Bamboo for a New Economy

By Tinashe Chidau and Tichaona Kamikani

This is the first in a series of articles done by Bamboo Zimbabwe meant to promote the establishment of a bamboo economy in Zimbabwe.

This article has been written with the express intention of drawing attention to bamboo, subsequent articles will relate directly to the advantages, benefits and properties of bamboo concomitant to the economy, the environment and climate change.

Zimbabwe’s economic performance figures paint a grim and sad reality.

The symptoms of the malaise are epitomized by an emergent cavalcade of foreign currency traders lining the streets and pavement peddlers making up an enormous informal economy.

Sadly, many of these individuals are university graduates who have failed to get employment.
The economy is not the only crisis facing our teapot shaped country. We really are on the boil.

The Forestry Commission is on record decrying our annual deforestation figures, a frightening 330 000 hectares per annum. At such an astronomical rate of deforestation, we will run out of forests as we have known them sooner than we think.

We risk desertification. The tobacco industry, the country’s second highest foreign currency earner after gold, will be negatively impacted.

The implications of desertification to our agricultural-based economy in general are too ghastly to even contemplate.

Climate change, in Zimbabwe characterized by the alternating twin catastrophes of flooding and droughts, are exacerbating the already myriad crises bedevilling the nation.

Rain fed agriculture is no longer reliable since rainfall distribution and patterns have been altered by global warming.

Sadly, that Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa has long since become a cliché of folkloric magnitudes.

Zimbabwe now gets included on the list of countries requiring food aid, despite government’s gallantry in rolling out agricultural revival and support projects like Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme.

Our nation’s struggles are quite lengthy, yet we are a nation that prides itself as being the most literate in Africa. But then, these are not problems unique to Zimbabwe. All the problems that we face can be termed ‘Developmental Challenges.’

It is our contention that our country needs to adopt a new philosophy, one that ‘fits’ its profile. Not that we imply dressing up our problems, no.

The profile that we infer is one that depicts a nation whose majority lives in rural areas; the vast majority of its working class is not formally employed and has suffered a debilitating skills flight.

At times we risk missing a turn because we will be going too fast. Yes, Zimbabwe does not exist in a vacuum and is a part of the global community and as such it competes for its place on the proverbial map, rightly so.

The risk is in failing to see the simple, homegrown propositions that will lead to the expunging of our problems. ‘Kurumidza kumedza’ in Shona phraseology, we want to run before we can even walk as a nation.

What philosophy are we using to compete on the world stage? The same philosophy and structures that we think represent us (or that we think we represent) which we are epically struggling with? Successful countries benefit from policies and philosophies resulting from deep and honest introspections.

For the Americans, they reached a point where they shook hands and decided that ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ Today they are the biggest economy in the world.

Does the past determine the future? There surely is reason why we study history as a compulsory subject in school up to the beginning of Ordinary levels.

This economic system that we are notoriously brawling with is not of our making. It is inherited. We adopted this economic system at independence in 1980, but did we adapt?, maybe not.

A Shona idiom is succinct in drawing our meaning ‘Pfuma yenhaka inoparadza hukama.’ Need we say more? At times our politics is corrosive at best. Often, inherited wealth is not sustainable, it leads to infighting, ditto Zimbabwe?

Our ‘all-weather’ friends, the Chinese aptly portray the perfect example of our meaning. That the Chinese dragon has a long and decorated history cutting across its emblematic dynasties is not in contention.

It is the palpable, modern efficiency of today’s dragon that so captivates even more. The Chinese have perfected an elite governance system that has been branded ‘meritocracy’.

In short, this is a competency-based system based on merit. In China, you have to earn it; they have since realized that ‘papers do not make a man,’ only hard work does.

In a relatively short 40-year span, the Chinese have managed to transform their economy from a backwater to the might of today.

The Chinese economy is poised to become the world’s biggest in the near term.

Our friends are flying while we are being weighed down by our problems. But again here we need to be careful, it is not a share of their fish that we need. Of course the temptation is to ‘want, ask and be given, again and again.’

Roaming in our midst is a distinguished population of scholars and academics who can impress one and all with their in-depth regurgitation of the Chinese success story at the first time of asking. But still we are poor.

To borrow from another Shona idiom, ‘Kugara nhaka kuona dzevamwe.’ One of the multitudes of ‘prophets’ doing ‘the’ work in our country are on record for noting that nothing will happen that has not happened before, or something similar.

Reminder, this story is still about a certain grass called bamboo that we are advocating for adoption in Zimbabwe. So, to the derivative lesson in simple terms.

To emerge from these economic backwaters, we do not have to re-invent the wheel. Adopt and adapt is what we need to do.

We have suggested earlier that what Zimbabwe is going through is not unique to it, it has happened before, will happen again. For us not to be known for our troubles, we need to change fundamentally, we need to stop some of the things that we do that lead us down this treacherous path.

If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. But, if an egg is broken from the inside, life begins. Knowledge without wisdom is useless.

The metaphor is pregnant with meaning that needs wisdom to discern. Knowing the mechanics of breaking eggs will not do. Many eggs need to be broken in Zimbabwe. Bamboo is but one.

It is in this light that the Chinese ‘resurrection’ of their economy was well worth noting. China, on the whole has been the global economic growth poster boy for half a century now. So it’s not surprising that it controls 60% of the global US$60 billion bamboo economy. Yes, bamboo is a USD$60 billion industry globally.

Bamboo is a simple grass that is shunned locally and is negatively looked upon as a troublesome invasive specie.

Well, growing up, there is a man we once knew who used to keep venomous snakes. Not once was he bitten. Why? Because he kept them secure in glass cubicles, always careful to subdue each with a custom prod before handling them whenever needed.

He made a lot of money from people who used to pay to see the snakes — point to ponder. Fear has been dissected by one popular international motivational speaker.

He proposes two interesting options, which we will choose as a country? FEAR as an acronym for Forget Everything And Run or FEAR as Face Everything And Rise.

Bamboos are an integral part of the traditions and cultures of many Asian countries with China being foremost in benefitting from the commercial potential of the giant woody grass.
Bamboos are native to the tropics and sub tropics and are also found occurring naturally in the temperate climatic zone.

The clump forming (sympodial) species are the natural species of the tropics and sub-tropics; and are not invasive in nature.

The running (monopodial) species are native to the temperate zone. This knowledge should inform our thinking as we ponder on bamboo.
Advances in technology have seen interest in bamboo utilization rising globally (remember, it is already a USD60 billion industry) with the manufacturing of commercial products that complement, substitute and replace wood timber products.

Nature-based solutions to climate change and other developmental challenges were advocated for at the Conference of Parties to Climate Change in Madrid last year (COP25) and the case for bamboo was presented there.

Bamboos are famed for being the fastest growing woody species on the planet, maturing in 3-5 years- some have been reported to grow up to a metre per day.

Our learned colleagues can now extrapolate, calculate, hypotheticate and present possible economic, social, environment and climate permutations on our behalf.
On your marks!
For the common man on the street and for our battered and distressed rural majority, bamboo is good news. With the creation of a bamboo culture comes economic opportunity, livelihood options, and respite from the ravages of climate events.

To our bureaucrats and technocrats, bamboo, simple to farm as it is, presents a suite of policy options that might yet lead our country to the proverbial Rubicon crossing.

In the next episode we will delve in-depth on the question ‘Why should Zimbabwe create its own bamboo culture?’
Tinashe Chidau is the Founder and Secretary of Bamboo Zimbabwe and can be contacted on +263 (0) 772 949693 or email: tinashe@bamboozimbabwe.org.zw
Tichaona Kamikani is a freelance journalist and member of Bamboo Zimbabwe
He can be contacted at 0772892173 or

Keeping you posted

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