April 4 - Ethiopia's vast source of bamboo has been relatively untapped, until now. As Sonia Legg reports, strong demand for products made from bamboo is helping to boost the country's manufacturing sector.
It's called the poor man's timber but in this part of Africa bamboo is making people rich. Not that rich yet - but in the future maybe. Ethiopia has a million hectares of bamboo and entrepreneurs are beginning to explore ways to use it - as Asia and Latin America currently does. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL GEBRU, FOUNDER AND CEO OF BAMBOO STAR AGROFORESTRY SAYING: "The potential of bamboo in Ethiopia is immense. Sixty-seven percent of Bamboo forest exists in Ethiopia and most of the bamboo forests are existing in this region, the Benishangul Gumuz regional state. And if you are able to use all this bamboo forest, turn it into modern technology and we are able to export it, we can generate a lot of money, not only for the company but also for the country." Michael Gebru started the Bamboo Star Agroforestry Company in 2007 after living in America for 15 years. He uses the wood from his near 400,000 hectares of forest to make a variety of products. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL GEBRU, FOUNDER AND CEO OF BAMBOO STAR AGROFORESTRY SAYING: "Bamboo you can use for more than 1,000 products. For now in our factory we can use it up to 10 products. But our main product is bamboo flooring as you see it here. We also produce bamboo ceilings, toothpicks, chopsticks, bamboo doors, windows, and also some furniture we are managing to produce at this time." He employs 200 full-time staff and another 300 casuals. (SOUNDBITE) (Amharic) FATUMA YUSUF, EMPLOYEE OF BAMBOO STAR, SAYING; "Before I took this job, I used to sell bread for a living. It was tough. I educated myself from grade one to six with that job. It's been two years since I started working here and I am in grade eight." Shops selling bamboo furniture are a common sight in the Ethiopian capital. But Michael has plans to export to Dubai later this year. The wood is also being used to make charcoal and it has other environmentally-friendly credentials. De-forestation is a problem in Ethiopia. Planting a fast-growing wood bamboo on the degraded land prevents soil erosion and re-establishes healthy ecosystems. It could also help combat global warming - bamboo is very effective when it comes to reducing carbon dioxide levels.