Bars to Jars: Bamboo Value Chains in Cameroon
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Bamboo is a well know and versatile material, which is a common sight across Cameroon's diverse ecosystems, from dry to humid tropical and Afromontane forests. Its numerous uses range from storage jars to decorating restaurant-bars, beehives to knives, fences, fodder, and fuel. Responding to the paucity of data on species and uses, the value chain for bamboo in Cameroon was analyzed. Based on 171 interviews and field observations, two African indigenous species (alpine Yushania alpina and savannah Oxytenanthera abyssinica) and exotic (Bambusa vulgaris spp.) bamboos were identified as most utilized. They were tracked from major production zones to final consumers. The ecological, socio-economic, institutional, and governance contexts and impacts are described and analyzed. Issues for research, conservation, and development are highlighted. These include the ambiguous regulatory status, the relationship between tenure and management, threats and conservation of African species and options to increase the sustainable livelihoods for stakeholders dependent upon bamboo.
KeywordsBamboo Cameroon Value chain Governance Sustainable Livelihood
The Forests of Cameroon
Development, forest, and governance indicators for Cameroon
Lower middle income
Population living below US$2/daya
Population density/km2 (2008)b (2005)c
Urban population 1975d
Urban population 2010a
GDP per capita (US$ 2007 PPP)a
GDP (US$ billions 2007 PPP)a
Overall HDI ranka
Total forest area (ha)e
27 351 387
Forested landscapes (all types) %e
Annual net deforestation rate%
Annual net forest degradation rate%
Public forest ownershiph
Contribution forest exports to GDP (2008)
Timber fiscal export value (million $)e
Annual export/formal timber exploited (m3 thousands)i
Employment export/formal timber marketi
Domestic timber market value (million $)K
Annual domestic timber exploited (m3 thousands)i
NTFP market value (million $)j
Employment in NTFP marketj
Inequality measure (Gini index)a
Ease of doing businessk
Averaged rank Worldwide Governance Indicatorsl
146 and 44
Bamboo in Cameroon
Across Cameroon bamboo is a commonly seen NTFP, but data on it is sparse. Whilst one study exists on grasses (van der Zon 1992), knowledge of the taxonomy, distribution, and uses of bamboo are limited to four geographically specific botanic inventories (Hawkins and Brunt 1965; van Dijk 1999; Cheek et al. 2000a, b; Zapfack et al. 2001) and a only a handful of studies mention its uses (Lauber 1990; Gautier 1995, 1992; Knopfli 2001; Comiskey et al. 2003). Globally, bamboo is an important resource: meeting growing and diverse consumer demands for natural, environment-friendly products, and providing income and livelihoods particularly in developing countries, contributing to reforestation and climate change mitigation measures (Perez et al. 2004; Pabuayon 2009; Lobovikov et al. 2011). However, in Cameroon, quantitative and qualitative data on the role of bamboo in the livelihoods of users and those involved in its trade does not exist. Concerns about unsustainable NTFP trade (Ingram et al. 2011) highlight the need to establish if these fears are applicable to bamboo, particularly as five species are Afro-endemics (Ohrnberger 1999; Bystriakova et al. 2002). Such baseline information is critical to inform policymakers and practitioners, and guide conservation and development interventions.
The objective of this study was to review bamboo use and trade in Cameroon, the sustainability of the value chain and how it is governed and provide recommendations for sustainable development of the chain.
Value chains provide the framework used to analyze the activities and processes involved at situation-specific geographical scales from harvest, production, transformation, processing to consumers (Kaplinsky and Morris 2000). Value chain analysis can be used to assess potentials to support pro-poor sustainable development (Lecup 2006). Territoriality is important as chain activities and flows are geographically situated with diverse impacts at different locations (Gereffi et al. 2005), influencing profits and perceptions of value (Rammohan and Sundaresan 2003). A holistic approach to value chains including socio-economic, cultural, and environmental values has been shown to be important (van Dorp et al. 1998). Consumer perception, historical, cultural, and religious significance and origin also influence value (Jensen 2009), as Sheil and Wunder (2002) point out, value is not an inherent property, but a measure of a relationship between a subject and the object of valuation, within a specific time frame and geographical context.
Limitations of the methods used include the one-off nature of data collection, coverage of only main production areas, use of recall for income and production data, and small sample size. This means the data can be used as a baseline for the areas studied but cannot be extrapolated nationally and that income and production data should be seen as indicative.
Ecological Aspects, Species, Distribution, and Consumption Zones
The dominant (91 %) species found used across Cameroon were exotics. The most common was Bambusa vulgaris Schrad., locally known as “Chinese,” “Indian,” or “large green” bamboo. Although found in remote areas mainly in former settlements, the major harvest zones were peri-urban areas, predominately along the major roads, rivers and streams, and adjacent to most major towns and cities throughout southern Cameroon. In the Southwest, large groves exist around Saker Point, the first colonial settlement and Limbe Botanic Garden, introduced by the Germans in the 1880s, used in banana plantations. It appears likely that the majority of B. vulgaris and subspecies originate from colonial introduction (Personal communication Marliac, CIRAD February 2010), with subsequent naturalization and anthropogenic dispersal. “Yellow bamboo” (B. vulgaris var. vittata), other smaller green B. vulgaris subspecies, Ochlandtra travncoria and naturalized bamboos resembling grasses (probably Olyra latifolia Linnaeus) were noted by 25 % of harvesters. Exotic bamboo is largely (57 %) naturally regenerating, 15 % has been planted (mainly the South, Center, Littoral, and West and recently in Adamaoua) and 28 % is a combination of natural generation and planting.
The main production areas (Fig. 2) mirror the distribution of endemic and exotic bamboos. The major and longest trade circuits flow from the production areas in southern Cameroon, particularly from Edea, Ebolowa, and Limbe to consumers in large cities of Douala and Yaoundé. There are also routes to the provincial capitals and large towns of Kribi, Buea, Ebolowa, and Bamenda, originating from nearby sources. No sub-regional or international trade was found.
Bamboo Chain Actors and Livelihoods
Across the country, similar patterns were found with bamboo harvested and used directly by 77 % of harvesters. These are typically middle-aged (44, SD 17), married family men (90 %) supporting a household of 6.7 people, originating from the collection area, all operating informally.1 On average two male family members help the harvester. Collective action is not common, with 13 % belonging to a group concerned with bamboo, and these are mainly long-established, local ways of cooperating to promote and support business. Most (51 %) respondents reported harvesting year round, and 41 % in the dry season, with on average 8 months a year (SD 4.4) spent harvesting. Harvest trips, usually head-portering (85 %) poles and using machetes, on average 4 h a day (SD 2.7 h), travelling on average 3.23 km (SD 3.8). The poles are then dried outside or under roof eaves. The quantity harvested depends upon accessibility (33 %), availability (23 %), and demand (18 %), with quality is judged by maturity (related to size and color) and resistance to rot and insects (both while growing and once harvested). 15 % of harvesters also process bamboo and although 77 % use small quantities (average 1 % of total collected) for their own household use with 80 % using for construction (huts, fences, yam props, and supports for plantain and bananas). The majority is sold to craftpersons (44 %), farmers (23 %), retailers (18 %), and builders (15 %), in local markets (41 %), from the collector’s home (28 %), at collection points (21 %), or in urban markets (10 %). A small proportion of harvesters collect up to 6000 stems a year, but most operate smaller scale, collecting on average 600 stems annually (mainly B. vulgaris and B. vulgaris vitatta). Harvesters earn on average 236 208 CFAF annually (SD 467 712 CFAF) from bamboo, varying from 1625 to more than 2 million CFAF, contributing on average 36 % of household income. Bamboo is a secondary activity alongside farming with on average five, ranging up to nine, income sources, with a quarter of harvesters considering bamboo to be their major source of income. The income was used for basic needs: food (60 %), housing (21 %), school fees, clothing, and medical treatment.
Just over half of sellers (56 %) vend unprocessed poles (of which 78 % are retailers, 17 % middlemen, and 5 % wholesalers) and 44 % sell processed products [comprised of retailers (92 %) and wholesalers (8 %)]. Two-thirds work alone with one family member occasionally helping and a third belong to a bamboo and rattan crafts association. The majority (90 %) lives in urban areas and are typically married, middle-aged men (93 %) with primary schooling, native to the area of commerce, heading a household of on average five people. Bamboo sales are the major occupation for 32 %. Other income sources are agriculture and unskilled laboring. Bamboo provides on average 300 000–1 200 000 CFAF, on average 709 000 CFAF, contributing to 75 % of household annual income. No significant differences were found between locations. Sales are largely to local clients (77 %), mostly from roadside sales with on-the-spot, negotiated prices. Prices reflect demand, quantity of raw material used and product quality.
Bamboo is purchased across Cameroon in villages and urban areas with no regional differences found. It is used for construction (50 %), furniture (30 %), agriculture (22 %), tools and utensils (21 %), and as fuel (12 %). Consumers perceive it as cheap—in comparison to other materials for equivalent products—but producing high quality goods. Bamboo products, however, perceived have a low durability and are easily substitutable with other materials. Consumers responded positively to the idea of new and different bamboo-based products. As well as being marketed, a small number of products (10 %) such as ceremonial spears, whistles, and poles used in traditional meeting houses and palaces, particularly in the Northwest and Southwest, were reported by stakeholders, actors, and consumers and observed as having cultural value.
Harvesters reported problems of injuries, low demand, product deterioration, long harvest-to-market distances, transport and processors concerning low profits and demand, poor transport and tools, product deterioration, and consumer’s lack of awareness of bamboo products. Respondents indicated that opportunities and actions to develop the sector included improved product marketing and showrooms; introducing grading standards; increasing consumer awareness of the range and quality bamboo products; improving crafts and marketing skills though training, exchanges and associations; and planting more bamboo.
Ownership of bamboo did not vary significantly by region. Nearly, a third of harvesters own bamboo stands (varying from 1 to 20 ha, average 9.25, SD 4.99) which are close to home, on average 3.23 km (SD 3.83). Ownership and access to tree and agricultural resources is often separated from land ownership in Cameroon (Goheen 1996). When asked who controlled or owned land that bamboo was found upon, 62 % of harvesters indicated a landowner, 24 % a chief or community and customarily owned and governed, and 8 % was not owned and open access. Access and control rights vary significantly between regions. On average 56 % of harvests are regulated with villagers having rights to harvest, and 43 % of harvests are open to anyone. In Adamaoua, Southwest, Northwest, and West regions access rules were more detailed, for example, in Oku, a 1993 Prefectural Order included a prohibition on cutting young bamboo in the Kilum–Ijim forest. When this lapsed, rules were jointly developed by traditional chiefs and a conservation project that only mature or dry bamboo could be cut, and if young bamboo were needed, the community must be consulted. In Djerem, outsiders need permission from villagers, and in the Southwest one-third of harvesters indicated that harvesting is free but the landowner’s verbal authorization is needed. In 33 % of cases, where permission was needed, payment was made to traditional or village authorities. Local practices governing harvesting include allowing only experienced harvesters and, in customarily managed areas, only upon authority of the chief. None of the harvesters reported encountering formal regulation or government control.
Bamboo is not formally regulated. It is not specifically mentioned in the 1994 Forestry Law, 1996 Framework Environmental Law, as a Special Forestry Product (SFP) (Decision No. 0336 of 2006) or in the annual SFP lists. The 1994 Law acknowledges customary user rights of forest products, allowing communities to collect forest products (except protected species) freely for personal use in unprotected areas. No inventory has been conducted (Article 40) and bamboo has not been marked for conservation or regeneration in concession areas (Article 43). The 1974 Land Ordinance states that planted trees belong to the land owner, but naturally growing trees on private land and all trees planted or naturally growing on land without a title deed are considered state property. Interviews with MINFOF and the National Office of Reforestation (ANAFOR) indicate that policy priority is given to timber, with NTFPs assumed as low value, leading to their largely being unregulated. MINFOF and stakeholders are currently revising the 1994 Law, although the bamboo sector has not been involved. MINFOF indicated that it is reviewing the classification of bamboo (as a tree or grass, and as a timber or non-timber product), user rights and commercialization and the vulnerability levels of indigenous species.
Traditional Governance and a Policy and Regulatory Void
How the chain is regulated and the rules of the game determine access and control, opportunities and constraints (Larson and Ribot 2007). Formal law is only one aspect of governance, but despite forests being largely state property, in practice, bamboo is governed by a mix of common and customary private property rights and rules, there is a regulatory void and the government is largely absent. Bamboo is an “invisible product”: not mentioned in forest or agricultural regulatory frameworks. To date, the lack of policy and legislation has neither directly hindered nor supported the trade. Secure tenure and regulation of access and control have been shown to be important for sustainable exploitation (Barry and Meinzen-Dick 2008). In the bamboo chain, the high level of customary bamboo and land ownership, and customary regulations governing rights of access and exploitation, have provided security and control over the resource to date. The bamboo chain is thus similar to other historically long-existing NTFPs chains based on highly cultivated and managed species, such as Raphia spp., Cola spp., and Gum arabic (Acacia spp.), and in contrast to lower (on average 30 %) customary ownership of NTFPs such as Gnetum spp., Prunus africana, and Irvingia spp.
Given the largely local and small level of trade and own consumption of exotic bamboo species, and little evidence of vulnerability from over-harvesting, formal regulation also appears unnecessary in the current regulatory context, as long as exotic species are used, harvest volumes and trade value remains low (compared to other non-timber and timber products). Endemic species, however, appear more vulnerable due to limited resource availability and high levels of anthropogenic induced threat. Different governance arrangements to manage and conserve these species may be needed if resources appear to be declining (which is anticipated for alpine and savannah bamboo) or over-exploited. If the sector increases in value and/or becomes a focus of regulation or policymaking, as appears likely, the contradiction between the legal position of state owned planted and naturally growing trees and customary ownership may create contestations over ownership. Overlapping customary and regulatory regimes, such as occurred in Kilum–Ijim, can confuse access rights and make balancing conservation, development, government revenue, and local income generation objectives challenging unless both specifically work toward the same objective (Laird et al. 2010).
Livelihood Importance for Chain Actors
The governance arrangements described impact livelihoods, determining which actors control a value chain, the value gained and distribution of costs and benefits (Ribot 2005). The number of direct chain actors (including apprentices and family laborers) is estimated at between 1223 and 5540 people in the areas studied. The majority are male, supporting on average a household of 5.75 people, thus ~31 000 people benefit from bamboo-related incomes. Whilst this is a small number compared with other NTFPs (Ingram 2011), and appears related to the geographically specific availability of bamboo, the bamboo sector provides almost as much employment as the formal timber sector in Cameroon. The heavily male-dominated bamboo chain is in contrast to other NTFP chains, where on average 59 % are male (Ingram 2011), reflecting the physical labor required to harvest, transport, and process. Dependency upon bamboo varies, with harvesters having the most diversified incomes and bamboo forming a lower proportion of total income. Nonetheless, comprising a third of harvesters’ income, bamboo contributes double that of NTFPs in the Southwest (Ambrose-Oji 2003). Craftspersons are most reliant, with bamboo forming the major proportion of income, reflecting their high specialization and investment in the trade. Bamboo, in common with many NTFPs worldwide (Ros-Tonen and Wiersum 2003) and in the Congo Basin (Ingram 2011), is rarely the sole source of income even for the most dependent, forming just one of a consciously diversified range of livelihood capitals. Paradoxically, those furthest from the source are less involved in its management, but are most dependent, a characteristic common in chains with little information exchange (ILO 2006). The different dependencies of actor groups signal that a chain-wide approach is essential to ensure equity in interventions and that one group is not unduly disadvantaged.
The choice to harvest and trade bamboo is largely driven by training and skills, and access to bamboo, markets, starting capital, and supportive social networks. A smaller proportion of actors turn opportunistically to bamboo when other income sources are lacking. Bamboo has low opportunity costs for actors once in the chain, who easily switch between bamboo-related and seasonal activities such as farming and occasional income sources when opportunities arise. That the majority of actors had been active for a decade and take professional pride in working with a difficult material, indicates their long-term investment in the sector and a stable market. Such behavior is in contrast to boom and bust trade in NTFPs such as Funtamia elastica (Geschiere 2007), and opportunistically traded NTFPs such as Gnetum spp. and P. africana (Ingram 2011). Formal support institutions and regulations have had scant influence on the chain. For the direct actors, bamboo was most prized for its economic value as commercialized it provides cash to meet basic needs. For consumers it provides low cost, good quality products, and wide range of products meeting subsistence needs. In specific areas in the Northwest and Southwest bamboo has a high cultural value. Its environmental value was mentioned only by indirect research and conservation stakeholders. In common with higher value chains (Humphrey and Schmitz 2001; ILO 2006), actors add value by processing, reflected in ownership of individual clumps and customary regulation of access. The value is currently, however, not sufficiently high that political and economic elites have attempted appropriation. The growing policy interest should be regarded with caution if control is taken from the current actors (Dove 1993), or optimistically as empowering actors and improving their livelihoods.
Collective action in the form of groups and associations is low and focuses on economies of production scale as joint sourcing. Membership and the number of groups have grown as benefits become apparent, with the income data indicating that the economic benefits for those in groups are higher. This confirms studies (Mwangi et al. 2007) linking group membership to higher profits as empowerment allows control to be asserted. Although collective action enables group purchases, it plays no role in regulating access, although this has been shown to increase the likelihood of managing forest commons sustainably (Rustagi et al. 2010).
Conservation and Sustainable Harvesting
Although neither of the two African bamboo species is listed as endangered, vulnerability needs to be assessed given high deforestation and degradation rates in the Northwest and Adamaoua, the fragility of mountain species in heavily populated areas (Doumenge et al. 1993) and increasing fires by hunters, pastoralists, and agriculturalists around Mt Oku, causing substantial changes in forest ecology (Solefack 2009). B. vulgaris was found extensively grazed and a preferred species by elephants in the East (Conservator Lobeke National Park, Personal communication), indicating its availability may be important for successful eco-tourism and wildlife conservation. Currently, local market prices do not reflect the variety of uses, scarcity, and demand for different bamboo species. These factors, if combined with increased harvesting, could increase the vulnerability of Y. alpina and O. abyssinica. An element of species conservation is a resource inventory of the main production areas, although sustainable harvest levels may be difficult to assess (EFTRN 2003). In the absence of formal law, continued customary regulation is important in ensuring sustainable harvesting of these endemic species. Management is equally critical as bamboo can be an aggressive invader, replacing local species, and creating less biodiverse monocultures (Kleinn et al. 2006; Malin and Boehland 2006).
Given current demand and abundant resources, supply of exotic species is not an issue. However, if the sector is promoted and demand increases, regeneration, cultivation or domestication, and sustainable, long-term supply and management harvesting and management need to occur in parallel. As bamboo is easily grown, cultivation can be a feasible, low cost route. A route proven successful for other NTFPs in Cameroon has been the dissemination of germplasm and training harvesters, owners and farmers in cultivation, nursery and propagation techniques (Leakey and Tchoundjeu 1999). Appropriate new species with properties better suited to current (and potential) products and ecological zones in Cameroon could aid diversification and increase value, but needs careful research. As just under half of bamboo harvested is open access, land tenure, and ownership of bamboo clumps is an issue in sustainable supply. Ideally, tenure is secure and access regulated, but this may be difficult given ongoing debates and irresolution of competing customary and administrative tenure claims since the 1970s (Laird et al. 2010).
Developing the chain to increase employment and incomes appears feasible, taking a chain-wide approach to ensure that supply matches demand increases. Given the one-off nature and limited sample size, a fuller baseline study and value chain analysis could inform actors and focus on the weakest links and problems identified. Asian experiences (Perez et al. 2004; Pabuayon 2009) indicate that new products and designs, appropriate materials and processing innovations could help diversify incomes and add value to increase the prestige and durability of bamboo products. Discussions during the 2009 INBAR workshop and the study findings indicate that chain interventions could focus on selecting and planting suitable multiple-use species; increasing consumer and craftsperson’s awareness of species properties and uses; professionalization and training in harvesting, processing, and business skills; and addressing problem areas indicated by actors, particularly storage. Given the positive consumer attitudes, targeted marketing, particularly in lucrative urban markets, could create new and larger markets.
The enabling environment is positive in terms of potential partner organizations, despite current non-involvement in the sector, as MINFOF and MINSME have displayed interest. Funding and development partners potentially include those interested in artisanal crafts, building materials, biofuels, renewable energy, reforestation, carbon sequestration and rural development, and for native bamboos: forest and conservation organizations. Public–private partnership, pilot models, and investment by craftsperson could provide a sectorial boost. In common with the NTFP sector in Cameroon, the majority of actors operate informally and are unorganized. Professionalizing the sector (building capacities in design, production, and business skills) and encouraging collective action could address needs for capital, advocacy, and marketing and enhance benefits. The costs and benefits of collective action in NTFP chains in Nigeria offer useful lessons (Laird et al. 2010). However, formalization of the chain in the context of the weak business operating environment, high corruption, and uncertain law enforcement could have a negative impact on the livelihoods of actors and access to the resource. Policies and development interventions that build on customary regulations, traditional knowledge, skills and voices need to be coordinated to produce a positive, sustainable livelihood impact. As bamboo is both planted and wild, liaison between the Ministries of Forests and Wildlife, Agriculture and Rural Development, farmer’s and trader’s associations is essential to promote cultivation, secure tenure, and ensure access. Bamboo’s ecological characteristics could be positively used to combat soil erosion and capture carbon (Lobovikov et al. 2011), particularly on degraded and eroded land such as in the West, Northwest, and Adamaoua, and as part of Reduced Emission from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) projects.
The many and varied bamboo products, ranging from musical instruments, construction material in houses and bars, to traditional storage jars, are derived largely from exotic bamboo species. These have maintained mainly local, informal markets in Cameroon for decades, produced largely by skilled craftpersons using basic processing and marketing techniques. The trade contributes significantly to the livelihoods of between 8000 and 31 000 people. Processers and traders are the most dependent on bamboo: it forms an important source of cash income used largely used to meet basic needs. This important but policy-invisible NTFP could have a greater livelihood impact: however, regulations, professionalization, and formalization need to be carefully implemented to avoid inhibiting the largely informal trade, adversely affecting profits, and sustainability of the resource. The common but small-scale commerce and current abundance, combined with semi-domesticated status of a largely exotic resource does not currently pose a conservation or supply problem. However, for native Alpine bamboo and savannah bamboo species, high forest degradation and deforestation rates may make these species vulnerable given any increase in demand. Integrated conservation and development actions, accompanied by research, could enhance the socio-economic impacts for those engaged in the value chain, and the ecological status.
This study was supported by INBAR (as part of the project “Enhancing Opportunities for Market-Led Bamboo and Rattan-based Development in West and Central Africa” financed by the Common Fund for Commodities) and CIFOR and resulted in a working paper (see http://www.inbar.int/publication/PDF/WP66_web.pdf). Andrew Benton and Michael Kwaku (INBAR) provided technical support. Terry Sunderland, Jolien Schure, Patrice Levang, Nick Hogarth, Abdon Awono and Manuel Ruiz-Perez (CIFOR) are thanked for their contributions and reviews. We are grateful to ANAFOR, particularly Desire Tole; MINFOF, especially Paul Wamba; Ousseynou Ndoye, Tropenbos International, MOCAP, Ferrudjal and all the traditional authorities, enterprises, harvesters, craftpersons, retailers, and consumers which participated in the study. We are grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments.
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