A local solution to a global problem
Research has indicated that a naturalized bamboo species, Bambusa balcooa, is suitable for commercial farming as it is fast growing, non invasive, needs relatively little water, and can serve as a source of sustainable wood fuel for the rural communities that currently rely on the invader species like black wattle, as well as indigenous trees like Acacia for wood fuel.
Further research showed that the plant is widely used in India and China, with exports amounting to 13 million tons annually, to the value of $10 Billion. The bamboo specie which has been suggested already grows naturally on most farms in the Eastern Cape. Known to some as "giant bamboo", Bambusa balcooa has naturalized in South Africa since first being introduced in 1660 for the production of paper pulp.
Bambusa balcooa is non-invasive, forms clumps instead of runners, and has sterile seeds. The plant is very fast growing and requires minimal care. Although bamboos normally occur in tropical areas, balcooa is commercially cultivated in many countries, even Australia and can thrive in our local climate. Minimal irrigation is required after planting and in times of drought yet yields improve greatly when regular irrigation is possible.
Balcooa grows to avg. 20m tall, and can be harvested sustainably for the duration of the plant`s lifespan which is 80 - 120+yrs. The actual harvesting of mature shoots (culms) only starts at the end of year 3 after planting. In the receding 3 years, the new shoots are thinned out and to avoid an unmanageable density.
At the end of year 3, the bamboo plants will have formed clumps due to the annual growth of new shoots.
Shoot production is estimated at around 16-19 new shoots during the first year (depending on the availability of water), 20 - 23 during year 2, reaching a maximum of 26 shoots per year. On average, 16 shoots per year are left to grow tall.