Most of the bamboo resources in Kenya comprise one indigenous species, Yushania alpina, which was formerly known as Arundinaria alpina. This species, which is commonly known as alpine bamboo, occurs naturally on the main mountains and highland ranges of Kenya and Eastern Africa.
The species is currently estimated to cover about 150,000 ha, located mainly at altitudes ranging from 2400 to 3400 meters above sea level. It thrives in the Aberdares ranges, Mt Eigon, Mt Kenya, Mau escarpment and Cheranganyi Hills. With the exception of a few clumps of the species left on farms by farmers living around forest areas in the highlands, very little cultivation of this species on farm has been done.
Among the most important minor forest products, bamboo has continued to gain recognition. Today it is considered as a multipurpose plant and as a valuable timber substitute. In Kenya, bamboo is much sought after for use in horticultural flower farming, handicraft, residential fencing and other minor cottage industry products like toothpicks, basket making and incense sticks.
From 1940 onward, hundreds of thousands of forest lands were cleared for conversion into agriculture. Unsustainable felling of forests also resulted in the disappearance of vast areas of alpine bamboo. By 1980 over-harvesting of indigenous timber and bamboo forests was having a detrimental environmental impact. Environmental strategies and conservation measures were urgently needed to deal with the situation.
In 1986, as an effort to curtail further destruction, the President issued a directive banning all cutting of indigenous bamboo. This was not followed by the setting of clear and definite or specific guidelines that would have formed the procedural follow-up for the implementation of such pronouncements. The ban on bamboo harvesting to date remains in place.
During the last twenty years, some research on species selection and investigations on their growth was done mainly by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) in collaboration with several Asian research and development Institutions. This research work has introduced over twenty Asian bamboo species into the country. Half of these are successfully growing in the field under various ecological conditions.
The introduced species are more versatile and can be cultivated in areas where the local bamboo does not thrive. Farmers, horticultural flower farming companies, and Kenya Forest Service have expressed great interest in growing these bamboo species on their land, and harmonized methods are being introduced to ensure that projected outputs are successfully realized