Shiribwa was not always a farmer in Vihiga. He and his wife Flora are former white-collar workers from the capital Nairobi, some 400 km to the east.
On a spur of the moment decision the couple quit their city jobs to start farming bamboo.
For villagers in Vihiga, nobody could understand Shiribwa’s sudden interest in a giant woody grass which grows naturally in Kenya. He originally didn’t intend to turn it into a business venture either. He planted bamboo just out of curiosity.
“When I settled here, many people thought my plot was useless because it was on a hill and had little fertility,” he told Chinafrica.
“We planted eucalyptus [for reforestation] but we realized the plot was getting drier. So we started replacing them [the trees] with bamboo. The advantages were almost immediate. The bamboo grew faster, held soil together and did not sip too much [water] from the soil,” he said.
The project gradually developed into a full-time lucrative business. But initially Shiribwa’s bamboo venture was a gamble on two fronts. First, he was going into the venture which hadn’t been tried before in Vihiga and second he was putting his life savings into something he knew little about.
“I did some reading on the Internet. I saw how the plant had been useful in some countries, such as China and others in that region and I thought I could try it here.” He found that some bamboo species can grow fast and generally mature between three