International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Bamboo as an alternative to tobacco




Bamboo production as an alternative crop and livelihood strategy for tobacco smallholder farmers in South Nyanza, Kenya

“Since I started growing bamboo, my life has taken a different direction: I can now afford almost everything I have always wished to have.” – Thomas Mahiri, 58

Despite global policies aimed at reducing world tobacco production and use, the number of farmers engaged in tobacco farming in some parts of the world is increasing at an alarming rate. For many communities, tobacco is regarded as the only viable cash crop and there are few viable alternatives.

This was the impetus behind a South Eastern Kenya University, Maseno University, and INBAR-led initiative. The project, which took place between 2006 and 2013, aimed to establish bamboo as an alternative crop and form of livelihood across four sites in Kenya. Smallholder tobacco farmers were the main beneficiaries of this project.

This project had several components, aimed at increasing farmers’ capacity to switch from tobacco to bamboo farming. This included providing 120 farmers with bamboo seedlings; establishing nurseries for bamboo plants; and providing capacity training and materials to farmers to help with bamboo harvesting, preservation and treatment, as well as the creation of bamboo products such as handicrafts.

The project ran from 2006 to 2013, and resulted in some remarkable impacts:

  • Bamboo had made a positive impact on most farmers’ livelihoods, over 75 per cent households in all sites. “This improvement was attributed to both the monetary and non-monetary benefits accrued from bamboo investment.”
  • 75 per cent of farmers abandoned tobacco farming over the course of the project.
  • Farmers were making use of bamboo’s other benefits. In one project site, 95 per cent of households were using bamboo to construct houses and fencing as well as handicrafts and furniture. In addition, all project sites saw a decrease in soil erosion due to bamboo planting.
  • Seedlings were the main form of income for farmers, followed by bamboo products and then bamboo poles. This is likely to change over following years, as bamboo plants mature and higher value products such as furniture and handicrafts reach the market.

Overall, this project has “demonstrated great potential in providing technical advice and support to the implementation of Articles 17 and 18 of WHO-FCTC.”