is to produce a chain of active areas where bamboo farms feed bamboo into micro and macro production areas which processes the bamboo products for the market.
All such activities and companies will operate within a controlled macro strategy. That macro strategy will ensure jobs for the rural communities it serves, going hand in hand with skills development on the farms and the factories involved.
The Bamboo Job Creation Consortium (BJCC) will promote micro industry models partly owned by entrepreneurs, with the BJCC itself owning the controlling shares in the micro companies.
The objective is to ensure offset areas for the Bamboo, as well as increasing “Value Added” and profitability. All workers employed in the entire production line will share in the profits of each link in the chain. Profits will also be used for community development in areas adjoining the farms under cultivation.
In that way, Praggia believes the BJCC initiative will:
- Create permanent jobs in rural areas (an estimated 4 jobs per hectare) on farms, in the transport industry and in the factories.
- Allow South African products to be produced for South African conditions, with special emphasis on products for a government housing development projects.
- Opens up the avenues exporting beneficiation products.
- Allow for the development of partnership initiatives with foreign companies.
- Create a supply chain into a bio-fuel production projects.
- Facilitate short term “Plant to Product” stream (Estimated 18 months)
- Utilize unused and unproductive farmland.
- Clean up dirty water. (Polluted mining water etc.)
- Lend itself to excellent socio-economic infrastructure development in rural areas, food production, water purification and waste management.
The envisioned process to be followed by Praggia Research.
Funding of an appropriate planning team for an estimated two year period;
Researching the species for maximum results;
Liaising with government departments, farmers and the community;
Creating the initial driving documentation, negotiating all necessary contracts, and securing the funding required.
The BJCC budget is to be devised by the principals of the participating consortium members.
Praggia has spent 5 years reviewing many bamboo projects between 2007 and 2012, conducting further research into various markets, products and organisations, including Bravo Brick in Krugersdorp, Halfway Bricks in Strand, the CCMA (Cement and Concrete Manufacturers Association), wood product manufacturers, building products distributors and steel product manufacturers.
Praggia researched the viability of the range of products that can be produced from bamboo, comparing operational, infrastructural and operating costs to those of the wood, cement and the steel industries.
Our research shows that a comprehensive bamboo initiative can be sustainable, producing products with far greater advantages than many current wood products that are marketed in the South African today. It can develop into an industry that will compete very strongly in the building products sector.
Aggressive input, however, is required to grow this initiative into a competitive, profitable and impactful industry. The products will be absorbed by the markets in South Africa as they will be price competitive. They also serve the drive for renewable, low impact products, as well as the international requirements for Green Products.
Praggia paid special attention to BIO-FUEL development as a strong offset area for the product, studying the BIO-FUEL initiatives in KZN currently being pursued around sugar cane and other cultivars by various companies and government departments.
Key components of the project are;
- Job creation in the rural areas
- BIO-FUEL production
- South African Initiative development
- Skills development
- Entrepreneurial development
- Export initiatives
- APO development (Alternate Profit opportunities)
- Water purification
Praggia believes that the BJCC should be a strong force that drives this initiative forward aggressively, as the current initiatives are way too small, with no momentum to create dynamic industries in this sector. They are also funded by organisations which have vested interests in wood production and other areas of interest that would suffer if the bamboo industry grew aggressively.
Within that context, an opportunity presents itself for an unbiased, unaffected new player to take aggressive control, and exploit the many potential benefits in this sector.
Bamboo is an amazing natural product that can survive and thrive in various climates, droughts and floods. An industry built around these products will take on these characteristics as well, and can become an influential, profitable player in the national and international market.
However, the bamboo industry’s biggest promise is that it can solve many existing problems in South Africa. It will take capital, drive, co-operation, government buy-in and balanced risk to create an amazing industry around an amazing product.