When I was living in Japan, many moons ago, I discovered bamboo. On walks in the mountains outside Tokyo, bamboo groves arched across the path, graceful and tall. Then I began to notice how much the Japanese incorporate this tree into many aspects of everyday life. You could buy almost any household item made from bamboo: baskets, of course; furniture of all kinds; kitchen implements; and of course, entire houses and parts of houses. We sat on bamboo benches outside, had bamboo mats and bamboo window blinds inside (none of these things were expensive – there was plenty of material). I was also amazed to see bamboo scaffolding on buildings under construction! This wood is incredibly strong. Nowadays, you can even buy rather beautiful bamboo computer mouses (mice?) and keyboards!
In Jamaica, the non-native bamboo (bamboo vulgaris) is seen as an invasive species. It spreads quickly on hillsides where other native trees may have been removed. Why not make good use of it, as we are trying to do with the invasive lion fish (in that case, eat it!) Early last year, Senator Norman Grant, who also heads the Jamaica Agricultural Society, moved a motion in the Upper House (it was passed) for the strengthening of the Bamboo and Indigenous Materials Advisory Council established by the Bureau of Standards to drive efforts to establish Jamaica as a hub for the production of high-value finished bamboo products.
Meanwhile, the Digicel Foundation has partnered with the New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministry and the USAID-funded COMET II program in a training program for bamboo processing. It makes perfect sense. Here is the Foundation’s press release:
April 7, 2015
The New Horizon Christian Outreach Ministry is planning to revolutionise the multi-billion dollar bamboo industry through an entrepreneurship training programme in bamboo utilization, energy and agro-processing.
By expanding its training facility through a partnership with the Digicel Foundation, New Horizon will be designing and manufacturing equipment for the bamboo industry which is currently worth an estimated US$20 billion dollars globally.
“Bamboo is definitely a winner,” said Michael Barnett, Executive Director of New Horizon. “We see the need in the bamboo industry for mechanized equipment. Plus, we’re always trying to differentiate ourselves and look out for the potential opportunities to create social enterprises.”
New Horizon will be designing and manufacturing bamboo splitters, bamboo strippers, a bamboo press to develop bamboo ply board, hydraulic clamps and modified chop saws for use in the industry. This J$5.2 million investment made by the Digicel Foundation will directly impact 500 students and residents of the Wynter’s Pen community in St. Catherine where the facility is located.
“With 1800 hectares of bamboo not being used in Jamaica, the potential is tremendous,” said Barnett. “This is a project that not only will impact this community, but thousands of persons from the bamboo farmers to vendors and producers of the by-products. Digicel Foundation has helped us in a high tech way so that we can help to transform the bamboo sector,” Barnett added.
The programme will also help to change the lives of young persons in the community as additional employment and training opportunities will emerge, enabling them to earn qualifications for the growing local industry and pursue similar opportunities outside of Jamaica.
New Horizon has been an active force for change within its community through the COMET II programme executed in partnership with USAID which offers HEART-certified skills training in welding, electrical installation, literacy and climate change. Level II of the programme, completed in March of 2015, saw 31 males graduating in electrical installation and welding, with 18 females graduating in literacy.
Chairman of the Digicel Foundation, Jean Lowrie-Chin said, ” The New Horizon Christian Ministries, Wynter’s Pen community, USAID and the Digicel Foundation are showing how much is possible when we work together with a common vision for sustainable community development.”
A number of these students have also benefitted from equipment valued at J$4.5 million previously invested by Digicel Foundation in 2011. Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the COMET II programme and handover for the bamboo project held on March 31 at New Horizon keynote speaker Dr. K’adamawe K’nIfe applauded the training being done for the youth within the community.
“Sometimes the work we do has so much more value than we think. A programme like this has saved the country $50 million because for every $1 spent, at least $10 has been returned on investment,” Dr. K’nIfe said.
According to Mr. Barnett the return on investment is expected to increase through the expansion to bamboo processing and their other social enterprises such as glass processing and nutraceuticals. New Horizon hopes to offer employment to more persons being trained.
The Digicel Jamaica Foundation is the largest local private sector foundation in Jamaica which since its inception in 2004 has been proactive in the areas of Education, Special Needs, and Community Empowerment. For more information on Digicel Jamaica Foundation please visit our website at http://www.digiceljamaicafoundation.org