Carol Tusiime Kagwa displays some of her bamboo products. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE


Value addition: Tumusiime extracts oil from bamboo

What you need to know:

  • The beauty industry is big and there is no stopping at anything.
  • Carol Tumusiime Kaggwa quit her banking job to start making cosmetics out of bamboo, a woody resource that keeps giving. It is a journey less travelled and she is reaping the benefits.

From being a delicacy, Carol Tumusiime was hard pressed to examine the copious benefits of bamboo. A delicacy among the people of Bugisu prepared as sauce mixed with groundnut paste, commonly known as malewa, the woody resource is offering Tumusiime a decent living. The tender sprouts of fresh bamboo shoots are consumed for their high concentration of protein, vitamins and minerals.

But from research, Tumusiime found out that bamboo has about 70 percent silica, an element that stimulates hair growth, healthy skin and strong bones.

Bamboo leaves contain about 70 percent silica, an essential mineral ordinarily found in quartz, sandstone and other rocks. Silica is an important trace mineral that the human body uses to build healthy skin, bones, joints, and cartilage.

Silica can easily be obtained from bamboo leaves by steeping them in hot water and making tea. Silica-rich bamboo tea provides a tasty and effective natural remedy for arthritis, among other conditions. 

Research has established that silica promotes hair and nail growth. Hair is made up of 40 per cent silica.

This scientific basis has helped Elgon Naturals produce skin and hair products.
“It is from that research that we started making skin and hair products,” Tumusiime says.

Their products are on research level yet to be given a quality mark by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, but she says trials have been positive.

“We are getting good reviews from people that have used our products as we work on the process of registering with UNBS. We are encouraged because they keep coming back for more. When we finish the UNBS registration, we shall look at exporting,” she says.

Tumusiime says that most of the clients are in Uganda and can only look at the international market after certification.

Product range
Elgon Naturals is a family business established in 2016 with inspiration from Tumusiime’s aunt Gertrude Newumbe, a retired teacher, who tested the first products. Their Germany-based cousin Lydia Shubat had shared knowledge with Newumbe about the potential of bamboo in health products. The two are among the founders of the company.

“Aunt Gertrude tried out the boiled bamboo leaves which she kept applying on the hair which was breaking a lot at the time. It worked wonders and she encouraged us to see what more products could be gotten out of the bamboo,” Tumusiime says.

With a liquid substance, they took their sample to an exhibition called Zimba Women, a social enterprise that creates opportunities for women to participate in the economy through access to skills and training, where they were advised to seek UIRI’s help in their product development.

The tonic, which Newumbe used seven years ago, is among the key products the company has on market. Since the tonic is not oily, they created hair oil which is applied alongside the tonic. Due to growing customer demand, they started producing hair shampoo for growth and anti-itching before venturing into skin products.

UIRI training
Many trainees have gone to UIRI to hone skills of making crafts but Tumusiime opted for the beauty products. For two years, 

Tumusiime trained at Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) in Nakawa where free training is offered on product preparation and packaging.

According to their mandate, UIRI offers hands-on skills training in diverse areas such as food processing, laundry and cosmetics production, weaving and textile, bamboo value addition, carpentry, metal fabrication, minerals and materials processing among others so as to promote value addition to Uganda’s existing and abundant natural resources.

Since 2004, UIRI has been exploring value addition opportunities to bamboo.Early in 2005, in collaboration with the China Bamboo Research Centre (CBRC) looked at the possibility of manufacturing bamboo toothpicks.

Other products that have been researched include; bamboo floor tiles, curtains, mats, baskets, desk organisers, table cloth, lamp shades, handicrafts, match boxes, toothpick dispensers, shawls, hand bags, souvenirs, cups, and trinkets among others.

After leaving UIRI, she set up camp in Kulambiro where she turned her guest wing into a mini factory.

“But our future will be in Mbale. We hope to settle in Mbale as we grow to be closer to the source of the raw materials,” Tumusiime says.

Elgon Naturals are among the beneficiaries of a partnership with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan and the National Forest Authority (INBAR).

Michael Malinga, the national coordinator for INBAR says the organisation is supporting SMEs in bamboo value addition in terms of marketing, business development services, attraction of more investors as well as research and development.

Malinga says that East Africa’s bamboo sector is largely untapped despite bamboo forests accounting for 3-4 per cent of the world’s total known coverage. 

“This has resulted in the exclusion of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda from the global export trade in bamboo products as what is currently produced is regarded as low value products. By applying lessons from hugely successful countries can transform the East African economy,” Malinga says.

Through the second phase of the Dutch-Sino East Africa Bamboo Development Programme, INBAR is trying to close the existing gaps in bamboo value chain development, product design, marketing and standardisation to help such entrepreneurs as Tumusiime to tap into the vast potential of bamboo trade.

Bamboo oil is made by crushing bamboo, and then infusing it in sunflower oil. Once the active compounds are transferred to the oil, it is filtered, in order to remove the plant material. We are left with a pure bamboo oil, which is rich in nutrients.

About bamboo 
Bamboo, which is from the grass family, grows three times faster than eucalyptus trees, reaching maturity in three years. It is also a self-regenerating natural resource where new shoots appear annually. In addition, it can be harvested after every two years for up to 40 years.

Other uses 
Bamboo has many uses and is now being widely used in many countries to make clothes, furniture, floors, paper, kitchen utensils and enough items to furnish an entire house.