Africa sees bamboo as alternative energy source

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Par Suleiman Mustapha

Durban- Bamboo, a plant not often associated with Africa, is being considered as the key to combating soil degradation and massive deforestation on the continent as an alternative source of energy.

A partnership between some African countries, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and China are working to substitute bamboo charcoal and firewood for forest wood on which 80 per cent of the rural population in sub-Saharan African depends for its fuel needs.

Initial successes with bamboo charcoal in Ethiopia and Ghana has placed bamboo biomass at the centre of renewable energy policies that are spurring interest in countries across the continent and prompting calls for greater investment in bamboo-based charcoal production as a ‘green biofuel’ that can fight deforestation and mitigate climate change.

“Bamboo, the perfect biomass grass, grows naturally across Africa and presents a viable cleaner and sustainable alternative to wood fuel,” said the Director-General of INBAR, Dr Coosje Hoogendoorn, on the sidelines of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.

“Without such an alternative, wood charcoal will remain the primary household energy source for decades to come with disastrous consequences,” she said.

Burning wood also has significant impact on the climate. Scientists predict that the burning of wood fuel by African households will release the equivalent of 6.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by 2050, resulting in further climate change through clearing of tropical forest.

The burning of wood for fuel also claims the lives of an estimated two million people every year, mostly women and children who inhale the smoke.

Dr Hoogendoorn feared that the continued widespread indoor use of forest wood charcoal as a household fuel could cause 10 million premature deaths by 2030.

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan is the first to transfer charcoal technologies from China to sub- Saharan Africa to produce sustainable ‘green biofuels’ using locally available bamboo resources.

The use bamboo as a sustainable biomass initiative is driven by the growing concerns about energy, health and food security and climate change.   The project is funded by the European Union and the Common Fund for Commodities.



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