MOYO: It was August 2013 when Moyo district got heavily pummelled by rains that rendered 51.7km of roads inaccessible, 33 culverts and a major bridge on river Amua washed away.
Three road equipment including two bull dozers and a lorry that were undertaking routine maintenance along Metu-Gbari road were buried under mud, some culverts blocked by debris and new valleys created.
But it was the displacement of over 500 homesteads and massive collapse of houses in Dufile Sub County that tickled the mind of Fred Ijjo, the then Moyo district engineer to think innovatively.
The engineer says he took cognisance of the fact that Moyo district is blessed with plenty of oxytenanthera abyssinica, a draught resistant indigenous species of bamboo on which the people have depended for generation as it provided material for making bathing shelters, chicken houses, granaries, cages, chairs, baskets and of course housing.
He reasoned that if people changed their way of constructing houses from rudimentary to a modern standard design then that would offer a sustainable solution to the vagaries of weather in flood prone areas.
He therefore came up with a creative concept that allows bamboo poles to be used for both walling and roofing.
To achieve this, the culms of bamboo poles are polished and the poles nailed together to make a ground floor that is set up on elevated concrete pillars that allows flood water to flow underneath.
A layer of thin soft wood timber can be used to construct a smooth surface. Polished bamboo poles are also used to construct walls usually reinforced by making two hulls.
This is then painted to give it a beautiful look. Eng. Ijjo’s design also embraces the use of bamboo poles for roofing, before corrugated iron sheets are put on top.
“Mature bamboo can last for up to 30 years depending on how you maintain it. It is not easily eaten up by termites or other pests,” he noted.
Eng. Ijjo said a three-room residential house can cost sh15m to construct if a person buys all the raw materials but as little as sh5m if the bamboo poles are collected from the bush like it is normally done in Moyo.
A rain water harvesting system can be connected from the roof to a collection tank for future use when rains are no more there.
There is also a smaller capacity room designed for kitchen allowing people to have a complete set of buildings at home without having to use any local raw material other than bamboo.
To show the viability of his concepts and designs, Eng. Ijjo shifted from brick and concrete wall to bamboo houses at his home altogether.
But the response to adopt such housing standards is still lukewarm with most people reluctant to abandon their traditional way of building houses.
“Very few people have passion for bamboo because they only knew it to grow naturally and they attribute its usefulness to poor people who cannot afford modern building materials,” he said.
Instead people are embracing customised designs for bigger units such as hotels and recreational centres that are drawn after the person presents their preferred specifications.
The farthest to buy into such a unique housing style is Acacia lodge in Kampala that is trying to apply the concept for completion of a building including roofing and ceiling.
A proprietor of a recreational centre in Adjumani district has also shown interest while the leaders of the Madi community in Moyo and Adjumani districts want a cultural museum constructed in Metu using bamboo entirely.
To ensure steady raw material supply Eng. Ijjo is encouraging residents to embrace bamboo farming as opposed to reliance on the natural growth in the wild.
He says this would alleviate occasional shortfalls due to gregarious flowering and death of parent bamboos, a natural phenomenon in the life cycle of the plant which has severely hit the district since 2016.
However a large scale plantation of bamboo requires setting up of nursery beds which Eng. Ijjo has also been practically experimenting that he has so far raised and planted 500 bamboo seedlings in the past two years.
The bamboo nursery is set using simple technology where the mature bamboo culms are cut and put in plastic pots filled with soil.
The culms are watered routinely until new shoots and roots develop. After three months, the seedlings are ready for transplanting.
The plant takes one year to grow up and another three years to mature before exploitation is recommended.
The Moyo district forest officer Patrick Drama says the district is planning massive buffer restoration of the banks of Yii stream in Lefori Sub County, Nawa in Itula Sub County and three landing sites in Gimara Sub County along the river Nile by planting more bamboos so as to increase the coverage as well as produce more housing material.