Greening “One Belt-One Road” with bamboo and rattan

Greening “One Belt – One Road” with bamboo and rattan

This morning, I attended the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) Annual General Meeting for a discussion about the greening of the “One Belt One Road” initiative. President Xi Jinping launched the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road in 2013, as two major regional cooperation efforts, and they are now referenced as the “One Belt One Road” initiative.

At the heart of “One Belt – One Road” lies the creation of an economic land belt that includes countries on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as a maritime road that links China’s port facilities with Southeast and South Asia and the African coast, pushing up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. But it has developed into a major Regional development plan, and an opportunity to promote South-South cooperation amongst the 60+ countries involved.


Another Chinese innovation is the concept of eco-civilisation, which was incorporated into the Communist Party of China Charter at the 18th National Congress in 2012, indicating that it has been elevated to the center of China’s national development strategy. The core aim of eco-civilization is to balance the relationship between humanity and nature. Eco-civilisation is based on the socio-economic-environmental triangle of sustainable development, but also takes into account cultural and institutional considerations.  I have talked about eco-civilization in previous reports about the Eco-Forum Global in Guiyang, Guizhou.

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This CCICED meeting in Beijing brought together a group of experts to present their thoughts and recommendations about greening the “One Belt-One Road” initiative, and I was given the opportunity to speak about bamboo and rattan. I presented the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) as the first Inter-Governmental Organisation based in China and I explained how bamboo and rattan contribute to all 5 aspects of eco-civilisation.

  • Economically, bamboo and rattan currently represent a market value of nearly USD 60 billion, with China as the dominant producer and Europe and USA as the two main consumers.
  • Environmentally, bamboo and rattan provide opportunities for sustainable natural resources management, land restoration, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. I reminded the audience that the Giant Panda depends on healthy bamboo vegetation for its survival.
  • Socially, bamboo and rattan cultivation and small and medium enterprise development provides jobs and income for local poor communities. Some 7.5million people are engaged in bamboo industry in China and this is expected to rise to 10 million by 2020.
  • Culturally, bamboo and rattan have been used for construction and production of furniture and household utensils for thousands of years, while bamboo is a traditional source of household energy. Both plants feature in local village life and play an important role in many traditions and ceremonies.
  • Institutionally, bamboo development requires inter-sector coordination, as the plants and their products fall under the purview of several authorities, including those responsible for forestry, agriculture, environment, rural development, energy and small scale industries.
Wayanad Bamboo in India.  Photo: Wikimedia

Wayanad Bamboo in India. Photo: Wikimedia

I reminded the audience that bamboo and rattan grow in many of the countries covered by the “One Belt One Road” initiative, and I made the point that bamboo and rattan therefore are excellent opportunities to promote green development in these countries. I explained that China is already providing training and capacity building for bamboo entrepreneurs, and promoting South-South collaboration in the field of bamboo and rattan development, bilaterally and through INBAR.

There is progress, and there are positive signs for global bamboo and rattan innovation and development. But – with proper planning and increased coordination, we can do a lot more!

Land Degradation Neutrality and bamboo industry

I attended the 12th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Ankara.  The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is a new Observer to UNCCD, and I am was invited to participate in the high level events.


Today, I was part of the dialogue with the private sector, and I was pleased to give our thoughts about private sector support to Land Degradation Neutrality.

Bamboo is arguably the world’s most important non-timber forest product, representing a growing economic sector worth some 60 billion USD every year. In many countries, potential gains are growing at a rapid pace. For example, in China, production was valued at 19.5 billion USD in 2012 – representing an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2010. And in India, where some 8.6 million people depend for their livelihoods on bamboo and the industries it supplies, the plant was projected to create value equal to 4.4 billion USD this year – around 130 times the 34 million USD recorded in 2003.

This rapid growth is attributable to the plant’s versatility and the multiple uses it lends itself to. Bamboo products include furniture, flooring and construction materials, pulp, paper and fabrics. Engineered materials and innovative fabrication techniques have also enabled the emergence of prefabricated bamboo houses made with laminated bamboo boards, veneers and panels.

Bhutan house under construction

Bhutan house under construction

In the years and decades ahead, bamboo’s economic role is likely to expand at an accelerating pace – as other forest resources become strained under climate change, as the imperative to mitigate climate change enforces less dependence on fossil fuels, as water stress forces us to look for crops that do not require irrigation and as research discovers new applications for this valuable plant.

The expansion of bamboo commodity production provides an opportunity to harness the plant’s many environmental benefits. Bamboo is an effective tool to improve soil health and control erosion and slope stability: it has an extensive root system that helps bind soil, and an evergreen canopy that drops leaves year round, providing a perennial source of nutrients. It also thrives on problem soils and steep slopes, playing a potentially important role in efforts to reverse land degradation, and as an effective tool to help achieve Land Degradation Neutrality and support SDG15.

Increasing demand will also deliver economic benefits to rural communities: the rise of industrial bamboo production creates new value chains that rural communities and SMEs can supply and opportunities for them to benefit economically from growing export markets. Bamboo can be harvested on an annual basis, as all bamboos are grass species. This makes it a particularly sustainable opportunity for small and medium business development.

La Florida, Peru

La Florida, Peru

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan represents currently 41 Member States, containing more than half the world’s population. We believe that there is great potential to link the potential use of bamboo for land restoration with the opportunity to develop profitable value chains for bamboo production.

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.

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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.