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Featured image of bamboo by Clement Souchet on Unsplash.

Air Quality

Mutenga Bamboo Introduces A New Range of Bamboo Toothpicks, Pens, & Cooking & Heating Briquettes in Zimbabwe

According to Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the major contributors to deforestation are:

  1. Tobacco curing
  2. Energy provisions
  3. Land clearing for various land uses including agriculture.

Tobacco remains one of Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earners, along with gold and nickel. The levels of deforestation mean that a serious forest preservation and reforestation initiative has become critical. Zimbabwe loses about 330,000 hectares of forests annually.  Forest and woodland resources now cover 45% of the country’s land area, down from 53% in 2014.

Rowen Meda, who was born and bred in rural Zimbabwe, recently came face to face with the devastating effects of deforestation. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, during the first hard lockdowns, Rowen spent most of his time in his rural village. It was during this time that he noticed that it was becoming increasingly difficult for his mom and her neighbors to find firewood for cooking due to the massive deforestation in the area over the past couple of decades.

Rowen, who has always been environmentally conscious and had been looking to be more active in environmental activism, decided to look for more sustainable alternatives to help his mom and the community. That is when he started exploring several solutions using locally available resources. He then started to experiment with bamboo. He is now looking to scale up the production of several bamboo-based products.

Based in Nzvimbo Village, Mazowe, Zimbabwe, Rowen Meda’s Mutenga Bamboo uses bamboo, which matures much faster than indigenous trees, to make charcoal for cooking, heating, and tobacco curing. As part of its commitment to promote the circular economy, Mutenga Bamboo incorporate waste cardboard boxes as well as waste sawdust in its production process. Bamboo can be harvested for use in about 3-6 years. Producing charcoal from bamboo forests has been said to take pressure off fragile forest resources used for fuel, heating, and firewood.

Zimbabwe has been facing acute foreign currency shortages for most of the past 2 decades. This has resulted in periodic petrol and diesel shortages. There has been a drive to try and increase the production of goods locally under import substitution initiatives to save foreign currency and to also increase exports to earn more foreign currency. There has been an uproar over some of the goods Zimbabwe is spending some of its scarce foreign currency on.

In 2020, a report said that Zimbabwe spends $105m on toothpicks, chewing gum, and diaper imports. Toothpicks are mostly imported from China. There were a lot of jokes and memes on how the country can’t even make toothpicks. Mutenga Bamboo is now scaling up its locally made bamboo toothpicks to fill this gap and help reduce the import bill. Bamboo has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Mutenga Bamboo was recently announced as one of the winners of the second batch of Circular Valley’s circular economy accelerator. Rowen and his colleague are currently in Germany until February of next year as part of the program. Mutenga Bamboo has also just introduced a new range of pens that use bamboo barrels instead of the usual plastic barrels. I hope they get to scale up their project quickly.

Image of toothpicks courtesy of Mutenga Bamboo, featured image by Clement Souchet on Unsplash.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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