Back to Qingdao

Last month, I read “the Siege of Tsingtao” by Jonathan Fenby. This is a book that describes the battle between the German forces in the port of Qingdao and the invading English and Japanese troops during in November 1914 during the First World War. It illustrates why Qingdao is a special place.

Penguin - Siege of Tsingtao

I have visited the town four times this year, and that is more than any other place in China. The reason for my visits has nothing to do with World War I, or German occupation, but is linked to the Horticultural Expo 2014. Every other year, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) organises international horticultural expositions, and this year the EXPO was in Qingdao. INBAR has a garden at the Qingdao EXPO, and this has been one of our main activities in China during 2014.  I wrote about this on 3 May on my blog.

INBAR-garden-signboard

The first time I visited Qingdao was during the official opening of the EXPO in April. The opening ceremony was an amazing event with song and dance, music and flag-raising. It started with a welcome dinner the evening before, and culminated in the official opening of the EXPO.  I already wrote about this on 25 April this year.

INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr. Li Zhiyong at Qingdao EXPO Opening Ceremony

INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr. Li Zhiyong at Qingdao EXPO Opening Ceremony

The day after the official launch was INBAR’s own ceremony to open our garden. We had an impressive occasion with several Ambassadors, high-level Chinese officials, local dignitaries and a group of invitees. Professor Jiang Zehui, Co-Chair of the INBAR Board of Trustees gave the keynote speech at the opening ceremony, and invited Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong to the INBAR showroom.

Professor Jiang Zehui and Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong visit INBAR showroom

Professor Jiang Zehui and Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong visit INBAR showroom

In May, we received notice that Vice Premier Wang Yang was planning to visit the EXPO. Vice Premier Wang is responsible for agriculture and forestry matters, and he expressed interest in paying a visit to our garden. INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr Li Zhiyong and myself flew to Qingdao to welcome the Vice Prime Minister, and show him around the INBAR showroom. The Vice Premier was impressed with the garden and with the bamboo products on show.

China Vice Premier Wang Yang reads poems about bamboo in the INBAR showroom at the Qingdao EXPO

China Vice Premier Wang Yang reads poems about bamboo in the INBAR showroom at the Qingdao EXPO

After the summer holidays, we organised a staff meeting in Qingdao to discuss the new 15-year INBAR Strategy and the associated re-organisation of the Secretariat, and to talk about fundraising. We also use the day to visit the garden with the full INBAR staff team.

Qingdao-staff-retreat

Yesterday, 25 October 2014, I returned for the closing ceremony of the EXPO. This was another impressive event, but shorter than the opening ceremony. I signed the transfer of management of the international gardens to the local authorities, on behalf of all the international partners. INBAR also received the Top Grand Award for our garden.

Dr Fu Jinhe and the writer with the Top Grand Award

Dr Fu Jinhe and the writer with the Top Grand Award

I visited the INBAR garden for the last time, and it still looks very good. The outdoor decking has weathered well, he bamboo are nearly all healthy. The main building is still in good shape, and there was continued interest from visitors, both inside the building and outside in the garden.

25October (3)

In 2016, the next Horticultural EXPO will be in Antalia, Turkey. We have started discussions about a possible INBAR contribution, and we welcomed a delegation from Turkey to our Headquarters the following morning.

Commissioner-General Selami Gulay of EXPO 2016 Antalya with INBAR DG Hans Friederich

Commissioner-General Selami Gulay of EXPO 2016 Antalya with INBAR DG Hans Friederich

I will let you know what will happen!

Bamboo at the Biodiversity Convention

Last week I was in Korea, where I attended the last two days of the twelfth meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This meeting is simple referred to as CBDCOP12. I was there together with the new INBAR Director of Communications and Outreach, Michael Devlin, and we had a busy few days.

CBDCOP12 was organised in a sky resort in Pyeongchang, some three hours drive from Incheon International Airport. It was cold in Pyeongchang, and the discussions took place in large tents. Picture delegates sitting at their desk with coats, scarves and even hats and gloves – that was CBDCOP12!

CBDCOP12-Korea-small

This is not the first time that I attend such a meeting. When I worked for IUCN, I participated in several “COPs”, and they have always seemed special events. Most of the time during the plenary meetings towards the end of the COP is spent on debating the details of text of various documents, and there is no longer room for presentation of new thoughts or discussions of substance. That happened in the preparatory meetings and earlier in the first week. Towards the end of the COP, there are only side events where substantive issues are presented and debated.

INBAR hosted one of the side events this year, and the main aim was to launch the nine finalists of the TVE Biomovies competition. Ethiopia is the Chair of the INBAR Council, and I was very happy that the Head of the Ethiopia Delegation to COP12, Dr. Gemedo Dalle Tussie, gave the opening remarks at our side event. The Biomovies competition asked young media people to propose scripts for short videos. The judging team chose the 9 most promising proposals, and the film-makers were given financial and technical assistance by TVE to produce their video. This year, we had three categories: a) bamboo and rattan, b) renewable energy and c) protecting the world’s environment. INBAR was the sponsor for the bamboo and rattan category, and therefore we hosted the launch of the final videos.

HF-CBDCOP12

The winners were nine interesting films with different perspectives. The bamboo and rattan finalists are from Bolivia, Nepal and Zimbabwe. The Bolivian video describes a bamboo clump that is dreaming of flying. The pole is cut and the material used to make a kite. The film ends with the bamboo flying, and the message that you can do anything with bamboo! The Nepal entry describes a boy who is drawing a picture and who is slowly losing his pens, his drawing and even his clothes. The message is not to ignore the values of bamboo. The video from Zimbabwe is a series of short interviews with poor kids on the streets of Harare or Bulawayo who make a range of things from bamboo and rattan. The message is that bamboo is very versatile and its uses are unlimited. All nine films are now on-line and we are asking the public to watch and vote!

We also used the side event to talk about a project in India that INBAR was involved in from 2000 to 2003. We were very fortunate to get the perspective on Mr Hem Pande, the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in India, who joined us briefly at the event. The project aimed at helping poor farmers in an area that had been devastated during brick making, and the top soil had been stripped for several metres. INBAR and its local partner Utthan started a re-planting project with bamboo, which was very successful. We published a report “Greening Red Earth” and a few years after the project ended Utthan received the Alcan Sustainability Prize.

Greening-Red-Earth-cover

Earlier this year, I wondered what had happened, and asked one of my colleague to go back to the same place and have a look, take some photos and talk with local people. The result was not as imposing as we had hoped, as there is no large bamboo forest! But, the results are actually very impressive. Farmers have used bamboo as the keystone in an integrated agro-forestry and inter-cropping system, and as a result they are now doing well, gaining at some 10% of their income from bamboo. Bamboo provides all kinds of obvious services and it is a source of material for furniture making and construction. We started with a few hundred hectares in 2000 and now Utthan has covered 85,000 hectares. It is a real success story, which we will present in a new publication later this year.

Apart from hosting the side event, we also participated in the general discussion, and in the corridors I bumped into old and new acquaintances. Many former IUCN colleagues were at the meeting, and it was very nice to renew contacts with former staff and peers. I also met with representatives of the INBAR network, and especially the dinner with Vice Minister Adobo from the Philippines and his whole delegation was a very nice experience.

We also had meetings with representatives from Korea. Discussions with the Department of Forestry focused on the possibility of Korea becoming a member of INBAR. We talked with a delegation from Damyang Province, as this is where the World Bamboo Fair and the World Bamboo Congress will take place next year in September. INBAR still has to work out what it will do in Damyang, but it is clear that I will be back in Korea next September!

WBC-2015

Back in Vietnam to discuss bamboo and rattan

I lived in Vietnam from 1994 to 2000, and visited several times until 2004, when I moved to Switzerland.  I have not been back since, and all-of-a-sudden found myself back in Hanoi.

The reason was two-fold. One the one hand, the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is the focal point for INBAR in Vietnam. They had sent a message that they would like to discuss future collaboration between INBAR and Vietnam. One the other hand, INBAR received messages from SNV – Netherlands Development Organisation in Hanoi who are supporting the Provincial authorities in Thanh Hoa Province in their efforts to develop a bamboo strategy and action plan for the province.

I therefore travelled to Hanoi for a day of discussions with MARD and SNV. I also met my old friend Nguyen Minh Thong, who took over from me as IUCN Country Representative when I left late 1999, and who is now the Country Representative of Fairventures Worldwide. Thong is also advisor to the Vietnam Green Building Council and he talked passionately about the opportunity to use bamboo as a sustainable building material in Vietnam.

I stayed in the Sofitel Plaza, which used to be the Meritus Hotel when my wife and I lived in Hanoi. We used to be members of the hotel’s fitness club and swimming pool in the late nineties, as we lived nearby. I went in search of our old house near Truc Bac Lake and found this has not changed much from the outside. Getting to places on foot is a challenge in Hanoi, as there are so many motorcycles and mopeds, and the pavements are often occupied with parked cars, hawkers or groups of people playing a game or chatting.

Lac Trinh street in Hanoi

Lac Trinh street in Hanoi

My discussions at the ministry and SNV were very constructive. Vietnam is very keen to develop its bamboo resources. According to MARD, out of the total area of nearly 14 million hectares of forests in Vietnam, 518,000 hectares are bamboo forest, and 673,000 hectares are mixed tress and bamboo forest. In addition, there are 87,000 hectares of bamboo plantation. This is a total of 1.278 hectares or roughly 9% of the total forest area in Vietnam. Thanh Hoa has the largest area of Luong bamboo (Dendrocalamus barbatu) in Vietnam, with over 80,000 hectares of natural bamboo forest and 71,000 hectares of planted bamboo, largely under household management.

Both MARD and SNV are asking INBAR to provide technical support in developing bamboo utilisation plans at national and provincial level. MARD explained that the main missing link is market access and appropriate technology for bamboo development, but they are also looking forward to working together on sustainable production of rattan.  Thanh Hoa Province is partially looking at its internal market, but SNV agreed that technology transfer is a key issue for the province as well. I took on board all the requests and comments, and we will discuss internally how best to respond, but it seems to me that INBAR has fantastic opportunities in Vietnam.

In the evening, I took a taxi to the centre of old Hanoi – Hoan Kiem Lake. This is a historical part of town, which still looks the same as in the early nineties. I read in the local newspaper – Vietnam News – that at a workshop earlier in the week, architects and cultural experts had agreed that no new high-rise buildings should be constructed around the lake to maintain the current outlook.

Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi

Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi

It was a joy to saunter around the lake and to lose myself in the old town. Hanoi is a very social city with people sitting on small stools along the road and on terraces and porches, chatting, drinking and eating.

What a pleasure to be in Hanoi again.  The discussions I had with MARD and SNV suggest that I will be back before too long.

 

USD 60 billion – the total value of trade in bamboo and rattan?

INBAR has just released an analysis of the 2012 international trade figures of bamboo and rattan products. This is an important report with an in-depth review of the international import and export of bamboo and rattan, recorded in the United Nations Comtrade database. INBAR is the International Commodity Body for bamboo and rattan, and therefore it monitors the international trade.

The report concludes that in 2012 the international trade in bamboo and rattan amounted to USD 1.9 billion. However, these figures are questionable, for the following reasons:

  • There is a limited number of so-called HS codes that can be used to describe products that are exported or imported. More HS Codes for bamboo and rattan have recently been approved by the World Customs Organisation, but these new codes will not come into operation until 2017
  • Some countries still include bamboo and rattan products in wood products when they report their trade, as they do not use the HS codes effectively. This could be due to a lack of understanding or recognition of bamboo and rattan products
  • Not all countries register their trade figures consistently and accurately. This can be a result of lack of awareness, or the need for training of those responsible for reporting the trade figures.

The recorded international trade of bamboo and rattan products in 2012 was nearly USD 2 billion, and the predictions for 2015 amount to USD 2.5 billion, but the shortcomings that I have just listed mean that the real figure could be much more.

Even if we assume that the figure for international trade is double what we have recoded, cross-border import and export is dwarfed by the domestic market, and the total value for trade of bamboo and rattan globally is therefore a lot more than the international trade figures would suggest.   Let me explain.

We have a fairly good idea of the domestic trade in China, as the State Forestry Administration of China has a bamboo development plan. According to the official statistics, the national production value of bamboo industry increased to USD 19.5 billion in 2012 from USD 13 billion in 2010, with an annual grow of 16%. Using the same figure of growth for the following years, the production value of bamboo industry of China in 2015 can be expected to be as high as USD 36billion.

In a bamboo handicrafts factory in Anji County, Zhejiang Province

In a bamboo handicrafts factory in Anji County, Zhejiang Province

 

 

The other main bamboo producer in Asia is India. In 2011, the Forest Service of India reported a total cover of bamboo forests in India of nearly 14 million Hectares, which is more than double the 6.7 million Hectares of bamboo reported by the State Forestry Administration of China in 2013. Yet, despite the fact that there is such a large amount of bamboo available in India, the potential size of bamboo industry of India in 2015 is estimated as USD 4.35 billion in a recent report by Aniket Baksy.

This must be an underestimate, but there are no reliable up-to-date statistics for bamboo trade in India, maybe due to the fact that in many States bamboo is simply included in forest and timber statistics. I know that the bamboo industry in India is not as developed as the bamboo industry in China, but I cannot believe that the production is only one-tenth of what China produces.

Uttranchal

Using the figures above, the total domestic market of China and India, the two most important traditional bamboo producers in Asia, and arguably in the world, would amount to at least USD 40 billion by 2015, but it is presumably more.

Although we have little or no information, it is very likely that a domestic market also exists in other traditional bamboo producing countries in Asia, like Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. There must also be a local market in Brazil and Mexico in Latin America, and in some African countries with significant bamboo resources such as Ethiopia and RDC.

We have no real figures, but using the trade distribution in the international market in 2012, the domestic market of bamboo products in the major producing countries, excluding China and India, can be estimated to be at least USD 5.5 billion in 2012. This is again a gross under-estimate as we have no statistics for DRC, and Brazil does not record its trade in bamboo. Yet, these countries both have significant bamboo resources, simply by virtue of the size of the country.

If we use the figure of USD 5.5 billion as the baseline, and we apply the same 16% growth for other countries as experienced in China during the past years, there will be an additional USD 9 billion by 2015.  This would lead to a combined total value of domestic trade in bamboo products of nearly USD 50 billion, which is more than ten times the value of the recorded international trade.

Bamboo sculpture from the Philippines.  Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua, INBAR

Bamboo sculpture from the Philippines. Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua, INBAR

The area of natural rattan distribution is much smaller than the natural cover of bamboos. Using the percentages of bamboo and rattan products in international trade, an amount of USD 6.2 billion can be estimated for the domestic market for rattan products in the major rattan producing countries in 2012. As the general view holds that rattan trade is not expanding very much, or maybe even contracting, we can assume the same figure of USD 6.2 billion for 2015.

Using these estimates above, the global trade of bamboo and rattan products in 2015 can be considered to have a value in the order of USD 60 billion. But, as I said earlier, these figures are most likely still gross under-estimates, and INBAR will try to get better information directly from the countries during the coming years. I cannot make any founded suggestions about the real figures, but the real value of global trade in bamboo and rattan products must be more than USD 60 billion. This is serious business!

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.

EFG-name-plaque

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.