The guy Ghanaians reportedly called the bamboo man came to London in June to promote his handmade bamboo bikes to the UK market. Kwabena Danso is the founder and ceo of Booomers – a range of bikes made in Ghana and designed to provide the healthier ones among us with a novel way of getting around.
These bikes are also hoped to tackle Ghana’s youth unemployment problem, and promote green transportation.
Ok, so these bamboo bikes are not completely made of bamboo. The frames are, but not the wheels, handles or gears, and there is no bamboo helmet (yet?!). Nevertheless, the invention has been eagerly embraced by bike enthusiasts all over Europe, Canada, USA and Australia. Even the UK’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and the figure behind the sponsored London bikes Boris Johnson also had a go on one when he paid a recent visit to Ghana. Danso hasn’t stopped riding them since coming to London for the first time in early June and has been quick to extol the benefits of using this form of transport.
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One of the biggest appeals that Booomers offers is of course the use of this sustainable bamboo material, which grows freely across Ghana.
According to research carried out by Columbia University, bamboo grown in Ghana is among the strongest of its kind in the world, Danso said during a talk organised at the Salmon Centre in Bermondsey, London.
This is something that two sets of couples – one who rode from Germany to China – and the other set that biked it from Germany all over West Africa – can attest to. In both journeys, the bamboo bikes were still intact. Bamboo is known to be equivalent in strength to steel and absorbs up to five times as much carbon, according to Danso.
So why aren’t people using it more? Well it is a misnomer to think bamboo is not being used in Ghana already. It is readily used as scaffolding at construction sites and is an option when making furniture and fencing. And Danso, who established his company in 2014, is by no means the first when it comes to developing bamboo bikes in Ghana.
Entrepreneur Bernice Dapaah founded The Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative in 2009, (although Danso claims the Initiative did not start producing bikes until the latter part of 2015). This award-winning Kumasi-based organisation was a spin-off from the Bright Generation Community Foundation and its Afrocentric Bamboo Ltd arm and has gained the backing of the UN. There is also Bamboo Bike Project which was established by two Columbia University research scientists and involved collaboration with Kwaku Sarpong – an investor in Kumasi-based business Bamboo Bikes Limited (BBL). It is not clear if this initiative is still active but both BBL and Booomers have a connection to American bike manufacturer Craig Calfee.
Danso initially worked with Calfee, who owned bamboo bike company Bamboosero, in 2009. During the same year, Danso had established the Yonso Project – a social enterprise initiative named after his village in the Ashanti Region that supports tackling social enterprise and youth unemployment. Through the partnership, Calfee trained Yonso locals to manufacture bamboo bike and all bikes were branded with the Bamboosero name. The success of the scheme meant Danso was eventually able to go it alone and rebranded production under the Yonso Project to Booomers in 2014.
Danso wants to be the biggest manufacturer of these bamboo bikes. In 2015, the company produced 400 units in 2015, and saw that number triple the following year to 1,200 units – generating $200,000 in 2016. The company manufactures a range of mountain, tricycles and electric versions, according to Danso. He wants Booomers to become a world leader in the bamboo manufacturing industry.
According to United Nations data, the bamboo market is expected to total $197 million by 2020 and Danso wants Ghana to command a 15% share of that. He plans to expand his bamboo crop by partnering with farmers to grow the product. There are concerns that bamboo, which can take around five years to mature, could promote a mono culture and stop other crops from flourishing. But Danso said that depends on the type of bamboo used. Some strains can grow alongside other plants, he insisted.
Danso was raised by his grandmother, who saved all the money she had to put him through education. Danso used to walk eight miles to school having no other form of transport and knows that decades on, the situation is not much different for many children still living in his village Yonso, near Mampong, Asante Region. This was one of the reasons why he established the Yonso Project and has since been able to support the youth in his local village getting to school , learning a trade and a wage through Booomers. Danso employs local unemployed youth and has a workforce of around 60, which includes casual workers. He has been able to support young people into higher education, as a result through his charity is planning to create a centre for them.
Despite the popularity of Booomers in the West, the company still hasn’t managed crack the African market. Ninety-five per cent of Booomers bikes are shipped to the West with the remainder being used in Ghana. Danso told MisBeee, the company had tried to find a distributor in South Africa but had not yet succeeded. But Danso remains unperturbed and believes that eventually his vision will stimulate a culture change that will be embraced worldwide.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong
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