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!

 

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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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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.

To be part of the United Nations General Assembly

In December 2017, INBAR was officially confirmed as Observer to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).  The Assembly normally meets in September, and I attended the High-Level segment of UNGA for the first time from 24 to 30 September 2018.

 

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Being at UNGA is a privilege, and being Head of Delegation means that I had access to all places in the UN Secretariat building without having to go through security checks.  INBAR has its own seat at the back of the main hall where the General Debate takes place.  The General Debate is effectively a list of speeches from Heads of State or the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  All countries have the opportunity to speak, and although they are supposed to stick to 15 minutes, many take more time to deliver their message.  The session goes on till late in the evening.

The speeches are very political, and are used to highlight main issues of concern.  For example, Cuba complained about the US Embargo, IRAN stressed the need to re-instate the nuclear agreement, Colombia expressed concern about refugees from Venezuela.  President Trump spoke and stressed unilateralism and patriotism as the hallmarks of current American Foreign Policy.

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US President Trump is speaking in UNGA

Simply being at UNGA, classifies INBAR as a world player, and I strongly believe that it is worth-while attending the General Debate.  Several people we met made the point that UNGA is amazing networking opportunity, and my assistant Ms Li Ting managed to set up a number of important bilateral meetings.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Foreign Minister of Ecuador is the elected President of UNGA 73.  I know her from my IUCN days, as she was Regional Director for Latin America for a few years.  We tried to arrange a formal meeting in New York, but as President of UNGA, her schedule was so full that her office did not see a window for a proper discussion.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to greet Maria Fernanda in the corridor during one of the days, and she recognized me.  She confirmed that she was aware of INBAR and the Ecuador Presidency of the Council, our Regional Office in Quito and about the discussions we are having with Ambassador Larrea in Beijing.

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A blurred Maria Fernanda Espinosa

Jorge Chediek, Director of the Office for South-South Cooperation and Special Envoy of the Secretary General for South-South Cooperation has his office across the street from the UN Secretariat.  Jorge and I launched a joint INBAR-UNOSSC report during the South-South EXPO last year in Turkey, and I was very happy to see that the cover of the book is framed on the wall of the office.

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In November this year, UNOSSC will organise the South-South Expo in New York.  It will be smaller than the last EXPO in Turkey, and Trustee Jan McAlpine will represent INBAR.

We discussed the meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA +40) that will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina in March next year.  INBAR will be offered space for a bamboo/rattan exhibition and we may organise a joint side event for bamboo and rattan for south-south in practice.  In December this year, UNFCCC COP24 will take place in Poland, and we talked about organising a joint event in the China Pavilion at COP24.

Finally, Jorge asked if we could help to secure furniture for his office or for a new meeting room, as a means to showcase bamboo furniture in the UN Headquarters.  I explained that INBAR has several Chinese Strategic Partners, and they may be interested to promote their products, provided the UN makes publicity about their products.  I will follow up when I am back in Beijing.

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Li Ting, Jorge Chediek, HF, Ajita Singh

I also had meetings with Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), and with Zhu Juwang, Director for Sustainable Development in DESA and acting Director of United Nations Forum on Forests.  I think that Liu Zhenmin is the most senior Chinese in the UN Secretariat.

I thanked Mr Liu for his help in our getting the UN Observer status and he expressed the hope that our being in New York for UNGA is useful.  He stressed that UNGA as a major networking exercise, being part of UNGA is politically and strategically important.  He referred me to Juwang for discussions about cooperation.

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Greeting Liu Zhenmin, UNDESA

Juwang is relatively new in the job, and we had a very constructive discussion.  He labelled himself as an ambassador for bamboo in New York and a friend of INBAR.  Juwang proposed that INBAR and DESA sign a MoU to agree on cooperation in a number of areas, including his offer for INBAR to use his offices during future visits to New York, so that we have a base from where to operate.

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With Zhu Juwang from UNDESA and UNFF

The Embassy of Togo in Beijing had put Li Ting in contact with the entourage of President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo.  He spoke at the UN General Assembly, and agreed that we could have a brief meeting to talk about bamboo and rattan in Togo.

We had a very friendly, casual discussion in the corridor of the main hall.  The President is aware of our office in Kumasi and he is keen to develop both bamboo and rattan in the country.  We talked about the challenges of not having enough skilled labour and I explained that we can organise training for local staff.  We discussed the way in which this could be done, and he asked me to follow up with his office.

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Briefing the President of Togo, HE Faure Gnassingbé

I explained that INBAR has launched the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan (GABAR) and President Gnassingbé is keen for us to carry out an assessment in Togo.  He mentioned that most bamboos in Togo are rather thin, and therefore may not be suitable for construction or flooring.  We agreed that we need to find out more about this.

I also explained that household energy from bamboo is another potential development path, and he was not aware of this.  He agreed that this could be very important.

The INBAR seat at UNGA is in the back of the main hall, together with other Observers, and behind us is the seat of the Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF).  Secretary-General Francois Martel was there, together with his communications officer.  I first met Francois last year during the Belt and Road Initiative launch meeting in Beijing, and Francois took part in the INBAR Congress BARC 2018 in June this year.

We spent some time in the delegates lounge to talk about future cooperation.  Francois told me that PIDF has prepared a proposal for the establishment of a regional bamboo training centre in Fiji, and he has discussed this informally with the Embassy of China in Fiji.  A recent workshop reviewed the proposal, and a report about the workshop will shortly be published.  I knew about the workshop, and had sent a video message, and the workshop report is co-branded with IBAR logo.  The proposal will formally be submitted by PIDF to the Chinese Embassy in Fiji in the coming weeks, and if it is successful, INBAR will have an advisor in Fiji, as we are written into the programme.

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Discussions with Francois Martel, PIDF

Francois also briefed me about the side event that PIDF will be organising during the climate meeting in Poland in December this year.  He is working with the organisers of the Fiji pavilion of COP24, and he invited INBAR to participate.  As we will be there anyway, I agreed that we will join PIDF.

One of the evenings, I had a very nice dinner with Achim Steiner and his wife Liz, and we talked about the role of bamboo and rattan for sustainable development, and the impediments to create upscale efforts.  We agreed that the main constraint may be the relatively high price of bamboo products compared to plastic and soft wood.  This is difficult to address in a short time period, but with increasing global recognition of the dangers of plastic pollution, and a few successful case studies of bamboo production, the tide will turn.

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With my good friend Achim Steiner

Inter Press Service (IPS) is a global news agency.  Its main focus is the production of news and analysis about events and processes affecting economic, social and political development. The agency largely covers news on the Global South, civil society, and globalization.  IPS has written one or two stories for INBAR during the 20th Anniversary and BARC, and prepared a proposal for cooperation with INBAR, but we have not yet decided how to proceed.

Farhana Haque Rahman, the Director General of IPS was at UNGA, and she proposed that we aim at producing a few strategic stories, linked to some of the upcoming events where INBAR will be present.  To smooth the way, she offered for IPS to prepare two features related to bamboo based on interviews with INBAR DG and quotes from Chinese authorities especially.  One story could focus on innovation, in advance of G-STIC and the other one on Madagascar and Cameroon to be targeted for issuance before the November event at COP24 in the China Pavilion.

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With Farhana Haque Rahman from Inter Press Service

During the June Bamboo and Rattan Congress, I had a meeting with the delegation from Nepal, headed by the Minister for Environment.  Following this discussion, the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing informed u that the Foreign Minister of Nepal, HE Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, wanted to make contact during UNGA.  I met Minister Gyawali in the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN, and talked about the opportunities that bamboo provides for Nepal.  Minister Gyawali is keen for something to happen, as he sees the opportunities, and he knows that Nepal could do more.  I talked about the construction opportunities for classrooms and learning centres, and he was happy to hear this, but stressed that Nepal is no longer looking for emergency response, but for long-term solutions.

He is very keen to carry out an assessment, as he claims there is bamboo everywhere, but they don’t know how much and what to do with it.

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Talking with Nepal Foreign Minister, HE Pradeep Kumar Gyawali

In 2016, I met HE Amina Mohammed when she was Minister for Environment in Nigeria. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez has subsequently appointed her as UN Deputy Secretary General (DSG), and we tried to set up an appointment in advance of our trip to New York.  After a lot of effort, we managed to arrange a meeting on the last day.  When we finally met, DSG turned out to be very interested in what we are doing.

DSG and I talked about bamboo in West Africa, and whether it could be incorporated in the Green Wall of Africa.  I explained that bamboo will not thrive in the Sahel, but south of the real desert there are opportunities. Natural bamboo occurs in the south of all countries along the coast of West Africa.  DSG thought this is an opportunity to consider.

DSG told me that the Climate Summit next year will be a watershed moment, and the Secretary-General himself is pushing for this.  They are looking for action, and she offered for INBAR to be part of the event, which will take pace during UNGA next year.  She stressed that they only want organisations that will deliver and are ready to put efforts into this.  She asked me to write to her with ideas and she will put me in contact to the Head of the Climate Team.

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With UN Deputy-Secretary-General, HE Amina Mohammed

DSG also talked about the Horn of Africa, and she explained that Secretary-General Gutierrez will travel to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia in early 2019.  She asked if bamboo will grow there, and I explained that Ethiopia and Eritrea are INBAR members.  She asked me to send more information about resources and value chains.

I had brought a nice present in the form of a vase with very fine bamboo weaving, produced by one of the master weavers in Meishan.  DSG was impressed and immediately found a place for it on her shelf.  She took away the vase that was there, and replaced it with the bamboo creation.

My last meeting in New York was very strategic, as we had recently received notice from the authorities in Paramaribo that Suriname was not happy with its INBAR membership.  During the UNGA General Debate speech of Suriname Foreign Minister HE Yldiz Pollack-Beighle, she mentioned that Suriname wants to introduce sustainable forest management practices, but they are looking for help.  She also stressed that they want to avoid further forest degradation.  I believe that bamboo could play a role in this, and I therefore went to meet her after the speech.

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Suriname Foreign Minister HE Yldiz Pollack-Beighle

She was aware of INBAR, and was very happy that I reached out.  She introduced me to Kitty Sweeb, who is both Deputy Permanent Representative of Suriname to the UN and Deputy Foreign Policy Coordinator in the Office of the President, and we agreed to meet later in the day at the office of the Mission.

Ms. Sweeb explained that with the change of Government a few years ago, the contacts with INBAR were lost, and the current Government is asking what the benefit is of remaining with INBAR.  I explained that we could provide support, if we knew who to talk with.  I promised to try and find a solution for the outstanding membership dues payments, and Ms. Sweeb will discuss with her Minister and others who would be the best liaison for INBAR.

We also talked about the next steps in Suriname, and Ms. Sweeb agreed that a national consultation meeting would be extremely useful, to get everybody on board.  When I explained that I could give a speech in Dutch she became excited, as many people in Suriname are more comfortable speaking Dutch.  We parted with big smiles, and Ms. Sweeb thanked me for trying to find a solution to the issues.

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With HE Kitty Sweeb in the Suriname Mission to the UN

It was a busy week, but very productive, and we managed to position bamboo and rattan on the global stage.

 

Bamboo, rattan and FOCAC

This year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing, China.  The event, hosted by President Xi Jinping brought together delegations from Africa and China led by their Heads of State and Ministers for Foreign Affairs, to talk about building a “China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era”.  I was privileged to be invited as the Head of the only Inter-Governmental Organisation with its Headquarters in China – the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR).  The presence of so many key people in Beijing also provided an opportunity for additional discussions.

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INBAR has 19 Members in Africa, and the continent has abundant bamboo and rattan resources.  FAO statistics amount to 3.6 million hectares of bamboo, but this excludes figures for most of Central Africa.  I therefore estimate the total bamboo cover to be in the order of 6 million hectares, which is similar to the bamboo natural capital in China!

Our members in Africa are considering bamboo and rattan for a variety of purposes, depending on the country and its domestic development priorities.  Bamboo is used for household energy throughout the African continent, either as fuelwood or as charcoal.  We are particularly keen to promote bamboo charcoal, as research has shown that it has no sparks, little smoke or smell, but it has similar calorific values as traditional wood-based charcoal.  Most importantly, charcoal made from bamboo is sustainable, as bamboo re-grows naturally, and it is based on legitimately harvesting “woody grass” poles instead of illegally cutting trees.

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But bamboo is also used to produce furniture, construction panels and other materials, and this is an area where China has a lot to offer, as bamboo has been part of Chinese culture for centuries.  China has a well-developed bamboo research community, a productive bamboo industry worth 30 Billion US Dollars per annum, and many institutes that can provide training and capacity building.  I was therefore very happy to learn during the FOCAC Ministerial discussion on Sunday morning 2 September that bamboo is mentioned in the 2019-2021 FOCAC Plan of Action.

INBAR can play the bridge between China and Africa with respect to bamboo and rattan development, and I was pleased to be able to make that point during a live interview with Ms Hou Na from the China Global Television Network (CGTN).

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We are already providing such a link with China in East Africa, where the Netherlands and China have agreed to jointly support the establishment and strengthening of bamboo enterprises in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda through a technical assistance project.  We will develop new connections in other parts of Africa, as INBAR has signed an agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to support bamboo development in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar, which builds on a current IFAD/EU-funded project.  Chinese technical expertise is expected to bolster the project through training and capacity building with additional support from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.  Finally, we are also discussing project ideas in Africa with the new International Development Cooperation Agency of China.

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INBAR already has two Regional Offices in Ethiopia and Ghana to facilitate these connections, but we are lacking a presence in Central Africa.  A key event for INBAR during FOCAS was the signing of the agreement for the establishment of the INBAR Regional Office for Central Africa with Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella during his presence at FOCAC.  The signing ceremony at the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon to the Peoples Republic of China during the afternoon of Sunday 2 September 2018 was another milestone for INBAR.

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With Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella

The FOCAC plan of action provides a strong foundation to work with our Members in Africa, and to mobilise Chinese support for technical assistance and investment opportunities in bamboo development.  One of the ways in which this will materialise is the establishment of a China-Africa bamboo training centre, with which INBAR will closely cooperate to create targeted capacity building initiatives.  I was thrilled that President Xi mentioned the establishment of the China Africa Bamboo Centre during his key-note speech at the opening ceremony of FOCAC on Monday 3 September, as this really put bamboo on the political map.

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On Tuesday morning 4 September we were approached with the offer to meet Republic of Congo President HE Sassou Nguesso.  INBAR has no Members in the central Congo Basin, and the Republic of Congo has a lot of forest.  I believe that it may be beneficial for the country to join INBAR, so I agreed to meet President Sassou Nguesso, and I was able to make that case during a short meeting with the President in the evening.  Congo borders Cameroon, and the new office in Yaoundé would be helpful in providing technical assistance and general support.  I also mentioned the planned China-Africa Bamboo Centre, and President Sassou Nguesso was keen to have young people from Congo trained in bamboo development techniques.

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With President of Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso

Finally, FOCAC was an opportunity for the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to spend some time in Beijing, and one of his activities on Wednesday 5 September was to visit INBAR Headquarters and the bamboo showroom in the building next door.  I had the privilege of showing President Rajaonarimampianina the many applications made from bamboo, and we talked about the opportunities for landscape management and economic development with bamboo.  He was very interested, especially in the household items, flooring, curtains and charcoal made from bamboo.

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With the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina

Madagascar has more than 40 species of natural bamboo, so there is real potential for development of small and medium bamboo enterprises.

All-in-all a few busy days, but some good achievements for INBAR and bamboo and rattan in Africa.

BARC 2018 – what an experience

The first Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress, BARC 2018, opened on 25th June 2018, in Beijing, China. Although it is already two months ago, I want to use this moment to reflect on BARC 2018, as it consumed most of my time during the first half of the year.

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The three-day event, co-hosted by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Grassland and Forestry Administration, welcomed (many) more than 1200 participants from 70 countries, including Ministers, policymakers and representatives from research institutes, development organisations, UN bodies and the private sector.

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Over the course of three days, participants could choose to attend a ministerial summit, three high-level dialogues – which covered South-South cooperation, climate change, and innovation and industry development – and around 80 parallel sessions.  The overarching theme of the Congress was “Enhancing South-South Cooperation for Green Development through Bamboo and Rattan’s Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals”.

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Overall, BARC 2018 was a great success.  Bamboo and rattan are critical resources, but still grossly under-used.  Fast-growing and local to some of the poorest communities in the tropics and subtropics, bamboo and rattan are used around the world in simple construction and as household utensils, but BARC 2018 illustrated that they could provide much more.  Discussions included how to realise bamboo and rattan’s huge potential in a number of areas: sustainable commodity production, disaster-resilient construction, poverty alleviation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, land restoration and biodiversity protection.

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I was very happy that BARC 2018 was not a stand-alone activity, but it followed the INBAR Strategy 2015 – 2030.  The strategy has four components: Policy advice, membership and partnership, information and technology sharing, and real action on the ground.  In my view, BARC 2018 supported these four objectives.

With regards to policy advice, we managed to raise the profile, especially amongst a new group of stakeholders.  Our aim is to help members to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, and that means reaching out beyond the world of forestry and foresters.  BARC 2018 involved many participants who were not “bamboo or rattan specialists”, and we managed to show new partners what amazing opportunities bamboo can provide.  This will directly and indirectly influence policy.

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Dr Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary , UN Convention to Combat Desertification

For example, we worked with UN Women to highlight the gender aspects of bamboo and rattan; we had key-note speakers from UN Conventions and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) who had not heard of INBAR before they joined us; we listened to parliamentarians from Ethiopia, Philippines and Uganda; we learned from global thinkers from the Club of Rome like Gunter Pauli, Fred Dubee and Jinfeng Zhou.

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Gunter Pauli

The opening of BARC 2018 included congratulatory messages from Heads of State from China, Colombia and Ecuador, and from the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and the Director-Deneral of FAO Graziano da Silva.  The Congress also launched the Beijing Declaration, which recognizes bamboo and rattan’s various benefits, and commits “ministers, senior officials and participants” to calling upon national governments and other bodies to implement a number of recommendations.

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Video message from Nobel Laureate and former President of Colombia, HE Juan Manuel Santos

With regards to membership support, we used this Congress very effectively for South-South Cooperation, and all our members were very happy to share their experiences and learn from each other.  We even announced a new INBAR Member – Central Africa Republic.

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We must have had several hundred representatives from our Member states all over the world, and in that respect BARC 2018 was a real membership-driven event.  The participants included Ministers and Vice-Ministers, senior civil servants and a whole range of technical and administrative officers.  I had bilateral meetings with several of the delegations, and most of the policy-makers had a speaking role in one of the plenaries or in parallel sessions.

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State Minister for Environment of Uganda, HE Mary Goretti Kitutu

One particular aspect that was particularly important was the opportunity to learn from China.  China has such a lot to offer, but most of the information is not readily available outside of the borders.  BARC was an opportunity to learn from the experiences from China, to talk with Chinese practitioners, to see Chinese products and to make contacts for future participation.  One publication that was extremely valuable is the “Yellow Pages” of bamboo and rattan in China, listing just about every bamboo or rattan enterprise in the country.

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Third, The Congress was a major tool to share information and innovation.  We had fantastic presentations, and learned the latest developments from inside and outside of China.  This included the bamboo fibre winding technology in China, but also the manufacturing of telegraph poles from bamboo in Kenya, the latest research on glues and adhesives from Australia and Ecuador and presentations about design and product development.  Prof. Mme Jiang Zehui reflected on the history of bamboo research in China, and John Hardy told us about the amazing bamboo constructions in the Green School in Bali.

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John Hardy

We also had an exhibition with amazing products, and a real eye-opener for newcomers.  The “piece de resistance” for me was the blade of a wind turbine, manufactured from bamboo fibre by Tsinghua University Science Park, but we had lots of other beautiful products.

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We launched INBAR-FAO-NEPAD report about bamboo for landscape restoration; we published a report about rattan terminology, prepared by the INBAR Task for on Rattan; we announced a report about subsidies for bamboo afforestation in China that was written by Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University; together with Delft University, we published a report about carbon storage in bamboo and we distributed the English translation of the China National Bamboo Plan 2011-2020.  We also distributed “Booming Bamboo”, written by Pablo van der Lugt.   This is an up-to-date review of what you can do with bamboo.

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Dr Martin Frick, Senior Director, Policy and Programme Coordination, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Finally, we made very practical, concrete decisions to support real action.  We signed agreements, had a political declaration, made new partnerships. It really was not just a talk-shop, but we build the foundations for a lot of new future work.  The most important agreement that we launched was a contract with IFAD Rome to start a new intra-Africa bamboo livelihoods programme, involving Ethiopia, Cameroon, Ghana and Madagascar.  I was very happy to sign this agreement with the IFAD Associate Vice-President Charlotte Salford.

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Congratulating IFAD Associate Vice-President, Ms Charlotte Salford

 

Other specific outcomes include a commitment from the Netherlands government to support the next phase of the Sino-Dutch bamboo project in East Africa with USD 2 million.  We reached a tentative agreement to hold a 2019 planning workshop in China for Giant Panda conservation and bamboo habitat management.  IFAD also confirmed financial support for a bamboo project in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.  Together with several partners we agreed to the creation of a global network of bamboo training facilities, and with FAO and potential recipient countries we discussed a large global “bamboo for climate change” project that will be submitted to GEF.  We signed partnership agreement with several organisations, including the International Tropical timber Organisation (ITTO), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA).

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Signing MoU with Ruud Jansen, Executive Secretary, Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa

One concern about flying lots of people around he world and organising a major event is the carbon footprint this creates.  I was very happy that we were able to offset all the CO2 produced by the Congress, through a contribution from the private sector to the China Green Carbon Fund.  BARC 2018 was really carbon-neutral

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Organising an event is mainly a logistics activity, and an event is only useful if it provides impact and it makes a difference.  There is no point in doing great things if we cannot share the lessons learned, and I believe that BARC 2018 was one of the most important communications tools that INBAR had at its disposal in 2018.  I was therefore thrilled that we had a lot of coverage, both in Chinese media and in international press.

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We had hundreds of Chinese media reports, including Xinhua, China Daily, and Chinese video channels CGTN and CCTV, as well as local media from BARC strategic partners Yong’an, Meishan and Yibin.

The most relevant English language reports about BARC 2018 are listed here:

There is a lot of information on the INBAR website as well.  This includes general stories about BARC 2018 as well as specific reports or interviews.  And we have hundreds of photos.  One of the young interns that helped me during BARC 2018, is now working with us to catalogue all the videos, presentations, speeches and other written products of the Congress.  A mammoth task.

Talking about interns – we had a large number of super volunteers at the Congress, and I was happy to recognise them by given  a token of appreciation to one representative.

In my closing remarks to participants at the end of the Congress, I stressed that: “Bamboo and rattan are no longer ‘poor man’s timber’ – they are truly ‘green gold’, and their applications for sustainable development and environmental protection go hand-in-hand with their industrial applications and use by the private sector.”

What a fantastic experience this was!

Bamboo in Bali

After four years at the helm of the Secretariat of INBAR, I finally visited the Green School in Ubud village in central Bali.  This is a well-known bamboo development, with a whole range of different buildings made from mainly Dendrocalamus asper bamboo.  The main halls of the school are several floors high, and illustrate how you can make beautiful construction with natural bamboo poles, but there are many other smaller class rooms and buildings on the grounds of the school.  The recent blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro is a very apt description of the Green School with stunning photos.

The school has some 450 students from a varied range of backgrounds and nationalities.  There is also a scholarship programme for promising students from Bali, and the contributions we made for a visit to the Green School are used to pay for the local scholarships.  My wife and I visited during the day, and were asked not to photograph students.  What a considerate request – keep their privacy and avoid them feeling exploited.  My photo is therefore rather empty of people, but for a reason.

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The Green School is the brainchild of John Hardy, who came to Bali many years ago and fell in love with the place.  He is a successful jewelry designer, and he created the blueprints for the original buildings. One of the first constructions was the bridge over the local river, which connects the school with the local village on the other side.  The original bridge was damaged during a flood a few years ago, but the replacement is a majestic structure spanning the river.

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The more recent additions to the Green School are created by IBUKU, the design and architecture firm lead by his daughter Elora Hardy.  Apart from working on the green School, Ibuku has created the nearby Green Village, a collection of stunning individually owned bespoke bamboo houses.  The “piece de la resistance” in the Green Village is a five floor high building on the slopes of the river, which I could visit, but some of the other buildings are privately owned and cannot be photographed.  Elora has given an inspiring TED talk about her work, which is worth watching. https://www.ted.com/talks/elora_hardy_magical_houses_made_of_bamboo

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The latest venture of Elora and John is a boutique hotel in Ubud, called Bambu Indah.   Thisis where I stayed during my visit to Bali.  This little haven of peace is a collection of historical teak wedding houses from Java, with a few specially constructed bamboo buildings to bring it all together.  I have photos, but another blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro captures the beauty of the place much better: http://beautiful-places.de/en/bambuindahubud-bali-thespecialeco-boutique-hideaway-by-john-hardy/

The main dining hall in Bambu Indah is a typical IBUKU construction and the open kitchen is a delight to see.  John explained that keeping the kitchen open for the guests to see what is being cooked gives a feeling of togetherness.  The food in Bambu Indah is healthy and very tasty.  Vegetables are grown on the property, and in the nearby organic garden, and little is needed to enhance the taste artificially.

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The other bamboo building in Bambu Indah is a replica of a Sumatra long house, constructed in black bamboo.  Apparently, it is a copy of a historic building, but made from bamboo instead of teak timber.  What a stunning construction.

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During our discussions, Elora explained that bamboo has to be treated to avoid insects eating the sugar, and she does this in an environmentally-friendly way.  We visited the bamboo factory where daily deliveries of long bamboo poles are soaked in a bath with a borax solution, made from a natural salt.  The system is a closed loop, and the solution is re-cycled and re-used for many years.  Once the poles are properly immersed (breaking a small hole in all the membranes that define the nodes of the bamboo, so that the liquid can freely flow through the whole length of the pole), they are left to dry before they are used for construction or other manufacturing purposes.  It was exciting to see so many large poles waiting to be used, and this illustrates how vibrant the bamboo construction industry is in Bali.

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The other protection against insect infestation is to use large boulders as the foundation stones of the main uprights.  This is an effective way to avoid white ants getting into the base of the culms, and I really like the look.

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While my wife and I were staying at Bambu Indah, John asked us to join him for a “trash-walk”.  He explained that every day, he goes out into the village, and collects litter.  He carries a large sac, and has a spear to pin down plastic bottles, bags and anything else he may come across.  John explained that local people are used to sweep the dirt from their courtyard into the road and the local stream.  That was fine in the past, when most of the litter was organic matter.  Nowadays, most of the rubbish contains plastic bags, plastic cups and other plastic items, and this is a sore sight, and it clogs the local streams.  Picking the rubbish up before it reaches the mouth of the river and the shore line is the best way of preventing more pollution of the coast.  I asked whether these litter collection walks have an impact, and John pointed out posters in the village that tell people in local language to avoid littering and to collect rubbish.  These posters are a direct result of John’s efforts, and joining John Hardy and other guests of the hotel on an early morning walk was a real pleasure.

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We stayed in Bambu Indah for five days, and what an inspiring visit this was!

2017 – a good year for bamboo and rattan

Happy New Year from the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Last weekend, I attended the China Council for International Cooperation for Environment and Development (CCICED) as delegate and international Member. This is a first for INBAR, and the first time that I attended the Council as a full member.

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I have been at CCICED meetings before; the first time many years ago when UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner attended as then IUCN Director-General, and I was a member of the support team from the IUCN Asia Regional Office. Last year, I attended as a special guest, but this time I was fully engaged. I spoke at several sessions and moderated the discussion about green investments along the Belt and Road.

This is an auspicious time for the Council. With the change of tone in Washington DC after the election of US President Donald Trump, and the direction provided by China President Xi Jinping during the 19th Party Congress, China is reaching out to the wider world. The Belt and Road Initiative that was launched earlier this year, is a clear example of the new role that China intends to play as world leader for sustainable development. CCICED is looking at ways and means to “green the Belt and Road”, and the discussion that I moderated was part of this.

I have attended the Belt and Road launch earlier this year, and was struck at that time by the fact that President Xi stressed the point that all developments along the Belt and Road should be green, and that sustainable development was more important than pure economic development. He has embellished on this during his speech at the Party Congress, and the concept of Eco-Civilisation is now embedded in China’s domestic and international policy.

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I first learned about Eco-Civilisation during the Eco-Forum Global(EFG) in Guiyang in 2015, and again in 2016. INBAR was present at the EFG to talk about our experiences in South-South Cooperation, and to explain how bamboo and rattan play a role in sustainable development. Eco-Civilisation is sustainable development with a Chinese flavor, adding cultural and political considerations to the common three components of sustainable development. Eco-Civilization is a balance between economic development, social considerations, nature conservation, cultural heritage and the political framework.

The over-arching message is to work with nature in order to deal with the big challenge of society, and this is a message that INBAR has been sharing for years. We have published a report about our experience together with the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. During the recent South-South Development Expo in Antalya, Turkey, I was very proud to launch this publication, together with UN Special Envoy for South-South Cooperation Jorge Chediek.

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Jorge Chediek and Hans Friederich

The report is an amazing record of some of the successes that INBAR achieved during the past decades, which are all about working between our Members. Currently, there are 43 governments that have ratified the INBAR Establishment Agreement, with Brazil the latest. We raised the Brazil flag during the 20th Anniversary celebrations on 6 November 2017 – just over one month ago. Cambodia and Timor Leste have formally announced that they want to become Members, and Fiji has indicated that it is very interested as well, so we may have 46 Members by the end of 2018. What we are still lacking is members in Europe, and I continue to talk with friends and colleagues in European Capitals and Embassies of European nations in Beijing about the relevance of what INBAR stands for.

This brings me back to the CCICED, and China’s role in the international sustainable development arena. When I was in Kew Royal Botanical Gardens earlier this year in June to launch the Global Checklist of Bamboo and Rattan, the representative from the Embassy of PR China to the UK made the point that the historical Silk Road started in Beijing and ended in London. This logic is currently also applied to the new Belt and Road Initiative, and it was repeated by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond yesterday during his visit to China. It would therefore make sense for Europe to join INBAR as well.

The role of China in the wider world was stressed again during the keynote speech at CCICED by Minister for Environmental Protection Li Ganjie, who made the point that China will assume its international environmental responsibilities. This followed similar statements during the 23rd Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention in Bonn last November, where China stressed that it will continue to fulfill its obligations under the Paris Agreement, and that it will play a strong role in global climate change mitigation and adaptation discussions. I had the pleasure of meeting the former China Climate Change negotiator Xie Zhenhua during COP23, and we discussed bamboo benefits for climate change.

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China Climate Negotiator Xie Zhenhua

When the international role of China is discussed, I always make the point that the nation also leads in the development of a global bamboo community, both for environmental and climate action objectives as well as the manufacturing of low-carbon products. I realise it is a niche-market, but it is an important niche that is worth USD 30 Billion in China alone, and which could grow rapidly around the tropics with political will, financial support and targeted capacity building.  We have just been informed that INBAR is now recognised as Observer to the United Nations General Assembly, and this will provide me with a platform from where I can raise awareness at the highest political level of the benefits that bamboo and rattan can bring to help countries reach their Sustainable Development Goals.

2017 was a good year for INBAR, and 2018 promises to be an equally important year, as we will host the global Bamboo and Rattan Congress from 25 to 27 June 2018 (BARC2018). That will be an opportunity to highlight some of the recent innovations and developments and we hope to agree on several new partnerships and launch a few new joint programmes of work.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year

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Happy New Year from the INBAR Headquarters