Turning Waste into Wealth

At the World Bamboo Congress in Damyang, Korea, I attended the UEDA lecture by Professor Zhu ZhaoHua from China. He explained that in the process of furniture manufacturing, 40% of the raw material ends up as sawdust. In the past, this was considered waste, and was not used.

Now, there are several options to make money from turning waste into valuable products.

One option is to make particle boards. According to Wikipedia, particleboard or chipboard, is an engineered wood product manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or even sawdust, and a synthetic resin or other suitable binder.



Another possibility is to turn the sawdust into briquettes that can used to make charcoal.  The holes in the middle are used to increase the flow off oxygen.  The photo below is taken in Zhejiang Province, China during one of the MOFCOM-funded INBAR/ICBR training courses..

charcoal from bamboo sawdust - China

Finally, sawdust can be pressed into pellets, which can be used as bio-fuel.

bamboo pellet producer - China

All three options are relatively low-technology, and  there is no reason why producers anywhere in the world should miss these opportunities to turn waste into wealth!

Strengthening bamboo-water interactions


The water needs of growing bamboo is one of the fundamental questions we need to address. Some bamboos grow in semi-arid areas, but tropical bamboos thrive in high-rainfall environment.

Originally posted on The #Forests2015 Blog:


Research on bamboo is feeding into a new global initiative to safeguard the vital role that forests play in the provision of safe and reliable freshwater.

Bamboo demonstrates important water conservation properties – it has a high water absorption capacity, a canopy that reduces evapo-transpiration and conserves soil moisture, and a dense root system that enhances water infiltration. But, its ability to conserve water resources is often overlooked – even by those that benefit most from its application.

To address this, research on bamboo is feeding into a new five-year plan to be launched at the
World Forestry Congress 2015 – an initiative designed to enhance knowledge about forest-water interactions and ensure this evidence informs national and international policies and agreements.

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INBAR contributions to the World Forestry Congress 2015


INBAR is presenting the values, benefits and opportunities for bamboo and rattan at the World Forestry Congress in Durban next month.

Originally posted on The #Forests2015 Blog:


The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) brings a core message to the World Forestry Congress: “Bamboo and rattan are strategic forest resources and could be key drivers of global green economies – helping to generate income for rural communities, strengthen resilience against the effects of climate change, and conserve increasingly scarce natural resources.”

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Bamboo, rattan and the future of forest governance

I attended the 11th meeting of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York in May this year, as the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is an official observer. We had several events planned, and the main objective was to raise awareness about bamboo and rattan, and to reconfirm our interest in joining the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

One of our main activities was a side event to talk about the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan (GABAR). The meeting was very successful, and the room was full to capacity. Minister Robert Pickersgill from Jamaica gave a welcome speech, and Vice-Minister Zhang Yongli from China presented a key-note address. Minister Nii Osah Mills from Ghana and Minister Ralava Beboarimisa from Madagascar also attended the event. We had three case studies from China, Ecuador and Kenya, and they were informative and presented interesting facts and figures.

UNFF11 INBAR side event

UNFF11 INBAR side event

The main outcome of UNFF11 was a ministerial declaration and a resolution about the International Arrangement on Forests beyond 2015 (IAF). The final approved text has now been released, and this has many interesting aspects for bamboo and rattan, and for INBAR.

rattan fruit

rattan fruit

The IAF is composed of the UNFF itself, the abovementioned CPF, the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network and the Trust Fund for the UNFF. As INBAR has requested to join the CPF, we would be considered a component of IAF as soon as our request has been approved. For the moment we will be seen as a partner to IAF.

The objectives of IAF are to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, and to enhance the contribution of all types of forests and trees outside forests to the post-2015 development agenda. This description clearly includes rattan and bamboo both inside natural forests, in plantations and in agro-forestry plots. Bamboo is often grown around the homestead, and traditionally that would not be considered part of forestry. The new IAF text takes a different view.

Farmer and buffalo in Allahabad, India

Farmer and buffalo in Allahabad, India

IAF specifically says that it will foster South-South and triangular cooperation. As a Membership union of 41 States, comprising 40 countries in the Global South and Canada, INBAR has been practicing South-South and triangular cooperation ever since its creation in 1997. We therefore are glad that IAF stresses this aspect of international development.

According to IAF, the core functions of UNFF are to provide a platform for policy development, dialogue, cooperation and coordination on issues related to all types of forests and to promote international policy development on issues related to all types on forests. This means that UNFF will include rattan and bamboo in its work, and INBAR has a key role in supporting UNFF with regards to these two important Non-Timber Forest Products.

IAF says that the newly created Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network will give special consideration to the needs of Africa. This is particularly relevant to INBAR, as 18 of our Member States are from Africa, and there is great potential to develop sustainable bamboo and rattan development activities throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Bamboo in Ghana

Bamboo in Ghana

During the coming year, the CPF will assess its membership and will consider the potential added value of additional members with significant forest-related expertise. INBAR has requested to become a member of the CPF, and this statement suggests that our request will most likely be considered favourably.

The IAF stresses the need to ensure coherence and consistency with the post-2015 development agenda and relevant multi-lateral agreements. INBAR has already spelt out the significance of bamboo and rattan for the SDGs, and is proud to be observer to UNFCCC, UNSSD and CBD.

The Ministerial Declaration that was also produced at UNFF11 supports all the issues mentioned above, and stresses the relevance of UNFF.

So, apart from our successful side event and my speaking slots during the meeting in New York, the outcome of UNFF11 also supports the work of INBAR. It was time well spent!

Rattans are another remarkable group of plants

I have just returned from an interesting international seminar about rattan in South-East Asia. Rattans are climbing palm trees that grow naturally in West and Central Africa and in South-East Asia. This seminar focused on the latter region, and was held in Haikou, the Capital of Hainan Province in southern China. In the past, China has had extensive rattan forests, but currently rattans are only found in Yunnan and Hainan Provinces, and Hainan has the largest area. We had more than 110 participants from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Timor Leste and Vietnam, and from ADB, SNV and WWF.


I had never seen rattans in the wild, and it was interesting to find out what they look like. Baisha Autonomous County in the central mountains of Hainan, is an area mainly inhabited by the Li ethnic minority. Baisha County has a total area of 202,000 ha, and 177,00 ha is forests. These forests have wild rattan resources, and from 2001 to 2006, additional rattan seedlings were planted amongst the Carribean pine trees in a 3000 ha plantation in the southeast of Baisha County. We visited this plantation area to see the living rattans and were told that in 2014 more than 300 tons of rattan was harvested from the area with a total value of CNY 12 million (approx. USD2million).

rattan-with-spikes (1)

I learned that rattan fruit is particularly valuable, and in 2014 5000kg of fresh fruit was collected with a value of CNY 2.8million (approx. USD3.5Million). When we visited the plantation, we saw the fruit as well.

rattan fruit

rattan fruit

The actual seminar discussed the various challenges and opportunities of managing and collecting rattan plants and producing furniture and handicrafts. The discussions listed a number of key issues, starting with the fact that we lack reliable data about the actual distribution and composition of rattan forests. This is partially due to the fact that rattan is part of a natural forest canopy (with densities of several hundred plants per hectare), but it also reflects the broader challenge of a lack of overall resource inventories. INBAR is launching a Global Inventory and Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan, and the discussions in Hainan supported the need for such an inventory in all of the ASEAN nations that have natural rattan resources, so that the current maps can be verified and updated.


There was a lot of discussion about the need for enabling policies, although it is clear that the situation varies from country to country. Malaysia informed us that there are several policy instruments in operation to guide sustainable management of rattan, and Indonesia has a ban on the export of raw rattans in order to protect the natural resources and to promote domestic industry. We heard that enforcement of regulations is often lacking, and governments were requested to make more effort to support a sustainable rattan industry.

pre-processed raw rattan

pre-processed raw rattan

There was a loud call for technology transfer, training and capacity building at the seminar. INBAR was applauded for having organised the meeting, but participants strongly recommended that such training seminars should take place on a regular basis, maybe every year. It was recommended that all ASEAN nations should participate, as well as the ASEAN Secretariat, and all international organisations that play a role in rattan project management. At the same time, complementarity of different projects was recognised, and a request was made that reports of previous project should be made available on the internet. WWF offered to share several of its training manuals and guidelines, and INBAR is in the process of collecting as much information as possible on its new website.

Participants at the training seminar

Participants at the training seminar

There was a clear demand for development of a reliable supply of rattan for the global market, and the private sector representatives in particular reflected on the fact that investors are reluctant to put their money in a venture with high risk of failure due to a lack of raw products. We agreed that this has two aspects: on the one hand we may identify unexplored natural resources in some countries, and one the other hand we should promote the planting of new supplies in those countries where demand outpaces supply. The field visit was an eye-opener to see rattan growing in a pine plantation, and discussions took place about the possibility to grow rattan in combination with rubber or oil palm plantations. Clearly, more research is needed, but this was seen as a potential win-win situation.

Rattan in the Philippines.  Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua

Rattan in the Philippines. Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua

The current market for bamboo products consists mainly of traditional furniture and handicrafts, and design improvement will most likely broaden this market. We visited the showroom and factory of one of the supporters of the seminar, Hainan Sino Rattan Technology Co Ltd, and saw a range of products. As the market of this company is China, the designs are traditional, but others participants reflected on the fact that European customers would be more interested in other designs.

Rattan furniture ready for delivery to the Chinese market

Rattan furniture ready for delivery to the Chinese market

We also talked about the fact that the manufacturing of rattan furniture is very labour-intensive, and therefore it is no longer cheap furniture. This raises questions about the sustainability of the industry as rising labour costs may eventually price the commodity out of the market. This would replicate what happened with the bamboo industry. In the middle of the last century, Japan was leading the development of bamboo furniture. When it became too expensive to manufacture bamboo furniture in Japan, the industry moved to Taiwan. This became too expensive as well, as the furniture industry is currently focused around Anji County in Zhejiang Province of China. There is concern that this may not be a long-term solution, due to the rising labour cost in China.

factory-shopfloor (9)

Dr Yang Shumin from the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan in Beijing, China (ICBR) gave a presentation about the molecular properties of bamboo and went deep into the matter. She showed all kinds of graphs and analysis, which led her to make a prognosis that new markets may opening up with potentially high-value new rattan products. These new products would have nothing to do with furniture or handicrafts, but would be based on extracts of chemical and pharmaceutical properties, on new compounds using rattan as a component and on biochemistry developments with rattan.

Properties of rattan.  Illustration by Dr Yang Shumin

Properties of rattan. Illustration by Dr Yang Shumin

Finally, we spent some time taking about the fact that consumers in Europe and USA are demanding sustainably produced products, and want to know how “green” the production process is. Several presenters admitted that the current process to strip rattan of its spines and make it supple involves the use of chemicals and processes that a far from “green”. There is also a lack of standards for the quality of produced products and for the level of craftsmanship. The meeting concluded that we will need to think about certification or verification of the production methods, and we need to set clear standards for products. In this respect, the new ISO Technical Committee for Bamboo and Rattan was mentioned, and several speakers supported the idea of such a dedicated committee. What needs to be worked out is what role INBAR has in the future management of this committee.

All-in-all, these were two very interesting few days in Hainan.

Are there really 276 Bamboo species in Yunnan?

I visited Yunnan Province in southern China several times during the first years of this century, when I was helping the local authorities and the UNESCO National Committee of China with the nomination of the Stone Forest near Shilin as a natural World Heritage Area.

Last weekend, I returned to Yunnan, but with a very different agenda, as I am now in charge of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). I had been told that Yunnan is very rich in bamboo species, and I wanted to see this with my own eyes.

First my wife and I spend the weekend in the charming old town of Lijian, a cultural World Heritage Area. It is a beautiful town, and well worth the visit. One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to the Mu mansion, and I did see bamboo in the garden of the palace.

Wu Mansion in Lijiang, Yunnan, chiina

Wu Mansion in Lijiang, Yunnan, chiina

But, the main objective of this trip was a visit to Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden-which is referred to as XTBG on signposts and posters. Professor Yang Yuming, President of the Yunnan Academy of Forestry, is about to publish a flora of bamboo species in Yunnan Province and the latest count is that the province houses 276 species of bamboo, which is more than half of the total of China’s bamboo diversity.

Xichuanbana Tropical Botanical Garden

Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden

All of the bamboos in Yunnan are tropical bamboo species, and that means that they represent sympodial, clumping bamboos, where the culms grow from a central root mass. There is no wide spread of roots and rhizomes, which is the case with the temperate monopodial bamboo species, which we call running bamboos. There are more than 100 different bamboo species represented in XTBG, including the striking Bambusa vulgaris.

Bambusa vulgaris in XTBG

Bambusa vulgaris in XTBG

A large number belong to the genera Dendrocalamus. Dendrocalamus yunnansis is only found in Yunnan, as the name suggests, and Dencrocalamus hamiltonii is only found in Xishuangbanna. Dendrocalamuus sinicus is one of the largest bamboos in the world, and can reach heights of more than 30metres. and Dendrocalamus giganteus is also a large species.

Dendrocalamus giganteus - XTBG

Dendrocalamus giganteus – XTBG

After our visit to the botanical garden we went to a forest research station of the Yunnan Academy of Forestry, which is focusing on finding opportunities for economic development of the forest, without the need to cut down the trees. The researchers are also testing alternatives to rubber trees. Large areas of Yunnan were transformed into rubber plantations in the sixties and seventies, but this is not good for biodiversity and ecosystem health. It is also no longer economically attractive, as the price of rubber has slumped and import of cheap rubber competes with local production. NTFP development, including bamboo planting and harvesting, is one of the many options that is being considered. The nurseries at the research station are very healthy, though currently stocked with hardwood seedlings, and not with bamboo plants.


Our last visit was again focused on bamboo, and took us to a “bamboo introduction area” near Pu’er. The plan is for a 2000 hectares valley to be re-forested with different bamboo species. Currently, the upper slopes are covered in Eucalyptus and rubber trees, and the valley floor and lower slopes are non-productive agricultural land. A healthy bamboo forest would be a real asset, with significant ecotourism potential.


Mr Zhang Xingbo, who is the driving force behind the initiative, explained that the garden will become a living museum, with information about the botanical aspects of bamboos, as well as details about their ecology and examples of the many uses. Eventually, the bamboo garden will also house restaurants where bamboo shoots can be eaten and bamboo beer can be drunk, and guesthouses built from bamboo with bamboo furniture and bamboo fittings. There may be outlets for bamboo handicrafts and nurseries that sell bamboo plants for the garden. It is a long-term development plan that would be daunting in many parts of the world, but the Yunnan colleagues are convinced they will get the work done in the next few years.

Bamboo-reforestation-garden2015 (3)

The first plants were planted last year, and it is real “work-in-progress”, but the new plants look healthy, and the current selection already represents a variety of species. There are some very interesting individual plants, such as a few species of Chimonocalamus, which is a genera tropical bamboos from Myanmar and Yunnan that are particularly rich in aromatic oil. The main stem and leaves could be exploited commercially for perfume industry or other purposes, but this is not yet happening. Folklore claims that the Japanese store tea in its culms, as it adds flavour to the leaves.

A Chimonocalamus plant with admirers

A Chimonocalamus plant with admirers

Mr Zhang’s nurseries include other exciting bamboo plants, including the smallest bamboo plants that look like grass, and could be used for ground cover. He also has saplings of red bamboo, and a healthy clump of recently discovered black bamboo from Vietnam. Professor Yang explained that the black bamboo is so unusual, that it does not yet have a scientific name.

Black bamboo with prof Yang

Black bamboo with prof Yang

The following day was spent in Kunming where we visited the Provincial Forest Bureau, and signed an agreement to establish a training centre for tropical bamboo, in the Yunnan Academy of Forestry.


ll-in-all, this was a very interesting learning experience. There is still a lot more to see in Yunnan, and I hope to return next year, not in the least to see the progress with the afforestation of the Pu’er bamboo garden.


Are Bamboos Invasive

I was recently in Europe, and talked with different people about bamboo.  Many see bamboos as a threat, and talk about the invasiveness of bamboo.  I wonder how big a threat this is.

Bamboos are members of the grass family, and there are 1250 different species. Like many grasses, bamboos are perennials with a rhizomatous growth habit. The woody bamboos, which make up the vast majority of bamboo diversity, are classified into two large groups, the temperate woody bamboos and the tropical woody bamboos.

The temperate woody bamboos occur mainly in China and Japan, and most are characterized by running rhizomes, and relatively long flowering cycles, often on the order of 60 or 80 to 120 years.  The Chinese Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is one of the best known temperate woody bamboo species.

bamboo poles 3

Moso bamboo plantation in Anhui Province, China

The tropical woody bamboos occur in tropical and subtropical zones in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. With few exceptions, they have clumping rhizomes and their flowering cycles range from 7 to 60 years.

In general, when bamboos do flower and produce seed, most of the seed falls near the parent plants. Much of the seed may be eaten by birds or rodents, but some will germinate and reestablish the clump.  Although many bamboos have small bristles adjacent to their seeds, which may allow animals to accidentally transport them, this is not a very effective dispersal mechanism.  Studies reported from USA suggest that dispersal away from the parent population is a relatively rare event.

Most temperate woody Bamboos reproduce usually by rhizome growth.  Running bamboos may extend their rhizomes from a few centimetres to several metres in a growing season, and this is often considered invasive behavior.  It is also possible that rhizome pieces could break off along river banks during floods or heavy rains and be transported downstream, but this type of dispersal is rare.

Running bamboo root system.  Photo by bamboobotanicals.ca

Running bamboo root system. Photo by bamboobotanicals.ca

The European Union has recently agreed a legislative text on Invasive Alien Species. The text, published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 4 November 2014, is in the form of an EU Regulation (Regulation 1143/2014), and becomes immediately enforceable law in all EU Member States on 1st January 2015. Unlike EU Directives, EU Regulations become national law without having to be transposed.

The backbone of the legislation is the list of harmful invasive species (a ‘black list’ approach), namely ‘‘Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern,’’ selected only among species that are alien to the EU and that are identified as invasive through a detailed risk assessment.

While the Regulation at this stage only lists a small number of species, there is concern about bamboo. Personal communication with focal persons in DG Environment in Brussels and colleagues in Headquarters of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Switzerland made it clear that Europe is worried about the potential invasiveness of certain bamboo species.

They made no differentiation between different bamboo species, and as a result all bamboos are considered as a threat.  This is not right, as has been pointed out by the American Bamboo Society. They issued a statement in 2012 that says that bamboos generally have low potential for invasiveness due to their rare flowering, but recognizes that some running bamboos can be aggressive spreaders and form large stands if left to their own devices.

The American Bamboo Society concludes that in almost every situation where bamboos are problematic, especially in urban and suburban settings, it is because people have not planted them properly, have not maintained them properly, or have not disposed of them properly.

Yet, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a species profile for two bamboo species under its list of invasive species.  USDA warns that this is not a list of all invasive plant species, nor does it have any regulatory implications, and the profiles are provided as an educational informational tool.  The list includes Phyllostachys aurea (golden bamboo) and Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo).  The US National Park Service list the following three species as invasive species: Common bamboo – Bambusa vulgaris; Golden bamboo – Phyllostachys aurea; and Arrow bamboo – Pseudosasa japonica.

Interestingly, Australia is one of the most vigilant countries against invasive species, but it has no bamboo species listed in its list of Weeds of National Significance.

The contradictions in USA and the concerns expressed in Europe show the need for clarity.   It is without question that the majority of bamboo species are not considered invasive, but some species may be a cause for concern.

There is a lot of interest in the Global South to develop bamboo resources, and one approach to expanding existing bamboo cover is to introduce exotic species. Without clear advice on the risk of invasiveness and guidelines on management of bamboo resources there is a possibility that we are introducing future problems.

I would be interested in your views.