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Catch a ride: Ghana's bamboo bicycle puts green transport in the frame of things

Published at: 28 May 2015

Beautiful bespoke bicycles created using bamboo tree structures are creating employment opportunities and transforming the face of transport in Ghana.
 
Booomers International, a social enterprise training rural Ghanaian communities in the art of bamboo bicycle manufacture is riding on the great path of ensuring economic freedom to many of its staff members and apprentices, some of whom have never experienced economic freedom before.
 
With the mission “to produce high quality, affordable bamboo products which have both economic and social benefits to customers around the world,”  Booomers International  aspires to make bamboo a number one global resource and to become, “the world’s leader in the bamboo manufacturing industry.”
 
The bamboo bicycle is gaining traction in the country and Booomers International, though not the only organisation riding this popular wave to increase youth employment, certainly leads the pack with its approach to skills development.
 
"We were looking at how we can engage the youth in the right areas into a meaningful venture," says company founder and CEO Kwabena Danso. When Danso launched Booomers International as a subsidiary enterprise of a development organisation called Yonso project said he had been engaging the youth into his bicycle making business since 2014.
 
Top gear
Bicycles made from bamboo have been around for more than a century but demand has only increased in recent years, in part due to the reintroduction of the concept by renowned bicycle designer Craig Calfee in 1995. Calfee went on to form Bamboosero, a Californian company dedicated to increasing the uptake of bamboo bicycles, particularly in developing countries, and today a number of companies across Africa are seizing the opportunity to make use of this abundant, natural resource to create a boom in bicycling. Its tensile strength and environmental sustainability make bamboo a highly desirable material.
 
"We do bamboo bicycles, bamboo bicycle stands and bicycle baskets for now," says Danso and their biking portfolio which includes road, city, and mountain bikes in both male and female versions. "Each bike is purely handmade...once you get your bike nobody else in the world has it."
 
Whilst there are bikes being crafted by other manufactures in Ghana, at the root of Booomers lies not only innovative design but a social conscience with climate change mitigation and rural poverty alleviation among their primary goals. Danso takes his rural youth teams through the entire manufacturing process -- from the harvesting of bamboo through to the final assembly of bespoke bicycles -- to ensure they're equipped with a diverse skill set. Some apprentices have had the pleasure of being trained by Calfee himself. "We managed to get him to come down to train people," says Danso.
 
Overcoming hurdles
 
Inspite of all the hurdles associated with operating without electricity in an unpredictable environment, Danso is as determined as ever to see the bicycles in every part of Africa, and the rest of the world.
 
Danso knows the challenges of manufacturing in rural Ghana well, including low capital, high production costs and unreliable electricity sources. "Sometimes you come to work for two days and there is no light," Danso says. "That's a really big problem to manufacturing in Africa."
 
His wish is for Boomers to become a resource not only for bicycles, but also furniture, household items and even houses made of bamboo. "We want to make this place the point where you come and get everything from bamboo."
 
But despite such limitations he is determined for his bicycles to travel the globe. "In the next five years we want to conquer the world," he concludes.



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