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In December we launched 5 month phase 1 feasibility study looking at the bamboo value chain in Malawi. The project lays the groundwork to trial bamboo production and processing as a viable livelihood for people living in poverty, exploring the potential to tap into a rapidly growing global market.

Phase one of the Bamboo Value Chains project involves a detailed feasibility study exploring production, processing and policy issues - 


  • Challenges: Although bamboo is easy to grow in Malawi, many poor farmers are unaware of its potential as a profitable crop. Awareness is also low among policymakers and the local government extension workers who advise and guide farmers.
  • Solution: This project will thoroughly investigate existing and potential bamboo production in Malawi. It will map existing bamboo estates and current land use among target communities, and look into the pros and cons of different species of bamboo, including their harvesting age and season, and their cultivation potential in Malawi’s different regions. It will examine the profitability and environmental impacts of bamboo, and will also explore intercropping – assessing how bamboo can grow alongside other crops so that farmers can diversify their income streams, making their livelihoods more secure and resilient.


  • Challenges: Existing bamboo farmers lack the equipment, know-how and funds to process their raw crop into finished products that would fetch higher prices, and they have limited marketing and sales expertise. The absence of a strong commercial eco-system for bamboo, such as quality assurance certification schemes, manufacturing facilities, transport and distribution networks, also limits producers’ opportunities to reach customers.
  • Solution: This project will map and analyse the entire bamboo value chain, from growers to final consumers. It will undertake detailed research to identify suitable focus products, assessing market potential, profit margins and processing capability. It will explore certification routes and scope ways to increase producers’ access to markets at both local and international level, including via digital platforms and trade fairs. This will include a study visit to a bamboo project in neighbouring Zambia. The project will also look into potential blockers to bamboo cultivation and craft, including a gender and power analysis that will assess the specific barriers and opportunities for women, youth and other vulnerable groups within the value chain. In order to ensure that all phase two interventions build towards lasting change, the project will also consider the factors that may influence the long-term sustainability of bamboo micro-enterprises.


  • Challenges: Some bamboo farming already exists in Malawi, but the sector is not yet well established. There is huge potential for sustainable, pro-poor growth, but bamboo currently falls between the Government’s agriculture and forestry departments. There is not yet any clear policy framework or strategic leadership on how to move forward, and therefore no incentives supporting bamboo enterprise development. This offers a critical window for influencing how this fledgeling sector develops. 
  • Solution: Leveraging the findings and learnings from the research above, the project will engage with stakeholders across government, private sector and research institutions to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of strengthening the bamboo sector, with a view to nurturing a healthy value chain that benefits poor producers.

If this initial concept testing proves successful and moves into phase 2 then we would expect a host of benefits including - 

  • Social: More awareness of bamboo as a cash crop, and active gender participation
  • Technical: Increased skills in bamboo cultivation, product design and enterprise
  • Economic: Increased, diversified and climate-resilient income sources
  • Ecological: Reforestation and increased protection against soil erosion and flooding

Project Factsheet

ITL Bamboo Project, Malawi

Download the project factsheet to find out more about our new ITL project in Malawi.