“The existential climate crisis requires even more urgent action by the entire global travel & tourism sector than has been generally recognized to date.”

Last week, I was part of the inaugural SUNx Malta 2020 Climate Friendly Travel and Tourism Think Tank with 35 global thought leaders from the travel and tourism sector.  We met from 24th – 28th February in Qawra, Malta.  Prior to the discussions of the think tank, I attended the meeting of the Board of SUNx Malta.

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The Board of SUNx Malta

SUNx Malta was designed by Professor Geoffrey Lipman, the founder of the SUNx Programme, and Leslie Vella from the Malta Tourism Authority, and is a legacy to Maurice Strong.  Maurice was a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, arguably the father of Sustainable Development and a true visionary on climate resilience.  He had a passionate belief in the potential of Travel & Tourism to be a positive change agent for sustainability generally and for action in response to the Climate Crisis specifically.  The SUNx Programme is advocating that all travel and tourism should be “Measured, Green, and 2050-proof”.

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Leslie Vella and Geoffrey Lipman

The First “Climate Friendly Travel” Sector Report was co-produced by SUNx Malta and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and issued on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.  The 2020 Think Tank strongly endorsed the report and its key messages that:

  • The Climate Crisis is eXistential.
  • Climate Action is Urgent
  • Climate & Carbon Ambitions Globally must increase
  • Travel & Tourism Sector Climate Ambition must intensify
  • Climate Friendly Travel can be a solution
  • “We must Act Now. We must Act Fast.”

The Think Tank was organised in a way that different experts provided a discussion paper on a specific topic, which was then debated further in the group discussion.  The first presentation on Day 1 was by Professor Ian Yeoman from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who provided an analysis of four alternative future scenarios.  Felix Dodds provided a review of historical and current thinking in the United Nations international policy arena, and Jeff Poole elaborated on the position of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

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Professor Ian Yeoman

The objective to establish a climate-friendly travel and tourism ambitions register in Malta was introduced by Professor Geoffrey Lipman.  I am particularly interested in this aspect of SUNx Malta, as I will be acting as the Registrar.

In the evening, we had a lively discussion with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, who is the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Transport & Tourism.

The second day took place in Gozo, at the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies in Qala.  The day started with a presentation from Professor Susanne Becken from Griffith University in New Zealand. Her overriding message was that the climate crisis is existential, and that it requires even more urgent action by the entire global travel & tourism sector than has been generally recognized to date.

 

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Susanne Becken raising awareness about the climate crisis

This was followed by an introduction to the potential of new technology in the 4th industrial revolution by Carlos Moreira from WISeKey International in Switzerland.  He introduced the idea of an electronic identity for tourists and travelers, as a potential component of Sunx Malta.

The afternoon saw a heated debate about the role of aviation in climate mitigation and the opportunities to develop alternative aviation fuels.  The discussion drifted into the positive and negative aspects of carbon offset, and further exchange of views was deferred to the following day.

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The Think Tank in Gozo – photo by Ian Yeoman

The third day focused on big data, and how this can be used to promote climate-friendly travel, and we came back to the discussion about carbon offsets and afforestation.

These in-depth discussions resulted in the following key recommendations:

  • All Stakeholders including Transport, Hospitality, Travel Services, and Infrastructure Providers must urgently start the transformation in 2020 to get onto the Paris 1.5o trajectory within the next 7-10 years. Governments, companies, communities and consumers must all engage and take action now.
  • “Climate Friendly Travel” ~ measured: green: 2050 proof, must urgently become an imperative and the new norm.
  • SUNx Malta agreed to support The European Green New Deal to promote the strong integration of Climate Friendly Travel, and we agreed with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, Vice Chair of the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament, to convene a meeting in Brussels in the second quarter of 2020 to advance this.
  • Improving the Research Base was underscored on both de-carbonisation and sector resilience. The initiative of the Universities of Surrey and Griffith to host a meeting of global experts to focus on this issue was warmly welcomed, with an agreement to collaborate going forward.
  • Fully transforming all modes of transport was seen as pivotal. SUNx Malta’s call for a Moon-shot approach for aviation to further accelerate technological research and deployment was strongly supported.  The highest importance must be given to the immediate distribution and rapid scaling up of currently available solutions to substantially reduce aviation fossil fuel reliance. There is a need for renewed commitment from the sector to radically increase financing of synthetic fuels. Current fuel suppliers were called on to apply full financial and corporate commitment to a solution, as well as to give the highest priority to synthetic aviation fuel production. In addition, states may wish to consider including international Aviation in their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • In regard to Climate Financing generally, the Travel & Tourism sector must engage more actively with emerging Green Finance programs to be able to secure adequate funds for transformation. High quality offsetting of carbon impacts were seen as short-term transition instruments but totally inadequate as a long-term solution. In this context it was broadly believed that aviation action to date was falling behind the rapidly intensifying transformation need.
  • Emerging innovations and technologies were reviewed, and it was felt that there are “low hanging fruits” that could be acted upon rapidly, in areas such as building refurbishment, cruise shipping, carbon reduction, waste to fuel transformation, developing consumer behaviour and digital opportunities.
  • The SUNx Malta Climate Friendly Travel Registry of Ambitions was reviewed and endorsed, as was the initiative with WISeKey to develop an innovative consumer facing secure platform.
  • Education of the Next Generation was underscored as a high priority with an emphasis on an accredited Graduate Diploma, from the Gozo Institute of Tourism Studies Campus. The SUNx Malta 100,000 STRONG Climate Friendly Travel Champions and as well as its school’s program – was seen as a very positive step forward to support company and community transformation.

After three days of intense discussions, the Think Tank had a lively meeting with Malta’s Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Hon. Julia Farrugia Portelli on Day 4.  In the afternoon Minister Farrugia Portelli hosted a “town-hall meeting” with representatives from the Malta tourism and travel community.

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Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Hon. Julia Farrugia Portelli

We all agreed that the emerging collaborative framework between the Government of Malta and the Maltese travel & tourism supply chain is a pioneering approach, which could be replicated around the world, as States seek to fulfill their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions

The Initiative of the Government of Malta to become a global Centre of Climate Friendly Travel, and the leadership of Minister Farrugia Portelli was warmly welcomed.

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Bamboo in Europe – reflections after key events in Spain and Italy

I just attended the first Ibero Bamboo Symposium in Madrid , where I talked about bamboo in Europe.  Planning for the symposium started in 2018, when I was the Director-General of INBAR, but we had not concluded negotiations by the time I left Beijing in April 2019.  Borja de la Pena Escardo from INBAR must be congratulated with his perseverance to make it happen, together with the Spanish organisation BAMBUSA.  The symposium took place on 1 October 2019, and was attended by some 100 participants from Portugal, Spain and a number of other countries.  

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This was a very opportune time, as in recent months in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, there has been a lot of news about the benefits of planting trees for climate change mitigation, and the Climate Summit stressed the importance of Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change.

A report from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in the scientific journal Science a few months ago advocated to plant at least a trillion trees.  The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

However, the report only looked at trees and did not consider the significant opportunity that could be provided by planting bamboo.  Woody bamboos look like trees, although they are genetically members of the grass family.  According to Guinness World Records, Bamboos are the fastest growing plants in the world, and when the poles are harvested the roots and rhizomes maintain their health so that new shoots appear during the next growing season.

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Bamboo shoot in Zhejiang Province, China

Although it would take decades before new forests would be mature enough to store large amounts of carbon, bamboo plantations are very effective within a few years of planting.  Reports by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) from China and Ecuador have illustrated this in earlier studies, and a recent 2019 report by Bamcore in California strongly supports these findings.

The research from Bamcore leads to the fundamental conclusion that woody bamboo afforestation and reforestation significantly out-performs wood afforestation and reforestation, providing significant near-term carbon capture and ultimately more carbon capture and storage per hectare of land used.

Bamboos are part of natural vegetation in sub-saharan Africa, much of Asia east of Pakistan and most of Latin America and the Caribbean.  They are not native to Europe, although the Mediterranean Cane that grows in the Mediterranean Region is very similar to bamboo.  We know from pilot tests that bamboos also thrive, and many small areas of healthy planted bamboos exist in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain

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Arundo donax (Mediterranean cane) in Anapo Valley, Sicily

The European Commission claims in recent reports that during the period 2015-2030 more than 20 million ha of agricultural land in the EU are under high potential risk of abandonment due to factors, related to biophysical land suitability, farm structure and agricultural viability, population and regional specifics.  The same report claims that the incremental abandonment of agricultural land, especially in southern Europe, is projected to reach about 280 thousand ha per year on average, bringing the total abandoned land to 5.6 million ha by 2030, the equivalent of 3% of total agricultural land.

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Abandoned farm in southern Europe

This combination of available abandoned land and the need to plant vegetation to create natural carbon sinks is a very strong argument to augur for the planting of bamboos on degraded agricultural land in southern Europe, and I was very happy to present the plans of the European Bamboo Plantation Programme by Bamboologic during the bamboo symposium in Madrid.  We are starting a small 150 Hectares plantation in southern Portugal, and we plan to expand this soon to 2000 Hectares.  The next phase will be to out-scale to other South-European countries and we aim for 8000 Hectares in total.

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

The benefits of these European bamboo plantations are:

  • Job creation when developing the plantations in deprived agricultural areas where currently not many economic opportunities exist;
  • Carbon sequestration that is more efficient that other means of carbon capture;
  • Provision of a source of fibre for a multitude of uses, and related small and medium enterprise development;
  • Creation of more jobs in this new, green economic sector.

Once a source of bamboo has been created, we hope to be able to create supply chains that have a very small carbon footprint, compared to the current practice of shipping bamboo from Asia or Latin America.  We know that even with inter-continental transport, the overall carbon foot print of bamboo flooring is close to zero.  Imagine what that would be like if the raw or semi-processed material came from southern Europe.

I was pleased to hear that many participants support the proposals to plant bamboo in Portugal and Spain, and the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that there are no legal restrictions on planting bamboo.  In fact, we found out that there are already several small bamboo groves on the Iberian Peninsula, which will help us to garner further support.

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

After the meeting in Madrid, I flew to Italy where I spoke at the Labirinto della Masone near Parma during the event “Under the Bamboo Tree”.   The Labyrinth was created by Franco Maria Ricci, an Italian graphic designer and publisher, and it is constructed with 200,000 bamboos. What an amazing setting for a discussion about bamboo!

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in the bamboo labyrinth

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Overview of the bamboo labyrinth from the viewpoint

Under the Bamboo Tree 2019 was geared towards sustainable development, and I gave a presentation about the contribution of bamboo for several of the SDGs.  I highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals where bamboo could make a significant difference with examples from around the world.  I focused on poverty reduction, renewable energy, construction and urban development, sustainable production and consumption, climate change and terrestrial ecosystem management.

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Speaking at “Under the Bamboo Tree 2019”

My presentation ended with a reflection of the opportunities that bamboo provides for green development in Europe, including the Bamboologic proposition that we can plant bamboo in southern Europe for rural employment, land and water management and industrial development.  Like in Madrid, the response was very positive, and I was told by the President of the Italian Bamboo Society that there are already nearly two thousand hectares of bamboo in Italy.

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Bamboo in Rome Botancial Gardens – photo from Wikimedia

After these two events, I am convinced that there is scope to plant bamboo is several South-European countries, and I am looking forward to make this idea a reality during the coming years.

 

Nature can help us reach SDGs

The United Nations Climate Action Summit has given a real boost to the recognition that nature can help us reach some of the Sustainable Development Goals (https://www.unenvironment.org/nbs-contributions-platform).  There are some wonderful new innovations that use natural products instead of materials that a made from plastic.

  • For example, companies in Indonesia (https://www.avanieco.com/) and Thailand (http://www.ubpack.com/) are manufacturing carry bags, and packaging from cassava starch with bamboo reinforcement. These items are bio-degradable alternatives to plastic utensils.
  • In India (https://elephantpoopaper.com/index.html) and Kenya (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-36162953), handmade paper and card is made from elephant dung. The fibre content of elephant droppings is very high and it provides an excellent raw material to produce paper products. This kind of paper does not require any trees to be cut.
  • A company in Italy is producing a type of vegetable leather made from a particular mushroom( https://www.mycoworks.com/) . The mushroom leather does not cause any animal to be slaughtered, and the production does not require the use of chemicals that have serious environmental impacts.

But, these exciting new innovations are all still small-scale, experimental activities.  In order to illustrate the real impact that nature can make, I will highlight four larger scale developments.  They are all supporting large-scale reforestation, because a tree is the cheapest and most efficient machine to suck CO2 out of the air, and many trees make a forest.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL2swGjau8w)

The first example is the planting of mangroves for coastal protection to create true green infrastructure!  It was clear after the 2004 tsunami that coastal areas that still had natural mangrove forests came away with less damage than those coastal flats where the mangroves had been cut.  Recent modelling research at NASA found that a 2-meter-wide strip of mangroves along the shore can reduce wave height by 90 percent.

Mangroves are therefore re-planted to increase coastal protection.  Moreover, mangroves are also a major breeding ground for a range of marine life, and a healthy mangrove forest is the foundations for thriving on-shore fisheries industry.  Finally, mangroves have an enormous capacity for sucking up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

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It is therefore not surprising that many coastal nations in the tropics are including mangroves in their current reforestation efforts.   A recent report notes that Senegal has planted 79 million mangrove trees, which will help protect vital arable land, preserve aquatic habitats and absorb around 500,000 tonnes of carbon over 20 years.  (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/senegal-is-planting-millions-of-mangrove-trees-to-fight-deforestation/)  During the meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development in New York, we were told that China will support bamboo conservation in Southeast Asia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

The second example is the use of bamboo to produce off-the-grid household energy in remote communities by manufacturing charcoal from bamboo, as an alternative for the often illegally harvested wood charcoal.  After all, woody bamboo looks like trees, but they are all grasses, and can be harvested sustainably without the need for reforestation.  Bamboo charcoal has little smoke, no sparks and a similar calorific value as acacia or teak, and bamboo is a giant grass that is readily available throughout the tropics.

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bamboo charcoal

Ethiopia and Ghana have already thriving local bamboo industry, and other countries in Africa are hoping to replicate their achievements.  Recently, India announced at UNCCD COP 14 that they will promote this as well.  (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-to-pitch-for-charcoal-extracted-from-bamboo/story-4iyFbdHqBB7pXvG0xOIegO.html)

The third example is the use of wood as a modern building material.  Most of the current construction boom around the world depends on cement and concrete, which is made from sand and limestone, both non-renewable resources.  According to Chatham House, concrete production accounts for eight per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a modern alternative to concrete that stands out for its strength, appearance, versatility, and sustainability. This material consists of planks of sawn, glued, and layered wood, where each layer is oriented perpendicular to the previous. In this way structural rigidity for the panel is obtained in both directions, similar to plywood but with thicker components.

3-layer-and-5-layer-CLT-Panels

CLT is already being used for low-rise construction in many countries, but a recent proposal for London, called Oakwood Timber Tower, is nearly 300 metres tall. (http://www.plparchitecture.com/oakwood-timber-tower.html)

Fourth, bamboo fibre is being used to produce composites for a range of applications.  Basically, it involves the use of natural bamboo strands as an alternative to the glass and carbon filaments in plastic-fiber composites.

In China, drainage pipes and railway carriages are already produced using bamboo fibre as the main material.

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Railway carriage made by bamboo winding technology

Several European car manufacturers are currently using bamboo fibre in dashboards and trims, and they are looking into the application of bamboo composites for the shell of the cars.  Bamboo is used as the main material for the blades of modern wind turbines in China, and discussions for joint venture production are under way in other parts of the world.  And a consortium in France is seriously looking into the use of bamboo composites for airplane cabin interiors and panels.  (https://www.compositesworld.com/news/consortium-works-to-develop-biosourced-composites-from-bamboo-fiber)

I am working with a company in the Netherlands that is planting bamboo in southern Europe, with the aim to create a source of fibre for European manufacturing.  European bamboo fibre has a much lower carbon footprint than fibre from other parts of the world, while creating bamboo plantations will help the countries in southern Europe to absorb more carbon and re-create new jobs in their struggling agricultural sector. (bamboologic.eu)

All of these initiatives already make a difference, but need further upscaling, if we want to make real impact.  As most are investment opportunities, they do not rely on project funding from Governments or Foundations, but they are looking for private investors who are willing to fund new sustainable development activities.

Bamboo in Europe

For the past five years, I was the head of the Secretariat of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (www.inbar.int) in Beijing, PR China.  I stepped down in April this year, and now I am living in Europe again.

Europe is not a natural home of bamboo, but it is the main market for bamboo products primarily manufactured in Asia.  Yet, there are many places where bamboos are already growing in this part of the world.

The Labirinto Della Masone in Italy is said to be the largest bamboo labyrinth in existence, made up of around 200,000 bamboo clumps.  The labyrinth is located in Parma, near Milan, and I will be speaking at the “Under The Bamboo Tree” conference that will take place on 5 and 6 October 2019.

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A few years ago, I was in Cornwall, UK and visited the Trebah botanical garden.  I was surprised to see a large collection of very healthy bamboos, including the Chinese species Phyllostachys edulis. After my visit, I wrote about this on my blog:

https://hansfriederich.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/bamboos-in-cornwall-you-bet/

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Cornwall is warm enough for bamboos to grow outside of the botanical garden.  In fact, it grows so well in Cornwall that until the early 1950s it was grown as a commercial crop at several sites across Cornwall, with one farm producing 5 million culms per annum.  Currently, some of the bamboos are used to make coffins, as there is a small company near Truro that produces bespoke funeral arrangements from bamboo: http://cornishbamboocoffins.co.uk/

I never visited the French bamboo garden, La Bambouseraie, but have heard a lot about it.  The fact that the garden is doing so well illustrates that bamboos can also grow in mainland southern Europe.  The former CEO of La Bambouseraie has established a 100 Ha nursery in Portugal, which now claims to be one of the largest bamboo nurseries in Europe:

la-bambouseraie

There are other nurseries in Europe that specialize in bamboo, including Oprins in Belgium.  Oprins specialises in Fargesia, a non-invasive group of bamboo species, and production techniques are based on tissue culture.

All of this made me realise that bamboos could provide an innovative development trajectory for poor local communities, especially in southern Europe, and I have been looking for an opportunity to work on this.  I have read about the decline of agriculture in countries like Portugal and Spain, and bamboo plantations could provide jobs for disillusioned farmers.  Planting bamboo would also regenerate the productivity of the exhausted soils, as INBAR and FAO have shown through a number of case studies around the world   Finally, bamboo could create a very effective natural carbon sink, and this fits with the political agenda of all European nations.

bamboo-planting-Tanzania

I am therefore pleased to announce that I will soon be working with Bamboologic in the Netherlands (www.bambulogic.eu) to help create the European Bamboo Programme.  The aim of the Programme is the creation of local jobs, restoration of degraded farmland and mitigation of climate change by planting and managing bamboo, starting in Southern Portugal.  We have identified this to be a particularly suitable location for bamboo, and have acquired a 150 hectares start-up location in the Municipality of Alcoutim.  Planting will start before the end of the year and the area will be expanded to 2000 hectares in the near future.

Some people have expressed reservations about using bamboo for land restoration, but as we are considering this an agricultural development programme, the potential risks can be managed, and any perceived negative ecological effects will be mitigated.

Eventually, the programme aims to plant 8000 hectares of unproductive agricultural land with bamboo in different countries in southern Europe and to establish several processing factories, but that will take some time.  At this moment, we are starting phase 1, and we are looking for partners to develop the second phase of the programme.

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Chinese Bamboo Heroes

During the 20th Anniversary of INBAR, the Foreign Languages Press from China published the “100 Heroes of China’s Bamboo Industry”. The book is a snapshot of “who-is-who” in the bamboo world of China.

Not everyone is mentioned in the book, and a second volume is in the make, but the first “100 heroes” is an impressive list of bamboo luminaries.

I have had the fortune to meet several of them, and want to use this blog to reflect on these personal interactions. I have marked the page numbers in the 100 heroes book, where you can read more about the achievements of these amazing men and women.

Professor Zhou Guomo (page 25), the President of Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University (ZAFU) has become a friend during my time at INBAR. INBAR has been working with ZAFU for a number of years already, and ZAFU was one of the main partners in the development of guidelines for carbon accounting in bamboo.

He invited me last year to give a speech at the 70th Anniversary of ZAFU, and it was a pleasure to share INBAR’s experiences with the audience. I always enjoy speaking at universities and the feedback from the students is rewarding and encouraging. This time, the audience included a number of university deans from other parts of the world, and many of them did not know much about bamboo or rattan. I hope that I was able to raise awareness and I certainly helped ZAFU to stress the importance of bamboo in China.

During my stay, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the laboratories and the bamboo garden of the university, and talk with several of the experts. There is a lot of bamboo knowledge in ZAFU, and I hope to maintain contact after I leave China in April this year.

With Prof.  Zhou Guomo from ZAFU

Professor Yang Yuming (page 31), the former President of Yunnan Academy of Forestry in Kunming is another old friend. I visited his former institute a few years ago, and during this trip, he guided me and my wife through the tropical botanical gardens at Xishuangbanna. This is a most impressive garden with an enormous number of trees, plants and flowers, and also an outstanding collection of tropical bamboo species.

We saw a valley that is being afforested with bamboo, with the intention to create an eco-tourism site, including restaurants, bamboo rafts on a lake and craft shops. We also visited several nurseries, where he showed me new species and interesting developments. In one of the nurseries, we saw black bamboo, which originates from Vietnam. The stems really are black, and it not due to age or disease. There is a lot of variety in the bamboo world!

Prof. Yang Yuming and black bamboo

Mr Ye Lin (page 84), on the other hand, is a real entrepreneur, and a private sector innovator. He is the President of Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo Winding Composite Technology Co Ltd in Hangzhou, a company that has patented the use of bamboo fibre in the production of composites for a multitude of uses. The main breakthrough was the manufacturing of agricultural and urban drainage pipes with bamboo instead of other fibres. This research is a major development for bamboo industrial use, that was also reported by UNIDO!

I had the pleasure to accompany Ye Lin to the Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) in Brussels in 2017. He presented his innovation and received a warm applause for the new application of bamboo fibres. He told me later that this was the first time that he had given a presentation in a foreign country to an international audience, which made it even more impressive.

We went back to G-STIC in 2018, and this time he talked during a session that I had organized together with my Dutch friend and colleague Pablo van der Lugt. He was no longer just presenting the bamboo composite drainage pipes, but talked about using this technology to manufacture the shells for railway carriages or even housing units. He is already thinking about airplanes, boats and more.

Railway carriage made by bamboo winding technology

Another amazing entrepreneur is Ms Yu Yan (page 119) from Yong’An in Fujian Province. She runs a business that produces the flooring for containers, and she told me that originally the company produced floors made from wood. When Ms Yu became the CEO of the company she decided to change this into flooring manufactured from bamboo, as bamboo is strong, light and abundantly available in Fujian Province. Her business is immense – she apparently provides one quarter of the global container flooring market – so this decision had a lot of impact.

I first met Yu Yan in Durban in 2015 during the World Forestry Congress, where she participated in a private sector dialogue about bamboo. She made it clear that for her bamboo is the future, and she mentioned how her company supports thousands of local households who supply the raw bamboo.

We have kept in contact, and INBAR now has a partnership agreement with Yong’an City. She has participated in other INBAR events, including the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress that INBAR and the Chinese National Forest and Grassland Administration organised in June – BARC 2018.  I met her most recently during the 2018 Yong’An bamboo EXPO.

With Ms Yu Yan and my wife in Yong’An

The third entrepreneur that I have to recognise is Mr Lin Hai (Page 107) from Dasso Industrial Group in Hangzhou. Ms Lin is one of the first businessmen that recognized the opportunities of industrial application of bamboo. Lasso was the supplier of the bamboo that was used to make the fire-resistant ceiling in Madrid International Airport, and currently provides the materials for several European importers of bamboo furniture and interior design material.

I visited his factory and offices in 2014, and was struck by his passion for bamboo and his understanding of the opportunities bamboo provides for sustainable development. He showed me around the showroom, and I was so impressed that I asked if he could supply a dining table for the apartment where my wife and I live in Beijing, as we did not have one.
He supplied a table that is beautiful and strong, but unfortunately it was too large to fit in the lift of our building. We had to find a solution, and it is now the conference table in my office. Due to the dry climate of Beijing, and the temperature changes between winter and summer, many bamboo products crack after a few years. Mr Lin’s table has been in my office which is air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter, but after 5 years it has no dent or crack, which is tribute to the skills of the workers and the quality of the products manufactured by Dasso.

With Mr Lin Hai at the conference table in my office, made by Dasso

Master Chen Yunhua (page 104) is an entrepreneur, but also an artist and a gifted master trainer of the Meishan bamboo weaving craft. He manages a local museum and a training centre in Qingshen County of Sichuan Province, where many students come to learn how to use thin bamboo strips to create magnificent art pieces.

I have met Master Chen so many times, that I cannot remember our first encounter, but several of our meetings are memorable. I recall vividly being with him during a discussion in Lima, Peru on the sidelines of the Climate change meeting in 2014, and I saw him in action during the World Bamboo Congress in Damian, Korea in 2016. During the Regional Bamboo Symposium in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2017, he provided training and advice to a large group of local farmers and entrepreneurs. He is a true Ambassador of bamboo and he has become a friend, and what struck me was that without foreign languages he is able to communicate extremely efficiently, and he manages to get his ideas across without fail.

Master Chen teaching in Yaoundé, Cameroon

Another Master bamboo weaver is Mr Zhang Deming (page 201), and we celebrated his skills during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. I was fortunate to receive a gift of exquisite bamboo weaving from him during the Congress.  Basically, it is a ceramic vase with a cover from woven delicate bamboo slivers, like the ones in the photo below.

I was so impressed that I asked if I could buy a similar item as a gift for UN Deputy Secretary-General, HE Amina Mohammed, whom I was planning to meet during my presence at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018. We had an inspiring conversation about bamboo and sustainable development, climate change, and could have taled a lot longer. When I gave her the vase, she placed it immediately on her bookshelf, where it now functions as a beacon for “bamboo as a tool for Sustainable Development”.

A different bamboo artist is Jeff Shi (page 178), who runs Dragonfly Design Centre. Jeff makes the most beautiful bamboo furniture, and his main issue is to make furniture with a Chinese touch. He understands that many people want to buy simple, cheap, mass-produced bamboo cabinets, but he produces affordable custom-made, unique pieces from selected pieces of treated bamboo. His design is a fusion between western and Asian styles, a combination of antique and modern touches, but always focused on individuality and innovation.

He explained this to me when we first met on the way to Yibin in Sichuan Province, and he refreshed my memory in a session about bamboo for design during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. His designs have received international recognition, and he continues to promote the use of bamboo as a real tool for design.

Some of the beautiful furniture designed by Jeff Shi

One of the first bamboo woodlots that I visited when I arrived in China in 2014 was the Zizhuyuan Park in Beijing, also referred to as the purple bamboo garden. Mr Cao Zhenqi (page 274) is the Head of the Park, which is one of the impressive greenspaces in central Beijing. Zizhuyuan Park is famous for the many bamboo stands, with different species, and in 2016 INBAR celebrated Earth Day by planting a few extra bamboos.

HE Ambassador Sikonina from Madagascar at 2016 Earth day celebrations

Many years ago, INBAR helped to construct a tea house in the garden, which is built from bamboo panels. I was quite disappointed when I first visited, as I did not see any bamboo, but my colleagues explained that this is its main attraction. The new middle class of China does not want to live in a house or an apartment that looks like a traditional bamboo hut, but they want a dwelling that looks modern. If you can do this with bamboo, so much the better.

In 2017, INBAR organised an outdoor exhibition of photos of bamboo scenes from all our Member States in the Park, as one of the activities to celebrate our 20th Anniversary. We took a long time collecting, selecting and choosing the final pictures, but the exhibition was a great success. It showed visitors that there is a lot of bamboo in other parts of the world, which was a surprise to many of the tourist in the Park.

One of the key benefits that bamboo can provide for national governments is the ability to sequester and store large amounts of carbon. INBAR has carried out research on the ability of bamboo to sequester CO2, together with the China Green Carbon Foundation (CGCF), and Dr Li Nuyun (page 277) was at that time the Director of the Foundation.

CGCF is the first nation-wide non-profit organisation dedicated to combating climate change in China, and has successfully developed a system which helps enterprises, organisations and individuals to store carbon and increase income. Since its establishment in 2010, CGCF has established more than 1.2 million acres of forest to store carbon across 20 provinces in China.

My most recent meeting with Dr Li was during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. In a video message to the Congress, Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: “Bamboo and rattan can make an important difference to the fight against climate change. Nature-based solutions like bamboo and rattan do not just contribute to sustainable development; they also help build the kind of world we want.”

One of my concerns about organising a large congress in Beijing was the carbon footprint of bringing participants from all over the world to China and having three days of discussions in a conference centre. With well over 1200 participants from 68 countries, the Bamboo and Rattan Congress was a huge event with a significant impact on the environment.

Fortunately, CGCF helped us to make the Congress a carbon-neutral event. In a ceremony during the final day of the Congress, Dr. Li announced that CGCF will help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China, which is funded by Kunming Suge Greening Engineering Company Ltd. This plantation will sequester all the carbon emitted over the course of the Congress.

According to Dr. Li, just under 2000 tons of CO2 were generated through transportation, catering, accommodation and energy consumption over the course of the three-day Congress. It will take the bamboo plantation around ten years to offset these emissions.

Dr. Li Nuyun and I hold up a certificate, announcing BARC 2018 to be a ‘zero-carbon Congress’

These are some of the Chinese bamboo heroes that I have met during the past years. The list is not exhaustive, as I met so many other bamboo and rattan experts.  I will be stepping down as Director-General of INBAR in a few weeks time, but I hope to keep in touch with all these friends and colleagues.

Bamboo Innovation in Brussels!

INBAR was part of the 2017 Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC), and we were again invited to attend this year.  Unlike last year, when we arranged a whole day discussion, we were given one hour, but at prime time.  The INBAR session would take place as a plenary session in the main hall, just before dinner during the “industry night” on day 2.  We also were offered a space for INBAR to engage with the participants.

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During the preparations, the organisers of G-STIC suggested that I should bring several private sector representatives from China.  Dr Pablo van der Lugt, Head of Sustainability at MOSO International in the Netherlands was also invited, and he and I agreed to co-host the evening, and make it a little less formal and more interesting.  The idea developed into a dialogue between the two of us, during which we invited several other speakers to the podium for short interventions.  One of the added pieces of entertainment was the presence of a bamboo bicycle, which I had shipped from Beijing to Brussels.  It was a donation from Charlie Du at TUS Clean Energy, and when the bicycle arrived at the venue, it created a lot of attention.  Everybody wants to ride a bamboo bike!

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PS: The boot is helping to settle two broken toes

Pablo used the bicycle as his entrance to the INBAR session, and it provided an immediate topic for discussion.  We told the audience that the bike would be given away at the end of the evening, and encouraged everybody to put their business card in a box.  I kicked off our session with a few words about bamboo and INBAR, and I then invited Pablo to introduce his book “Booming Bamboo” and give a talk about bamboo, similar to what he had done for us during the June Bamboo and Rattan Congress – BARC2018.

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Pablo van der Lugt is presenting “booming Bamboo”

After Pablo’s introduction, we talked a little about possible bamboo value chains, and I invited Ms Shen Genlian to the podium.  Ms Shen is the CEO and Chair of the Board of VANOV New Material Co., Ltd in Meishan, Sichuan Province; a company that produces bamboo tissue paper.  One of the reasons for inviting her is the strategic partnership that INBAR and Meishan have signed, and exposure to international events is our part of the bargain.  The other reason is that we visited her company after BARC 2018, and we were all very impressed with what we saw: a state-of-the-art clean, bright factory that produces unbleached, ecologically produced Babo tissue paper from bamboo fibres.

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Celebrating a successful G-STIC at the VANOV stand

Ms Shen showed a brief video, explained what they do through her interpreter, and received warm applause.  One of the aspects of her business that struck me is the fact that she supports 10,000 or more local farmer households, who supply her factory with the necessary bamboo.  That suggests some 50,000 people are directly dependent on VANOV company, which is a daunting responsibility but also a beautiful example of local community involvement.

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Ms Shen Genlian and her interpreter Jacky

Pablo followed Ms Shen’s presentation by inviting Hans Heijmans, Account manager with HR Group in the Netherlands to talk about the bamboo road signs that his company is producing.  Several towns in the Netherlands have decided to get rid of all aluminium traffic signs, and HR is supplying the alternative signs made from bamboo.  Hans had also brought a pavement protection pillar from Amsterdam.  These so-called “Amsterdammertjes” are typically made from concrete, but this one is made from bamboo.

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It was encouraging to hear a Dutch company talk about bamboo product development, as it is very important to show people in Europe that bamboo is not just a product from Asia, but that European companies are also looking at manufacturing and sales.

After the presentation from Hans Heijmans, I invited Mr Ye Lin from Hangzhou to come to the podium, together with his interpreter.  Mr Ye is the Director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites, and President of Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo-based Composites Technology Co., Ltd.   He has pioneered the use of bamboo fibres in the manufacturing of composite material for the production of drainage pipes, railway carriages and housing units.  Mr Ye showed a short video and then told us that the underlying philosophy of Xinzhou company is to reduce the pressure on our natural resources, and developing a green supply chain.  He stressed that the pipes are already being installed in several places in China, and there are orders for the supply of the housing units.

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The bamboo fibre winding technology is one of the most exciting bamboo developments in China in recent years, and could be an industry that can be rolled out along the Belt and Road.  In this respect, Mr Ye explained that he is already talking with Nepal and Philippines about the creation of joint ventures.

He was followed by Dr Jiang Jingyan, the Dean of the Yong’An Institute of Bamboo Industry in Fujian Province.  Yong’An is a new bamboo centre, and they are looking for international profile and recognition.  INBAR has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Yong’An and we therefore invited Dr Jiang to tell us about the progress and the plans for the future.  His talk and slide show touched on many aspect of bamboo development, as Yong’An wants to become a general supply centre of all types of bamboo products.

One of the key priority areas for Yong’An is furniture production, and the quality and design of the items produced in Yong’An is very good.  I was there a few weeks ago for the bamboo ware fair, and I saw with my own eyes what Yong’An is producing.  It includes this amazingly stylish chair:

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Pablo and I agreed that this was the end of our session, but before calling it a day we invited Charlie Du, Senior Vice President of Beijing TUS Clean Energy Technology Co. Ltd, to tell us about the bamboo bicycle and other innovations that TUS is working on.  Charlie explained that the bicycle is merely a test case, but the main area of interest of TUS Clean Energy is the optimal manufacturing of the blades for modern wind turbines, and this includes the use of bamboo fibres.  He told us that there is a wind turbine with bamboo blades that has been in operation for several years, and TUS Wind sees this as a major area for expansion.

In a follow-up meeting, Charlie told me that TUS has signed an agreement with a consortium in the UK, involving universities in Liverpool and Cambridge and the Catapult programme.  The Catapult centres are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth. (https://catapult.org.uk/)

Charlie then pulled a name out of the box of business cards, and the lucky winner of the bamboo bicycle is Dr Lieve Fransen.  Dr Fransen is a senior policy maker and advisor to the European Commission, and it was very appropriate that she won the bicycle.

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Dr Lieve Fransen and her bamboo bicycle

The day after our bamboo session, Dr Veerle van der Weerd presented a wrap-up of the event, and listed some of the key findings.  I was very happy that she used bamboo as one of the examples to show how nature-based solutions can help with Sustainable Development.

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Dr Veerle van der Weerd mentions bamboo in her closing speech

During the two-and-a-half days in Brussels,  I met a whole host of people, and made interesting contacts for the future. But – the bamboo session was the main reason for being in G-STIC 2018, and it was worth it!

 

Two busy weeks of membership relations in INBAR!

INBAR is an organisation of 44 Governments that believe in bamboo and rattan, and we are constantly in touch with existing member states and potential new members.  Let me give you a snapshot of recent and ongoing discussions.  I have to admit that these two weeks were exceptionally busy!

Earlier this week, we were co-hosting the Caribbean International Bamboo Symposium in Jamaica, together with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries of Jamaica, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund of Jamaica, the Bamboo Industry Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and other agencies.

The 2-day meeting reflected on “Bamboo: An Economic High-Value Chain Resource for the Caribbean”, and involved members and potential member states in the Caribbean.  It was an important gathering that was agreed some time ago, when Jamaica was the Chair of the INBAR Council, but was deferred in view of the Bamboo and Rattan Congress in Beijing in June this year.  We sent a large team headed by INBAR Deputy Director-General Prof Lu Wenming and Director of Membership Relations Ms Hao Ying.

Apart from participating in and speaking at the conference, several bilateral meetings took place with representatives from several of our member states in the Region, including Suriname.

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Ms Kitty Sweeb, Deputy Foreign Policy Coordinator in the Office of the President of Suriname with Hao Ying and Lu Wenming from INBAR

In preparation of the symposium, INBAR Trustee, Ms Sharon Folkes Abrahams visited the Embassy of Jamaica in Beijing, when she attended the meeting of the INBAR Board of Trustees earlier this month.  Ms Folkes Abrahams and I met with Ambassador Antonio Hugh and his deputy Head of Mission Ms Cheryl Campbell to talk about planned symposium and general cooperation between INBAR and Jamaica.

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Jamaica Ambassador HE Antonio Hugh, INBAR Trustee Sharon Folkes Abrahams and Jamaica Charge d’Affaires Cheryl Campbell

On the other side of the world, INBAR Member State Cameroon is getting ready to host a team of project staff to launch the Intra-Africa Bamboo Smallholder Livelihood Development Programme, funded by IFAD.  INBAR Director of Programme Brian Cohen and future Cameroon Head-of-Office Rene Kaam will be in Yaoundé, together with colleagues from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar to hold the inception workshop and agree on the plans for the coming year.

In addition to the inception workshop of the intra-Africa project, the INBAR team will also kick off a Cameroon bamboo sub-project of IUCN’s The Restoration Initiative, and they will informally discuss the date for the official opening of the new INBAR Regional Office for Central Africa. The decision to open the new office was made during the visit of the Cameroon Minister of Foreign Affairs in August this year, when we signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

In preparation of the meetings in Yaoundé, I met last week with Cameroon Ambassador to China, HE Martin Mpana.  Ambassador Mpana is a dear friend and a strong supporter of INBAR, without whom the developments in Cameroon would not have been so easy.  It is always nice to spend some time with Ambassador Mpana, and to talk about future plans.

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Cameroon Ambassador HE Martin Mpana

While some staff were in Jamaica and others will be in Cameroon, I joined the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference in Brussels to talk about new research and innovation with bamboo.  Although we have no members in Europe, we used the meeting to share the latest developments with regards to composite manufacturing and applications of bamboo for the production of drainage pipes, bicycles and housing units.

The details will be given by a group of Chinese business people and researchers, and my assistant Li Ting has spent a lot of time to help them prepare for speeches and presentations.  They also presented the state-of-the-art production of closed-loop bamboo pulp production for tissue paper manufacturing.  This bridging role between China and Europe is an important function for the Secretariat, and I believe this relationship is critical for the future development of INBAR.

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Small-Vanov

In early December, I will move to the Climate Change meeting in Poland, where I will touch base with a number of our members that are present.  I am speaking in several events, and INBAR is organising a discussion about bamboo, climate change and South-South Cooperation with speakers from Canada, China, Ethiopia and Nepal. Apart from these speaking roles, I will undoubtedly have bilateral discussions with a number of ministers and other representatives.

Talking about South-South Cooperation, INBAR Global Policy Officer Borja de la Pena and INBAR Trustee Ms Jan McAlpine are currently in UN Headquarters in New York to speak at the Global South-South Development Forum and to discuss INBAR’s participation next year in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action 40th celebration.  Borja is also arranging meetings with delegates from several INBAR members.

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INBAR Trustee Jan McAlpine

Meanwhile, the INBAR Headquarters is preparing for a possible visit of the First Lady of Ecuador in December.  This visit would be extremely opportune, as the Ministry of Housing in Ecuador has just approved the design of a bamboo-bahareque house for a new national social housing programme “Casa para Todos” (housing for all).  This social housing programme is one of the 7 components of the Inter-institutional Committee of the “Plan Toda una Vida” that is chaired by the first lady of Ecuador.

“Bahareque” is a traditional construction style based on a wooden or bamboo frame that has provided shelter for rural communities in Latin American culture.  This little known tradition is getting a new lease of life from the Ministry of Housing with a new modernised style.  Supported by INBAR as part of our Bamboo Aruaclima Project in Peru and Ecuador financed by the Spanish development agency AECID, the ministry has approved the use of a cement bamboo-bahareque prototype.  INBAR, local government and university partners will finish construction of the first unit in December 2018.

The house, the first of its type ever built by the Ecuadorian government, has an area of 56.95m2.  It cost the government just $12,500 to build, uses entirely bamboo poles for its frame, and under the government Housing plan ‘Housing for All’, it will now be scaled up for mass construction.  Alongside construction work, INBAR is supporting research into the thermal properties and carbon footprint of this type of house, allowing us to compare it with other construction methods.

Another bamboo construction success story focuses on the Philippines, where last week 23-year old Earl Patrick Forlales has been awarded the £50,000 “Cities for our Future” Prize by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the UK.

Forlales’ idea, inspired by his grandparents’ bamboo shack, is to transform the slums of Manila into a livable space using the most sustainable, abundant material possible – bamboo!  The outcome, named the Cubo, is a modular design made from bamboo panels that could be constructed in a week and assembled in just under four hours. The Cubo is estimated to cost just $77 per square metre – an incredibly affordable living space.

When we contacted Earl Patrick Forlales he explained that he used INBAR publications in the preparation of the design.  We are very proud of his achievement, which has been recognised by international news outlets all over the world, and for bringing the benefits of bamboo as a sustainable, affordable building material to the Global South.

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We are also actively engaging potential new members.  Last week, I gave a lecture at the Peking University Public Policy Forum, which addressed how bamboo and rattan can help countries to achieve their sustainable development goals.  More than 60 students attended from a wide range of countries, including several INBAR Member States.  I invited the Ambassador of Costa Rica to China, as she is keen to promote Costa Rica as the next Member of INBAR.  She wanted to know more about bamboo opportunities, and told me that she learned a lot from my presentation.

The discussions after my talk were rich and lasted for nearly one hour.  We could have continued, but unfortunately the working day was ending.  We touched on issues like the consumer’s demand for production standards, the need for a reliable supply chain, the choice between planting food crops and bamboo, the challenges of invasiveness of running bamboo and flowering of clumping bamboo and more.

Last week, I also met with the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas.  Timor Leste is currently Observer of INBAR, after they formally approached us to become Member in 2016.  Subsequent elections and budget negotiations have created confusion and uncertainty, and we are concerned that the Observer status may lapse before we receive the formal Instrument of Accession that would make Timor Leste a formal Member of INBAR.

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With Hao Ying from INBAR and the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas

Ambassador dos Santos Freitas advised us to write to the new Speaker of Parliament and the new Minister of Agriculture to find out what the current state of affairs is, and how to proceed.

Earlier this week, I met the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to greet the President of the Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso when he was visiting for the Africa-China Forum (FOCAC), and he suggested that the Ambassador has a more substantive meeting.  Ambassador Owasa and I talked for an hour about the benefits of bamboo and rattan, and the possibility of Congo joining INBAR.

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Talking with the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa

 

This gives an idea of the membership work of INBAR during a very busy period.