Eco-civilisation, and what does bamboo have to do with it

A few weeks ago, I attended the Eco Forum Global in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in southern China. This was the fifth annual meeting of the forum, and it turned out to be a higher-profile event than I had expected. I met the President of Ethiopia and his Minister of Environment, the Prime-minister and his deputy from Malta, the Vice Prime Minister from China and several other high-ranking diplomats.

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The Forum promotes the introduction of eco-civilisation and eco-culture. Ecological civilization is a concept proposed in 2007 by Hu Jintao, the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It reflects an important change in the Party’s understanding of development. Rather than emphasizing economic construction as the core of development as it did in the past, the Chinese authorities realised that development, if sustainable, must include the right relationship between man and nature.

The political decision was a very important first step, but China will need to put the relationship of its huge population with nature in a new perspective: consider nature as part of our life rather than something we can exploit without restraint. In a way, it is finding back the strong link that has existed with nature for centuries. Bamboo has always been part of life in China, and neighboring countries, but the accelerated economic development during the past decades has changed the priorities. The party leadership, and therefore the Government as a whole has realized this is no longer sustainable, and eco-civilization is an expression of the new thinking.

sustainable-development

China talks of eco-civilisation, but this is not very different from the concept of sustainable development promoted by the rest of the world. After all, the integration of social and economic development with environmental protection aims for the same goal of working with nature, rather than exploiting nature without controls. INBAR uses the term “inclusive and green development”, and co-civilisation and inclusive development are both concepts that are based on the recognition that nature is part of life, and that humans and nature need to live in harmony in order to achieve sustainable development. Whether we use the term sustainable development or green development, we mean that nature, culture and economic development are working in synchrony, not in conflict. Bamboo and rattan are excellent examples of plants that provide both environmental services and economic goods to support human society. I therefore felt “at home” in the Eco Forum Global, and was happy to lead a discussion about the many ways in which bamboo and rattan can help to achieve sustainable development and eco-civilisation.

Uttranchal

Eco-culture is a society that has embraced the concepts of eco-civilisation and sustainable development, and bamboo and rattan have helped populations of many countries to do so for generations. While both species provide the raw material for a whole range of products, the natural living plants have formed part of the East Asian landscape as long as we can remember. The typical ancient pen-and-ink drawings of bamboo landscape and culture in China are recognised the world over, and natural bamboo forests provide the habitat for some charismatic species like the Giant and the Red Panda. But, bamboo forests also give life to the Mountain Gorilla in the Ruwenzori Mountains of East Africa, the Golden Lemur in Madagascar and the Bale monkey in Ethiopia.

Bale monkey in Ethiopia.  Photo by Jennifer Corinne Veilleux

Bale monkey in Ethiopia. Photo by Jennifer Corinne Veilleux

Bamboo as a commodity has also played a role in the culture of many societies for centuries, and what is so exciting is that its role has adapted over time. It has provided traditional music instruments like the Pan flute in Peru, or the Angklung in Indonesia, but bamboo instruments are still used today by music ensembles and orchestras. Bamboo paper was used as the canvas for calligraphy in East Asia in ancient times, but modern bamboo pulp can provide eco-friendly paper made from a sustainable source of fibre, and recently patented processing has enabled paper to be made from bamboo pulp without the use of chemicals. Ancient bamboo tools are forerunners of some of the plastic utensils used by modern society, but modern cooks around the world use bamboo chopping boards in the kitchen as they are strong and eco-friendly.

Maybe most striking are the developments in the construction and interior design sectors. Traditional bamboo and rattan furniture has been used for centuries around the homestead in the Global South and in the gardens of many European households, but modern designers have found bamboo and rattan as a source for state-of-the-art creations, such as the iconic bamboo chair from Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen.

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Bamboo has been one of the main eco-friendly construction materials in the tropics, as it is strong but flexible, resilient but soft to touch, insect-proof and easily replaceable. Bamboo and rattan are the raw material for some amazing traditional creations, including bridges, houses and other structures. But also in the world of construction has bamboo adapted with time, and it now is the foundation for some eye-catching modern structures, not only in Asia but also in other parts of the world.

Bus shelter in USA, by www.bamboo.us

Bus shelter in USA, by http://www.bamboo.us

The Eco Global Forum in Guiyang launched a code of conduct to promote eco-civilisation and to recognise the importance of eco-culture. One of the tasks of the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) will be to promote bamboo and rattan as eco-friendly species and commodities, which will contribute in many ways to the achievement of these goals.

Ethiopian Bamboo

 

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I am in Ethiopia, for the launch of the second phase of the Sustainable Land Management Programme, which lives under the name of SLMP2. The programme is part of the Africa-wide TerrAfrica programme which I mentioned in my earlier blog story, which is supported by the World Bank through its own loan arrangements and a Norwegian trust fund, together with several other donors. The SLMP2 project is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The State Minister for Agriculture, HE Sileshi Getahun is currently the Chair of the INBAR Council, and he is very supportive of INBAR playing a role in SLMP2.

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Minister Counsellor Tove Stub from Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ethiopia, HE State Minister for Agriculture Dr Ato Sileshi Getahun and INBAR Director-General, Dr Hans Friederich

The launch started with a welcome word by the Ministry and a series of key-note speeches from the World Bank, Norway, GIZ and INBAR, followed by the opening speech of Minister Sileshi. The World Bank stressed the fact that land degradation and climate change are the major challenges for agricultural development in Ethiopia. Norway explained that they have committed to help Ethiopia in its climate response strategy, and therefore they are very happy to support SLMP2. The representative from GIZ explained that the German government has supported Ethiopia for many years, and both the German development bank KfW and the technical assistance agency GIZ are involved in SLMP2.

I presented the case for bamboo as an alternative option for land restoration. Six out of the nine states in Ethiopia have native bamboo, and the total bamboo cover in Ethiopia is approximately 1million Hectares. I explained that INBAR is keen to support SLMP2 to show how to use bamboo for land management, and also to work with Small and Medium sized Enterprises to promote bamboo business. As is so often the case, people were surprised to learn about the many opportunities bamboo could provide, and some did not realise that Ethiopia is already rich in bamboo.

It is therefore very opportune that INBAR is one of the implementing partners of SLMP2, and this is something that was cemented the day before, when Minister Sileshi and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding our involvement in the project.

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INBAR Director General Dr Hans Friederich and State Minister for Agriculture HE Ato Sileshi Getahun sign MoU for collaboration in Addis Ababa on 13 June 2014

The agreement between the ministry and INBAR defines INBAR as the implementing agency for a component of SLMP2 that deals with bamboo. Currently, the proposal is to work in 12 field sites, where we will promote bamboo planting, help to establish nurseries and provide training in planting, maintaining and harvesting bamboo. We will also work with local business representative to help develop small scale industrial bamboo activities, we will work on bamboo carbon finance and we will promote charcoal bamboo as an alternative household energy source. The last point is particulalrly relevant, as INBAR has spent the last few years on testing the feasibility and economic viability of making bamboo charcoal for local use in Ethiopia and Ghana, through an EU-funded “bamboo as sustainable biomass energy” project.

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After my presentation, several people came to see me to ask if INBAR could expand the scope of its intervention and include more field sites. This is something we will discuss with the Ministry of Agriculture in the coming months, but my priority is to agree on the financial nitty-gritty and start the project.

Next stop: Nairobi, Kenya.

bamboo for land restoration

I had the great pleasure of participating in the seventh future environmental trends conference organized by Institut Veolia in Washington DC on 29 and 30 May 2014.  The conference was titled: “Ecosystems, economy and society: how large scale restoration can stimulate sustainable development”.  Andrew Steer from the World Resources Institute asked if it was time for a “Revolution for Conservation” as there is 2 billion hectares of unproductive land around the globe.  Dennis Garrity from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) had made a plea the previous day for a green revolution for Africa, promoting agro-forestry throughout the continent.

Bamboo could play a pivotal role, not only in Africa, but in many other parts of the world where land has been left unproductive, and I was pleased that I had the opportunity to present my thoughts and INBAR’s experience.  Below is the text of my speech:

Most bamboos are giant grass species, which occur throughout the tropical and subtropical belts. While bamboo is often associated with the Asia-Pacific Region, there is large area of native bamboo in Africa and in Latin America. There are more than 1400 species of bamboo, and they range from relatively small plants to giant culms. Bamboo naturally grows in between other species in a mixed forest, although some of the industrial bamboo plantations in China are mono-culture. Bamboo requires rainfall of at least 500mm per year, but thrives in wetter conditions and different species are adapted to their local conditions, based mainly on rainfall, temperature and soil conditions.

Bamboo grows very fast. In spring or the rainy season, new shoots appear above ground, which reach full height and diameter in several months. The growth rate can reach more than 1 metre per day. Once the bamboo stems (culms) have reached full height, they will not become bigger, but they will need 3 to 5 years to reach maturity, when they can be cut for use. As bamboo is a crop, it can be cut year after year, and new shoots will re-appear to replenish the stock of culms.

There are in general terms two types of bamboo – clump bamboo (sympodial) usually in tropical areas and running bamboo (monopodial) in subtropical areas. A third variety is a hybrid between the two. Clump bamboo grows from a central root mass, and does not spread. Running bamboo has rapidly growing rhizome and root systems, which can grow 1-5 metres in a year.

The rapid growth and the strong root systems make bamboo particularly suited for soil protection. It is reported that a single bamboo plant can bind up to 6m3 of soil and research in China showed that soil erosion in a bamboo plantation is 4.7 times lower than in adjacent sweet potato cropland.

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Dr Lou Yiping from INBAR at soil erosion study site in Datong village, Chishui County, Guizhou province – China

Rwanda has a national bamboo policy that specifies the objective to reduce soil erosion, siltation of rivers and water bodies by growing bamboo on slopes and buffer zones along riverbanks and lakeshores. Together with the ministerial order on buffer zone management, Rwanda has a practice to plant bamboo along ten (10) and five (5) metre corridors along big rivers and small rivers.

Similar arrangements are in place in other countries. For example, Dendrocalamus hookeri was planted along the Mahaveli river in Sri Lanka, and bamboo is also planted along rivers in Brazil, China and other countries.

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Dendrocalamus hookery planted along Mahaveli River in SriLanka. Photo by Dr Shantha Ramanayake

The Philippines National Greening Policy states: Bamboo and mangrove species shall also be tapped as reforestation crops, particularly in river banks and coastal areas, to control soil erosion and as buffers against wave action.” One project in Las Pinas is planting bamboo along 58 kilometers of its riverbanks, using the Philippine giant bamboo, scientifically known as Dendrocalamus asper and the Bambusa blumeana or what is commonly known in Filipino as kawayan tinik.

Bamboo is also used to help restore degraded lands. In India, INBAR worked with a local NGO Utthan in Allahabad, where a large area of land had been used for decades as a source of clay for brick-making. Introduction of pollution control measures and changes in rural development resulted in the collapse of the brick-making industry leaving local communities destitute. Bamboo was used in a pilot project of just over 100 hectares in 1997 and after a number of years, the red earth had been changed into a green oasis.

The pilot project ended some ten years ago, but the planting efforts have not ceased. In fact, the result of the initial investment has been that more than 85,000 hectares of degraded land have now been made productive again, helping 90,000 local households. The initial project was so successful that Utthan was awarded the UDS1million Alcan Prize for Sustainable Development in 2007. The economic benefits are enormous, and indirectly, the bamboo cultivation has resulted in local energy provision, better living conditions, fodder for livestock and poultry, a source of useful materials and therefore income for local communities.

Other villages in India have copied the successful approach in Allahabad, and 3 hectares of barren sodic soils in Madampoondi, Villupura, have been turned into a green forest in one year. Similarly, bamboo is used as a means to help restore eroded slopes in Chili and in Brazil.

In Ghana, tests were carried out to assess the suitability of bamboo for restoring degraded mined areas in the Ashanti region, and providing economic opportunities for the surrounding local communities. Some reclaimed mining sites were used in the research, and some areas that were untreated former mining terraces.After ten months, the space between individual plants had almost closed, and it was difficult to measure individual plants. The survival rate of all species was 95%.  Not surprisingly, native species were very suitable, but also an exotic species was considered particularly well suited.

In China, large areas of forested land were cut during the last century in order to make space for agricultural development. This has turned out to be a challenge in several areas, and more recent policies of Government have promoted the conversion of marginal agricultural sloping land into forest land. In those provinces where bamboo is the major native species, the restoration has been done with bamboo species.In 1999, the Central government set up piloting sites in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces to seek the pathway for conversion of farmland to forest and grassland countrywide.

From 1999 to 2011 the programme has been adopted in 2,279 counties in 25 provinces, involving 32 million rural household and 124 million farmers. The total conversion area is 28.94 million ha, including a) conversion into forest 9.26 million ha, b) plantation of bamboo and trees in waste land and mountains 16.98 million ha and c) mountain enclosure for forest rehabilitation 2.7 million ha. The total financial input from Central government during this period has been 438.5 billion Yuan, which is nearly 70 billion US Dollars.  About 12 bamboo species such as Phyllostachys pubesence and Dendrocalamus farinosuswere selected as priority species by farmers in 13 provinces where bamboo was used in the reforestation programme.

A case study in Guizhou Province covered a total plantation area of 38,466 ha of which 30,066 ha was planted with bamboo, mainly Dendrocalamus farinosus and Bambusa rigida. Before the planting started the slopes were covered with abandoned farmland, and after 8 years the area is a lush bamboo forest

In Sichuan Province, bamboo was used to restore the fragmented habitat of the Giant Panda. Due to agricultural expansion, unplanned landuse and development pressures, the former bamboo habitat of the Giant Panda has been fragmented and reduced. Grain for Green project and a landscape restoration programme in response to the 2008 earthquake provided resources to re-engineer the landscape and restore the bamboo habitat.

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The two photos above show the landscape around Xiakou village, Yaan County, Sichuan, China before planting in 2002 and afterwards in 2010. Photos by Yang Hanmei.

Bamboo has more recently also been planted as a means to create a carbon sink. Bamboo absorbs as much CO2 as a woody tree, and research in China has indicated that in comparison bamboo is a better CO2 sink than Chinese fir- one of the fast growing sub-tropical tree species. The China Green Carbon Foundation planted 47 Hectares of barren land in Lin’an County, Zhejiang Province, China in 2007 with Phyllostachys pubescens. After just five years, the site was covered in bamboo, and Alibaba company paid USD30,000 on 1 November 2011 to buy the 8155 ton CO2equivalent generated by the plantation. As bamboo is a grass species and not a tree, planting bamboo will help countries reach their REDD+ targets, while harvesting bamboo does not contribute to deforestation.

Cut bamboo can also play a role in erosion control and landscape restoration. In Ethiopia, local research found that check dams constructed with a frame made of local bamboo mats are much cheaper than gabion check dams. The bamboo ones work best in small gullies in the uppermost parts of the catchments. In the main valley, where there is risk of violent flash floods, the bamboo check dams cannot be used.

Another interesting example of landscape restoration with bamboo comes from Thailand. Along the coast of Kok Kham island, bamboo breakwaters and bamboo fencing have been used to reverse coastal erosion. 3″ diameter and 5m length bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) culms were used to build walls on the coastal mudflats, up to 4m above ground. The bamboo structure dissipates the wave energy and reduces wind velocity near the coast, and causes deposition of silt with an average 0.46m/year while there is loss of sediment in the neighbouring area without similar structures. The deposited sediment has a lot of food nutrient which is suitable for recovery of mangroves, and the bamboo walls therefore enable mangrove restoration to take place more effectively.

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Mangrove protection by bamboo fences in Kok Kham Thailand

All this illustrates how effective and useful bamboo can be in repairing degraded land and restoring ecosystem functions. The added advantage of including bamboo in restoration initiatives is the fact that it can be used for many purposes. There are reportedly 2000 different uses of bamboo products, ranging from pulp and paper to textile, from food to a source of renewable energy, and bamboo is a versatile construction alternative to wood.

INBAR garden illustrates bamboo and rattan benefits

I wrote last week about the opening of the Qingdao Horticultural Expo, and the INBAR Garden, which highlights the role bamboo and rattan play for horticultural purposes. In Europe and the North America, bamboo is often used as a garden plant or even as interior decoration. However, in other parts of the world, bamboo has many more uses.

In his speech during the opening of the Qingdao Expo last week on 25 April, Tim Briercliffe, Secretary General of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, AIPH, stressed the role of plants and trees in urban planning. He emphasised that research has shown that a green city is a healthier city than an urban environment without plants and trees. Urban trees and plants provide shade and help to cool the micro-climate, they absorb pollution and generate oxygen, and they attract birds, bees and butterflies. In tropical areas, bamboo could pay a key role in urban planning, as it grows fast, it maintains is foliage throughout the year, and it could provide additional resources when cut. INBAR had a visit recently from a group of town planners and architects from HongKong, who are looking into ways and means to use bamboo in their plans, and they are not the only ones.  The following photo is taken in Chengdu. southern China, where bamboo is used to create a shade corridor in a park.

Bamboo corridor in Wangjianglou Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Bamboo corridor in Wangjianglou Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

The INBAR garden at the Qingdao Expo is a showcase for many of the uses and benefits of bamboo and rattan, and as the EXPO will remain open to the public for 6 months, I hope that many people will visit the INBAR garden to see first-hand what an amazing species these two plants are. The garden has 23 different bamboo species from all over China, although Qingdao is towards the northern margin of the natural range of bamboo. Unlike some of the other gardens that are designed as temporary structures, bamboo can remain in the Qingdao EXPO forever, and we are discussing the possibility of having a permanent presence. The different species are an illustration of the wealth of bamboo, and different species have different uses. Particularly striking bamboo for horticultural and decorative purposes is the turtleshell bamboo (Phyllostachys heterocycla), but we also show the typical Chinese moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescence) and the giant bamboo from Yunnan Province (Dendrocalamus sinicus) in the south of China.

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden giant bamboo and generalview

The garden designers constructed a traditional bamboo house, to show how round pole bamboo can be used in building sturdy structures. Such bamboo houses are earth-quake proof, as the bamboo will respond to movement, and the joints are all natural without nails or bolts. INBAR has promoted such structures in Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, and is currently working with partners in Bhutan to enhance building practices there. We are also working with partners in South America to develop affordable, modern bamboo housing examples, and we showcased some of the recent work at the World Urban Forum in Medellin earlier this month.

The path through the INBAR garden is made from decking of engineered bamboo. Bamboo has been used to make indoor parquet flooring for 30 years, and there are many ways to do so, but the use of bamboo for outdoor decks and terraces is a relatively new development. The bamboo planks in the INBAR garden are manufactured with physical treatment, which means less pollution compared to chemical treatment. Manufacturing is a mechanical process of heat and pressure, and the outdoor planks are guaranteed for more than 10 years.

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden stream and rattan bridge small

Manufacturers in the USA, Australia and Europe also produce such outdoor bamboo materials, often from raw materials that are imported from Asia.   The 2012 trade flow of bamboo and rattan products from Asia to Europe was USD 420 million, 68% of the total export value from Asia to the World, and there is a large internal market in the EU of USD 164 million. This is a market that comprises import of raw materials or partially finished products and export or internal trade of finished goods. Flooring is one of the examples.

There is a small stream in the INBAR garden. We have planted bamboo on the banks, and have used bamboo pieces to create small dams.   This aerates the water, and the bamboo on the banks stops soil erosion. The aim is to illustrate how bamboo could be used on larger scale to help protect the banks of waterways, and how constructed wetlands can help with water treatment. Rwanda has a legislation that calls for waterway bank protection by bamboo (10m buffer for riverbanks, 20m for lakeshores) and other countries have also recognised this potential. The concept of manmade wetlands for water treatment has been implemented in many places around the world, especially using reeds and aquatic vegetation, such as the papyrus swamps in Lake Victoria near Kampala in Uganda, but using bamboo is a new approach which can be developed for small communities without mechanical waste water treatment facilities. And by introducing bamboo, we open up the possibility for the local communities to develop new economic activities.

INBAR does not only represent the producers and users of bamboo, but we also a responsible for the sustainable management of rattan. The garden has large bridge and corridor made from rattan, to show how this plant can be used in design and construction. Rattan is mainly found in South East Asia and Central and West Africa. IBAR is discussing with the 10 ASEAN nations how we can develop together a more sustainable future for rattan, including appropriate management of natural resources, planting of rattan to restore depleted sources and assistance with international regulations regarding trade and economic development. I will be visiting the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in a few days’ time, and I will be discussing the rattan programme with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.

Qingdao Expo Opening INBAR rattan bridge with people - small

 

Finally, we have constructed a building in our garden at the Qingdao Expo which houses some examples of the many household uses of bamboo and rattan. The building is totally made from bamboo and rattan, but the walls are not made from round bamboo poles. We have used strandwoven boards that can be used in any modern construction, and the ceiling is made from bamboo plasterboard. But, we have used some massive round bamboo poles as main supports for the roof structure, to illustrate how one can combine traditional building crafts with modern housing design and construction. The shape of the building is modelled on a sailing boat, and we have the flags of all 39 Members of INBAR flying from the stern.

Qingdao Expo INBAR pavilion with flags small

Inside, there are examples of traditional bamboo painting and calligraphy, but also some modern bamboo weaving products. We have both traditional and modern interior design pieces made from rattan and bamboo, and there are examples of bamboo-based textiles. A word about the textile made from bamboo. Currently, it is difficult to produce yarn from natural fibres, as the industry has not yet discovered an economic solution to lengthen the relatively short bamboo fibres. Most bamboo textiles are there produced from viscose, and this process involves the use of chemicals. However, bamboo viscose is not any worse than viscose made from other raw materials. What makes bamboo viscose environmentally friendly is the fact that the raw product – bamboo is a plant that does not require agro-chemical applications (although some farmers may add fertiliser to speed up growth), grows on marginal lands and slopes, needs little or no irrigation once established, and does not compete with foodcrops. Moreover, as it is a crop, bamboo can be harvested every year, after 3 to 5 years for reaching maturity.

In the bamboo house you can also find some traditional round bamboo and rattan furniture, produced through a very new patented technology that uses round bamboo for handmade high quality furniture. It does not crack, even during the very dry Beijing winter. In the bamboo house you can also find other bamboo products like a bamboo computer keyboard and mouse; a bamboo radio and a bamboo calculator; a selection of bamboo charcoal products, and more.

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All-in-all, bamboo and rattan are versatile plants with an immense range of applications and uses. The INBAR garden does not explain the role of bamboo in CO2 sequestration and the fact that it absorbs as much if not more than comparable tree species. It does not talk much about the role of bamboo is restoring degraded lands and helping to bring unproductive soils back into life. It also does not show the important role of bamboo and rattan in biodiversity conservation, as the Chinese giant panda, the Gorillas in Eastern Africa and the Madagascar bamboo lemur all depend on bamboo in nature. And the INBAR garden is not able to present to you some of the ground-breaking research that is still taking place with regards to the production of ethanol and butanol, the potential pharmaceutical properties and chemical applications. But – the INBAR garden in the Qingdao EXPO shows a lot of bamboo and rattan aspects. If you have the chance, please go and visit!

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden sign (3) small

 

Horticultural bamboo in Qingdao, China

I am in the beach resort and port town of Qingdao, well known for its beer brand in China. The reason for my visit is the 2014 Horticultural Exposition, which was opened with great fanfare today. INBAR has joined the Qingdao Expo to highlight the role that bamboo plays from a horticultural perspective.  Celebrations started yesterday evening with a gala dinner, where I was joined by the Ambassadors of two of our member countries, Madagascar and Nepal. Today was the formal opening of the Expo, and beautiful weather with sunshine and a slight breeze allowed the ceremony to take place in full glory.

There were hundreds of invited guests, from many corners of the world and a good number of Chinese VIPs as well. I sat next to Vice Minister Zhang Yongli from the State Forest Administration, INBAR’s host agency and a great supporter of bamboo and rattan. Vice Minister Zhang and I enjoyed the preparations before the actual ceremony started.

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Vice Minister Zhang Yongli and INBAR Director-General

The opening was a very well-orchestrated fanfare of music, dance and speeches, with the official flag raising ceremony as well. Individual Chinese singers provided leading music pieces, while a large choir helped to provide the background music. There were dancers in traditional costume, there was a children’s choir, and we had clowns and balloons.

Speakers included the Vice-Chair of the INBAR Board, Professor Jiang Zehui, and the Secretary-General of the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH), Tim Briercliffe from the UK. When the speeches ended, the organisers released more than 100 doves, who flew overhead to provide a fetching finale to the opening ceremony. After the official ceremony was concluded, I went to the INBAR Garden to wait for some of the VIP guests, and was very impressed with what has been achieved during the past year of planning and construction.

The garden is well laid out, and has 22 species of bamboo from all over China.  Bamboo is used to aerate a small stream, to show how manmade wetlands can help with water treatment.  We had arranged for s music ensemble that plays on instruments made from bamboo to provide a nice atmosphere.  The garden has wooden decking everywhere, which is made from engineered bamboo; there is a traditional bamboo house made from round bamboo, and a modern showroom with many bamboo and rattan products, as well as a bridge made from rattan.  My colleague Dr Fu Jinhe told me that the bridge is one of the most photographed places in the garden. .

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Dr Fu Jinhe from INBAR on the rattan bridge

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to see a few other places. I attended a ceremony at the Dutch garden, and accompanied the Ambassador of Nepal to China, Mr Mahesh Kumar Maskey, to the Nepal pavilion.

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Nepal Ambassador and INBAR Director-General in front of Nepal pavilion

Tomorrow is the official opening of the INBAR Garden, so more news from Qingdao tomorrow.

From Guest Blogger Aiden Korr: Five Reasons Why Bamboo Is a Reliable Alternative Energy Source

hansfriederich:

I am reading this piece about bamboo and energy. This is particularly relevant as INBAR has just completed its project on bamboo charcoal in Ethiopia and Ghana, and we are discussing a future bamboo energy programme, in partnership with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation

Originally posted on 2GreenEnergy.com:

There are several species of bamboo in the world. They are used in furniture, construction, decorative purposes and some of them become breakfast, lunch and dinner to Pandas – yes, an adult Panda can easily devour 25 to 40 kgs of bamboo every single day to meet the energy demand of their fat bodies. Now bamboos are ready to suffice out energy needs as well.

View original 549 more words

Master weavers from the forest

INBAR is in charge of the Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) Global Partnership Programme, and is trying to identify case studies of successful NTFP production. One of the striking examples of NTFP use is the production of woven mats and baskets from leaves and strips of material from the stems of plants.  Talking about weaving with NTFP made me reflect on my own memories of basket weaving in four of the countries where I lived

When I was young, I used to visit the Biesbosch, a large area of coastal wetlands in the southwest of the Netherlands. One of the traditional crafts from this part of the country was weaving baskets from young flexible willow branches. This is not a true NTFP, although the way willows are coppiced, allows them to continue growing.

We had a large basket for washing at home and our dog slept in a willow dog basket. Weaving baskets from willow branches is an old craft in the coastal wetlands of Europe, but due to high labour costs it is no longer economically viable in the Netherlands. Some master weavers still practice the trade for educational purposes, and in order to maintain a cultural heritage, and there are enterprises that have combines traditional basket weaving with other more general weaving of screens and partitions.

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Dog basket from willow by kwantum.nl

During my University Studies in the UK, I was fortunate to be invited to join the 1987 Royal Geographical Society expedition to Gunung Mulu in Sarawak, Malaysia. A few years later, I went back to the same place, as a member of the British-Malaysian Speleological exploration team that discovered the largest underground chamber in the world. The limestone mountains are now the Gunung Mulu National Park, a place well worth visiting.

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During the expeditions, we were sometimes invited to the local longhouse to exchange ideas, and to cement our relationships with the Berawan people that traditionally lived in the area. During these visits, I admired the beautiful weaving examples, and I found out that this is a trade that is particularly well developed in Indonesia and Malaysia. Baskets, mats and wall hangings are made with exquisite patterns and colour combinations, using natural rattan fibres.

According to the Sarawak Museum, weaving and plaiting baskets isn’t just for convenience. In the Iban community for example, the ability to plait fine baskets would enhance the standing of a woman within the community. The baskets and other plaited items are made in their own design and technique that represents the ethnic identity.  The following photo is an example that is kept in the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.

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Rattan is the name for the roughly 600 species of palms in the genera Calamus, Daemonorops, and Korthalsia climbing palms of tropical Asia, all belonging to the family Palmae (palm family). Most rattans grow in Indonesia and neighbouring countries, although they are also found in Africa. Rattans are threatened with overexploitation, as harvesters are cutting stems too young and reducing their ability to re-sprout. Unlike bamboo, rattan requires a long time to regenerate, and unsustainable harvesting of rattan leads to forest degradation, affecting overall forest ecosystem services, and this is a serious problem also recognised by the weavers.

In my current position of Director-General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, I am planning to develop a programme of activities for sustainable rattan management in partnership with our members that produce rattan. We are not alone, and will be working with other organisations that are promoting similar work. I will report on progress in this area later this year.

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A rattan palm from Indonesia

When I moved to Botswana in the early eighties, I discovered the basket weavers from Etsha in the Okavango Delta. They are true master weavers as well, using the leaves of another palm tree – the Mokola (Hyphaene petersiana) that grows in the Okavango Delta – and produce pieces of art. I bought several baskets during an interior design exhibition in Serowe in 1985, and have carried them around the world.

Commercialisation of the basket industry in the Okavango has led to changes in the population structure of the palms, but the Ngamiland Basket Weavers Trust, a local association set up mainly by women from the area is planting new trees to ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials. A private company Botswanacraft is also selling Botswana baskets from the master weavers in Etsha, and they fetch at least several hundred dollars per piece.

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Baskets from Etsha Village in Botswana. Photo by L’Arco Baleno

Now, I live in China and a few weeks ago I visited Qingsheng County in Sichuan Province in southern China. Master weaver Zhang showed us what he can do with bamboo! He makes the finest woven covers for porcelain vases and pots, some of which are sold to exclusive addresses in Europe. The photo below shows Master Zhang and me admiring one of his creations.

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Master weaver Zhang also teaches local people how to make woven paintings, using different colours of bamboo strands. The strands are hand-produced, by splitting bamboo into small strips, which are then separated into 10 layers. These thin layers are again split into even thinner strands of bamboo, and they are used to make the intricate weavings.

 

I have been fortunate to see master weavers in action in several countries, and they all use Non-Timber Forest Products. The NTFP Global Partnership Programme may be able to find other masters weavers, or maybe you know of some. I would love to get in touch with them.