Business News of Thursday, 11 July 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

Bamboo bike producers ready to export

Bamboo is good for producing bags, purses and construction of mud houses. But have you ever ridden a bamboo bike? A young entrepreneur in Ghana is making a business out of it and creating job opportunities for the youth.

Bamboo is versatile as a farm crop. In a small village called Apaah, near Asante Mampong in the Ashanti Region, a group of young entrepreneurs have committed themselves to making bicycles from bamboo using simple tools like chisels, screwdrivers and spanners.

The wheels, brakes and seats of the bikes are regular metal and rubber parts bought at the market. But the bicycle frame is made of bamboo.

“Bamboo is five times stronger than steel”, says Kwabena Danso, the founder of Yonso Project. Also, it is lighter than steel, making it a good material for bike frames. Bamboo frames are very absorbent of vibrations caused by bumps in the trail, making them well suited for performance riding such as mountain biking.

According to Kwabena, customers don’t have to worry about their bikes rotting away: “Bamboo is anti-bacterial making it very difficult for users to have bacterial infections.”

“Apart from having impeccable ride qualities, the bikes are aesthetically beautiful”, Kwabena advertises his product. He believes that customers use the exclusive bikes to express their identity. As most bikes are built individually by order, some customers even personalize them with inscriptions or designs.

Goal: Helping the youth to make economic gains

The manufacturing cost for Yonso Project ranges from US$130 to US$180. In Ghana, the bikes sell for Ghc400. When exported to the United States, Holland or Germany, the frame alone costs US$250. The main employment for the villagers of Apaah has been small-scale farm ing. Lacking job opportunities, young people tend to leave the village for the cities, says Kwabena.

He built his first bamboo bike in 2009, instructed by the American Craig Talfee. Since then, Kwabena has trained ten people himself, currently employs four and hopes to hire sixteen more. “We have a lot of unemployed youth roaming our cities willing to do anything to survive”, says Kwabena.

“We are training young people to give them employment and also to reduce the rural urban migration, which has its own problems in the city as well. It is part of our vision to create opportunities for the rural poor to break the cycle of poverty.”

According to Wikipedia, the first bamboo bicycles caused a sensation at the London Stanley Show in 1894. But it took more than a hundred years for them to become a global trend, with producers in Asia, Africa and the United States starting to build custom bikes.

Scaling up production

The Yonso Project is planning to scale up the production from currently ten to thirty bikes per month, hoping to sell them in Australia, Switzerland, Denmark and Chile. “There is a great movement of ideas on climate blowing all over the world”, says Kwabena. He believes that customers are becoming more inclined to buy products that are green. The production of a bamboo bike causes a low environmental impact, because the material is renewable, bio-degradable, and growing bamboo reduces the amount of the green house gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Yonso Project is not the only organisation producing bamboo bikes in Ghana. Ghana Bamboo Bikes, for example, is manufacturing them and, since 2010, has trained over a hundred people in Accra and Seidi in the Ashanti Region, according to executive director Bernice Dapaah. The organization also offers workshops, in which participants can build their own bamboo bicycle frames.

Bamboo bikes can be a sustainable means of transportation for Ghanaians as well as an export product.

Bernice Dapaah thinks that what’s needed is skills development and entrepreneurship: ”There is a lot of bamboo in the country, and it shouldn’t go unutilized.”