NEHA BHAT: Bernice, can you tell us what a bamboo bike is, how is it manufactured, and how long the process takes?
BERNICE DAPAAH: It takes about 40 hours to build one custom bike. There are three main steps in constructing a full bamboo bicycle. First, the bamboo must be cut to size to increase its strength and resistance to damage. Second, the bamboo is mitered and assembled into a bicycle frame on a jig and bound together with resin and sisal fiber. Finally, after a period for drying, the manufactured components are fitted onto the bamboo frame. Our bikes can withstand large loads, rough terrain, and inclement weather. They are configured to be affordable, and can also be maintained and repaired locally.
Apart from having impeccable rider-friendly qualities, our bamboo bikes are aesthetically beautiful, have stronger frames, and a higher tensile strength than steel. The design of our bike maximizes the natural stiffness of bamboo, making it one of the toughest frames. It is extremely absorbent of bumps, vibrations, and shocks resulting from road or trail travel. Because of their ability to absorb impacts, these bikes perform well for mountain biking as well.
NEHA BHAT: How did the idea to build and distribute bamboo bikes in Ghana come about?
BERNICE DAPAAH: The idea of using bamboo to build bicycles has been in existence for a long time but has not always been exploited for economic purposes—it has remained more of a hobby. We decided to take advantage of the abundant bamboo found in Ghana. We were inspired to start the project when we realized that many rural dwellers lacked the skills needed to create wealth from the bamboo found around them.
Besides satisfying the needs of bicycle aficionados and international clientele who buy the bikes due to their riding characteristics, manufacture of the bikes also helps create sustainable income generating activities and thus helps reduce rural-urban migration (in search of employment).
Apart from Ghana Bamboo Bikes, there are other players in the bamboo bike industry namely Bamboo Bikes Limited, African Items Company, Yonso Project, and Bamboosero. The manufacture of bamboo bikes is expanding to countries such as Philippines, Kenya, Indonesia, and Zambia, and their use is spreading in Japan, Canada, India, and the United States, among other places.
NEHA BHAT: Besides Ghana, where is your bamboo bike marketed? Do you engage directly with interested buyers, both individuals and organizations, or do you have partner organizations that distribute the bikes on your behalf?
BERNICE DAPAAH: The bikes are sold as far as United States, Japan, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali, Turkey, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Nigeria, and Belgium. They are mainly used by individuals for personal use. Our international clientele expresses their individuality through the use of this personalized product. We sell our bikes both through direct marketing and by identifying independent bicycle distributors who subsequently distribute the bikes on our behalf.
NEHA BHAT: What are your future plans for expansion?
BERNICE DAPAAH: We are looking at scaling up our production and introducing other innovative bamboo bikes: electric bamboo bicycles, electric bamboo bike ambulances, and bamboo bike pedicabs, among other models. We are also looking at building corporate partnership with specialty bike chains, galleries, museums, and other fair trade stores, which we believe will help us expand the market for our products. These opportunities for trade and marketing will also help address the issue of income generation for rural dwellers and talented artisans who help in the manufacture of these products.
NEHA BHAT: Ghana Bamboo Bikes has been positioned as an innovation with benefits in multiple areas, one of which is rural-urban migration. What impact are you having in that regard?
BERNICE DAPAAH: The triple problems of poverty, unemployment, and environmental degradation have affected rural communities in Ghana and forced many youth from rural Ghana to migrate to the urban areas. One way of addressing these problems is to use local resources, maximize the skills of the people, and enable profitable partnerships throughout the value chain. Using this perspective, our initiative seeks to promote the use of bamboo as an environment-friendly community-based alternative transportation mechanism. We train and build the capacity of rural dwellers to involve them in the manufacture of the bamboo bikes.
By building the capacity of rural dwellers and creating employment opportunities for them, by absorbing them in the manufacturing of bamboo bikes, we facilitate wealth creation by rural dwellers, and help reduce poverty in rural communities. Thus, rural dwellers who previously lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to create wealth from the abundant bamboo will now be engaged as partners in development, and be able to appreciate the value of available natural resources.
NEHA BHAT: Ghana Bamboo Bikes has won many international awards, including the World Business and Development Award 2012 at the Rio+20 Conference. What impact has international recognition had on your initiative in terms of availability of resources, capital, and collaboration opportunities?
BERNICE DAPAAH: Winning these awards opened a lot of doors and opportunities for us and there are many funding agencies and other reputable international organizations that had previously not agreed to fund us, but upon receipt of these awards have embraced us wholeheartedly and are working with us. As a Seed Initiative Award winner, SEED provides our business with world-class mentorship, custom-made social entrepreneurship training, intensive skill training, a global network of support, and international exposure.
We are also part of United Success, an invitation-only women entrepreneurs group that facilitates introductions of women business owners who would otherwise never meet. It provides members with marketing linkages, networking opportunities, and skills development training opportunities.
NEHA BHAT: Bernice, thanks so much for chatting with Policy Innovations about your initiative.
BERNICE DAPAAH: My pleasure.