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Is Bamboo Invasive?

By Tinashe Chidau and Tichaona Kamikani

This article is part of a series produced by Bamboo Zimbabwe that seek to bring awareness on bamboo, how and why it holds the key to solving the developmental challenges our country is facing.

This article seeks to debunk the wholesale blanketing of bamboo as an invasive specie. We will lay the facts bare on the true nature of the various bamboo species.

A bamboo strategy is essential to turning around Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes and in positively contributing to our nation’s economic goals as encapsulated in the noble Vision of attaining an Upper Middle Class Economy by the year 2030.

An enduring lesson for many of us is when we were taught how to cross a road as we stood on the edge, ready to transition into the real world away from the protective shadowing of our parents and guardians.

First you look to the left, then to the right and finally you look left again before crossing the road. Simple.

A discussion of a bamboo strategy is never complete without an examination of its reputation as being an invasive specie. Seldom is there smoke without fire.

Bamboos are members of the grass family, a family supremely successful at surviving.

Most cultivated crops would not stand a chance against any member of the grass family in a fair contest for survival.

Already we find bamboo naturally growing in our backyards or by the river bank.

No fertilizer, no artificial watering, no cultivation, no pesticides. Bamboos are thrifty survivors. Looking at it from this angle, one can surely understand the fears of many — bamboo is formidable.

But the fear of invasiveness we want to address has to do with the assertion that bamboo will smother crucial ecosystems and kill off bio-diversity.

When will this happen? The fear seems to rear its head the moment discussions centre around an organized bamboo value chain. Ditto, the same bamboo is already growing wild and in co-existence with other plants.

Lantana camara is much more aggressive than bamboo. No surprises there.

There are two main classifications of bamboo root systems.

The first one is of the feared monopodial or running bamboo. As the name implies, monopodial bamboos have running roots that pose a threat of invasion of a given territory given the competitiveness of bamboo.

Monopodial bamboos are native to the temperate regions of the world but have been introduced to other parts of the world.

The best example of this type of bamboo is the phyllostachys family.

The moso bamboo of China is a classic example of this type of bamboo. China has over 500 different species of bamboo and the moso bamboo is the most commonly found, cultivated and utilised.

The second type is the sympodial or clumping bamboo. This type of bamboo does not spread aggressively but is restricted to measurable and recognisable clumps.

With this type of bamboo, there is reduced risk of it “taking over the whole of Harare” once you plant it in your backyard.

Clumping bamboos are native to the tropics and sub-tropical areas.

Ours is a sub-tropical climate in Zimbabwe, and as such the native oxytenanthera abysinicca (common name: bandura bamboo) is the clump forming type.

It will be folly for us as a nation to jump into bamboo farming without looking left, right and then left again as alluded to earlier.

Already many of the questions that we are receiving in response to our bamboo charm offensive are to do with how bamboo is planted, what the costs are etc… Caution, caution.

Lessons abound on how we as a nation have failed to reap rewards from potentially viable ventures. Jatropha. Quail Birds. Need we say more?

Our strategic progression needs to set out an agenda of goals and objectives.

What are we planting the bamboo for? Is it for purely for environmental purposes? Is it for industrial use? Remember, there are over 1 200 known bamboo species globally, all with different characteristics, uses, benefits and advantages. We have to be guided in our choices of bamboo species by the results we want.

The regulator, the Forestry Commission may need to enact licensing regulations to guide the planting of bamboo in Zimbabwe.

Licensing will ensure that there is control over planting activities, and in ensuring that only desired species are planted. Punitive measures will be in store for those of an anarchical disposition.

Further, an aggressive information, education and communication (IEC) campaign needs to be commissioned that will enlighten Zimbabweans on the do’s and don’ts as required by the national bamboo strategy.

This IEC campaign will require consistency in application to ensure that the mesage is unequivocal going forward.

Where invasiveness becomes an issue, there are chemical and physical solutions that can be implemented to reverse the problem.

There is wisdom in planning, organising, leading, controlling and coordinating given any venture and not just bamboo.

We need to look at things from a perspective that a bamboo strategy will actually lead to restoration and preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. The reward for risk is profit.

Tinashe Chidau is the Secretary and Founder of Bamboo Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on 0772949693 or Email: [email protected]

Tichaona Kamikani is a Freelance Journalist and member of Bamboo Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on 0772892173 or Email: [email protected]

Tendai Guvamombe