According to Bernice Dapaah bamboo is “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.
Bernice Dapaah is an Ghanaian entrepreneur who is using bamboo to make bikes while providing employment for locals especially women and helping less privileged children.
She also teaches young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural communities. More than 50% of people they have trained are women.
“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.”,
Bamboo is mainly used in making fabrics, wine, vinegar, biochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Domestically, bamboo is used to make mats, baskets and canoes
Dapaah’s bicycles retail for around $120 (€107), and this means that they are some $40 (€36) more than similar bikes with steel frames, but the reduction of greenhouse gases is around 70 percent. Even more, Dapaah’s team plant ten more bamboo saplings for each tree they cut down, making sure the natural resources are not consumed mindlessly.
For every bamboo bike sold, Dapaah gives away one to a child in the rural areas who have to walk long distances to school, hindering their academic performance.
According to Dapaah, “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.”
Dapaan hopes to employ 250 people over the next five years and is looking to partner with local NGO’s to build a childcare facility so mothers could continue working and earning an income. She is adamant to promote a cycling culture in Ghana and just as 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 said
Also in an interview with Jessica Abo, she said “The company is already helping reverse CO2 emissions that will come from the transport sector between 2005 and 2030.”
Produced as an innovative means to combat climate change, the strong but light bamboo bicycles are being used for multiple purposes in a variety of terrains across the country. “Though we have not fully reached the stage of mass production, our current production rate is about 20 bicycles per month,” said Dapaan. The demand for these bikes had grown steadily from local and international buyers and the bikes are shipped to Europe, the U.S., Israel and many other countries.
Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative produces seven models that range from casual city bikes to mountain bikes and even road bicycles. Both female and male versions are available, and the customization possibilities are only limited by the customers’ creativity. A local artist can also be hired for adorning the bikes with traditional designs.
Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana, praised the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative for the innovative efforts while encouraging the production of tailor-made bicycles responsive to the needs of rural women, particularly pregnant mothers. Sandhu-Rojon said these bicycles could reduce maternal mortality and accelerate the achievement of other Millennium Development Goals.
“The use of bamboo as the raw material for the initiative is a good innovation putting Ghana on the world map. Bamboo can produce oxygen to displace carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing climate change,” Ruby said during one of the many award functions where Dapaan walked away as winner.
The Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative also produces tricycles supporting women carting goods from their farms to the market. With support from the African Union Women, the initiative is producing a prototype bamboo bicycle ambulance to support emergencies in rural Ghana.
The Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative had so far won dozens of awards including the Seed Initiative, Impact Business Awards and the World Business and Development Awards.
In November 2013 the initiative received widespread global attention when the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon and the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Miss Christiana Figueres, test rode the Ghana-made bamboo bikes. Dapaan’s bicycles were also featured at the Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities” at the COP19 in Warsaw.
The business is also developing into a sound social enterprise after establishing a training centre and a bike factory at Nkawie in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.
Bamboo Bikes Initiative has so far sold around 3,000 bicycles and they plan to donate 10,000 more to school children in a period of five years.