Publicity stunt helps Ghana

The idea of an American innovator provides income for the deprived villages.

Text and translation from Finnish: Petri Vanhanen
Photos: Meeri Koutaniemi
Published in Ympäristö-lehti 6/2011
Copyright Ympäristö-lehti 2011. All Rights Reserved.
View the original article as a PDF 

Mr. Craig Calfee from California tosses a bamboo stick to his dog Luna. Is’s the beginning of the 1990s. Pitbull cross labrador retriever returns the throw but does not ease her grip from the stick. Calfee tries with all his strength. 20-kilogram Luna is lifted to the air still clinging to the stick with her teeth. Calfee instatly gets it: this material is made to last.

He scribbles his first bike at his workshop in Santa Cruz, California. The bamboo for the bikes was grown in his shop’s very own backyard. Calfee decided that his creation makes a perfect publicity stunt for the upcoming major US bike show, Interbike. The idea went through the roof. The invention was an instant success. Fifteen years later he gives out interviews in an experienced manner. Fifty news outlets around the globe have asked the same things. Including Time, Newsweek and BBC.

“My company provides Ghanian-made bike parts to the European and American markets, ” Calfee says. According to the interviews, company’s sale incomes are around million dollars a year. Bamboo bikes consisting around a fourth of the sum. Sales are on the slow increase, and Calfee remains condinent about the future.

Towards the developing countries

To be precise, Calfee is not the original father of the bamboo bikes. First of the kind was presented in London at 1894. But Calfee proudly claims the fatherhood of the current and contemporary method of producing them. Calfee says the bamboo is almost god-created to be used in bikes.

The material stands against hits and grains – plus it is easy to mould to the shape preferred. Ten years after the construction of the first bamboo bike, Calfee decided to start mass production. But the idea collided. Production fees in the US were way too high. Calfee was back to the square one thinking where to head on next.

Idea did not take long to develop. Having travelled in Africa years ago, he quickly thought moving his production lines there. Bamboo reserves are almost limitless, the crafting tools don’t need electricity to run, and the local people get the decent profit out of the production. Calfee started in- depth planning the project.

Mr. Kwabena Danso, the head of the Ghanian NGO, the Yonso Project receives a phone call from the US. Calfee inqueried whether he would be willing to collaborate with his company. The idea was that the Ghanians chop the wood, prepare the bike parts and ship the processed pieces to the US. Calfee’s team will then assemble the parts and complete the bikes for resale.

Danso agreed to the plan. The Apaah village of the Ashanti region in the mid-Ghana was quickly turned into the part of the Calfee’s enterprise. Other similar bamboo shops are located in Zambia, Uganda and New Zealand. Calfee trained the workers to craft bamboo, and on their turn they trained the next batch of workers. Slowly the craftsmanship scattered and more villagers acquired these professional skills.

The solution for the unemployment?

Mr. Danso is pleased with the concealed deal. The bamboo project tries to tackle three major problems of the region: unemployment, transport problems and economical growth.

Danso hopes the project to gain jobs for 200 more villagers during the following two years. Ten shall get the vacancy through Calfee’s bamboo workshop, the remaining ones are hoped to establish their own business with the craftmanship the project has offered.

The more the salary-earning population the village inhabites the better are the chances to support the other townspeople. Danso states the bamboo workshop workers are getting a decent pay and they have a medical insurance. He believes the craft will present a permanent income for them. Before the workshop was established villagers were lured into desperate measures.

“Many of our workers did illegal deforesting and poaching. They did not have other choice,” Danso tells us.

At the minimum salary but with hope

Calfee’s Bamboseero company assures that fair share of the profits are routed back to the builders. Bike frame carries the tag of 680 US dollars in the American markets. About fourth of this goes to the builders of the workshop.

Workers in the Apaah village get their pay according to the production rate. At best times the earnings rise over 100 dollars a month. Danso estimates the average monthly pay is around 30-90 dollars.

Craftsman at the Bamboseero workshop Mr. Ofori Amando Edward greets the workshop with joy. Formerly employed as a farmer, Mr. Edward has gained a new profession and new hope.

“Ghanian communities need the activies alike. We need jobs. When we are trained we are ready to educate yet another batch of workers.”

More funding required

Danso believes the bamboo bikes will revolt the Ghanian transportation. Calfee’s enterprise aims to turn the bamboo bikes into a cheap, practical and ecological device. But one big obstacle slows down the trip. At the cheapest the bike can be sold at the Ghanian market with the value of 200 US dollars. It’s still too much. Danso hopes to receive more company and private funding to help out. The workshop needs to shape up its production rate in order to lower the end-product bike price. That though requires better tools. Despite that, plans and high hopes still rose.

Craig Calfee and Luna the dog fought the bamboo battle almost twenty years ago. Luna has passed away now, but its name will live forever in the Calfee Design portfolio and in the archives of the major news networks.

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