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Bamboo Charcoal Offers Cleaner Cooking Alternative

  • Kim Lewis

When many people think of bamboo, they think of Asia, not Africa. But for environmentalists, bamboo and Africa go together quite well. In fact it was one of the topics at the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

Delegates learned of a partnership between African countries and China that promotes the use of bamboo charcoal instead of firewood. Burning wood has had a significant impact on the climate, and using bamboo would lessen future damage.

Burning wood for fuel has caused deforestation in many parts of the continent, said J. Coosje Hoogendoorn, director general of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).

But she says bamboo presents a viable, cleaner and sustainable alternative.

“Bamboo charcoal is like the charcoal you use for cooking, for bar-b-queuing, which normally is made out of wood. But, instead of using wood, we actually use bamboo to make the charcoal,” explained Hoogendoorn.

She said bamboo can help African countries combat environmental degradation.

“About 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africa cooks on traditional so-called fire fuels in their homes. The fire woods usually come out of the forest or it is wood that is turned into charcoal. The fact that people are using these biofuels is one of the main causes of deforestation,” said Hoogendoorn.

She said deforestation is one of the largest contributors to climate change, but asking people to stop collecting firewood is not an option. Instead, by using bamboo charcoal for fuel, people will have a more efficient and cleaner way to cook. Another significant benefit is that using bamboo also saves forests.

“Bamboo is a plant that produces something similar to wood. It can be made into charcoal which is available in many different parts of Africa,” said Hoogendoorn.

Two indigenous species are found on the continent. Bamboo grows readily in the higher elevations of east Africa. It is also available in the lower regions, and several species grow in Madagascar.

“The one good think about the bamboo is if you cut it, it actually regrows, so you are not killing the forest,” said Hoongendoorn, who added it is upon that particular characteristic of bamboo that environmentally safe technologies can be built.