ACCRA, (The Southern African Times) – Bernice Dapaah calls bamboo “a miracle plant,” because it grows so fast and absorbs carbon. But it can also work wonders for children’s education and women’s employment – as she’s discovered.
Bamboo is abundant in her native Ghana, where she runs a social enterprise that employs women to transform it into bicycles which are exported all over the world.
Cycling is well known as being a low-carbon form of transport – but Dapaah is making it even more sustainable.
For every bamboo plant that is cut down to make a bike, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative plants 10 more. Bamboo is stronger than steel in terms of tensile strength and is a cheaper, more sustainable material. It also takes less electricity to make a bamboo bike than a metal one. And the frame is completely recyclable.
“The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is because it’s found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we’re going to import,” says Dapaah, one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders.
“It’s a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana.”
Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn.
Each time they sell a bike, they donate a bike to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.
Dapaah knows how transformative a shorter journey to school can be to academic performance. She grew up living with her grandpa, a forester in a rural part of the country.
“We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school. He later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university.”
The experience inspired her to launch Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative with two other students at college.
“When we started this initiative, I looked back and said, when I was young, I had to walk miles before I could get to school, and sometimes if I was late, I was punished.
“Why don’t we donate bikes for students to encourage them to study and so they can have enough time to be on books.”
To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain and children’s bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate 10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years.
The enterprise is also providing local jobs. It teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities, where jobs can be scarce. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.
Dapaah says they want to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.
By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they’re also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, lean-energy efficient,” she says.