By: Dr. Aoife Kenny, Volunteer at Women Deliver
What is stronger than steel, completely sustainable, and could transform the lives of underserved rural women and girls worldwide? The answer is Bamboo. And Ghana’s commitment to bamboo bicycles is a powerful first step in showing how resourceful this plant can be.
Access to rural transport is critical to poverty reduction and development. When unavailable, communities that can’t get their goods to market, can’t bring in new capital; nor can individuals reach new and more lucrative employment opportunities. In addition, statistics have shown that countries with the least access to rural transport have the highest maternal mortality and gender education disparity, as issues of mobility are intrinsically linked to a country’s economic growth and the global issue of climate change.
In the majority of Ghana, only 32% of the rural population has adequate access to the transport system; which means that over two thirds of the population is not able to reach their educational, wellness and economic potentials. One way to curb this disparity is through bicycles. Bikes are the mainstay of mobility for millions of people around the world, especially in developing countries. Yet many of the bicycles in Africa are imported, of poor quality and unsuitable to the conditions. Through Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Millennium Cities Initiative in Kumasi, the Bamboo Bike Project was established in Ghana.
The Project was set up to examine the feasibility of building bicycles out of native bamboo, and ultimately, to build a bicycle production industry in Africa that is able to meet local needs. Professor John Mutter, of Columbia University and co-founder of the Project, says their primary focus is “creating transport solutions for the rural poor in Ghana”. This means, keeping costs low and scaling up production to meet the needs of the local market. The project’s most recent development, factory-style production with local partner Bamboo Bikes Limited, is also focusing on the promotion of gender equity.
Struck by the Bamboo Bike Project’s success, a similar organization, Ghana Bamboo Bikes, has also decided to utilize this fast-growing natural resource and to improve the livelihoods of Ghanaians; specifically, Ghanaian women. Recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative University and awarded the UNEP Seed Initiative Award for sustainable development, the organization is also based in Kumasi. Representative, Kwaku Kyei, affirmed that Ghana Bamboo Bikes is dedicated to high quality and the employment of disadvantaged groups, explaining that small urban workshops provide an opportunity for disabled women to be trained by specialists on how to produce the bicycles. Additionally, another initiative centered on motorizing bikes that can function as emergency health transportation in rural communities, prove especially valuable to at-risk pregnant women.
According to Professor Mutter, the affordability of bamboo bikes has a transformative impact on the individual and their community. Domestic tasks can be completed “five times as fast as on foot,” which can ensure a girl’s presence at school, and a woman can bring her farmed goods to a bigger and better market. Antenatal visits would no longer mean a day’s productivity was lost, nor would distance be a factor in dissuading a family from sending their daughter to a university. Possibilities once mired by access to reliable transportation are now vast.
And this movement of equitable mobility is spreading. The Bamboo Bike Project has been approached by interested parties in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and may expand via a similar project, in East Africa, while Ghana Bamboo Bikes is making high-end machines for the international export market, and building capacity as a community bicycle library and training center.
The sky is the limit, it seems, for bamboo.
Flickr photo by: whiteafrican