Bamboo Water Tanks Don’t Leak

One of the interesting pilot projects INBAR embarked upon in 2012 was to test if bamboo and rattan could be used to construct rainwater catchment tanks for local communities in Ethiopia and Nepal.  The hypothesis was that bamboo is readily available and it is relatively cheap.  Moreover, skills could be transferred to local entrepreneurs so that the tanks could be constructed without the need for external help, thus keeping the cost down.


When I lived and worked in Botswana in the seventies, we looked at rainwater catchment as the solution for providing cheap a supply of fresh water for domestic use in a country with very low rainfall and a dwindling underground water reservoir.  I was working with an advisor to the International Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (IRCSA) which is promoting and advancing rainwater catchment systems technology.  (  We facilitated the construction of a set of rainwater tanks at a medical facility in the village of Nata, and found that the few rainstorms that occur were sufficient to fill the tank and provide an additional source of water for washing, watering a vegetable garden and other uses.  It even functioned as an emergency back-up to the council water supply.

I therefore liked the concept of the Ethiopia/Nepal project, and was very interested to hear the outcome.   I had the opportunity to learn more, when I talked last week with one of the INBAR staff who was actively involved in the activity.  The project constructed a 5,000 litre tank from flattened, treated bamboo strips, which were then plastered with concrete.  A base was constructed to prevent leakage, and a domed roof was installed to keep the supply safe from pollution.  The result was a cheap reservoir with a cost of USD 4-8 per litre.  This compares very favourable with a plastic water tank which costs roughly USD 12 per litre while a concrete tank costs about USD20 per litre.  The main concerns that were expressed by the local community was the fear that bamboo would rot, and the tank would disintegrate.  However, INBAR was able to prove that treated bamboo can last 25 years or more, and the bamboo used for this water tank was therefore treated with a simple method using appropriate technology.

tank elevation shot with girl_3

INBAR has published a manual to help other communities build similar structures, which is available on line:

The pilot project could not have been possible without the support from the Canadian Government.  The results are very encouraging, and we hope to embark upon a second phase of testing and promotion in the coming year.


Certifying Bamboo Buildings – Not Easy!

I have spent one week of discussions, briefing notes and interactions with my new colleagues in INBAR.  One of the issues that has come up a number of times is the question of certification and standards.  We need standards for the management, use and trade of bamboo and rattan, and we need mechanisms to verify that standards are adhered to.  INBAR has a key role in the development of bamboo and rattan standards by bringing together the best scientists in the field and coordinating efforts with our Members.  A lot has happened, and more work is under way.

With regards to the management of bamboo forests and plantations, there is need to have a certification scheme that is similar to FSC or PEFC for forests.  Apparently, 20% of the world’s forests are now certified under either of these schemes, but as bamboo is a non-timber species that grows fast, has strong root systems and thrives on being cropped, the standard for well managed bamboo stands cannot be the same as that for a stand of woody trees.  The Rainforest Alliance is working on a “Stewardship Standard for Alternative Natural Fibers”, which will include bamboo, and INBAR is part of this working group.We hope that this will result in a practical, robust certification scheme for sustainable management of bamboo and rattan.

Once harvested, bamboo culms can be used for construction and this is another area where standards are urgently needed. INBAR is working closely with the International Standards Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland (ISO) and has already developed three published ISO standards for construction with round bamboo.  Recently, the ISO Technical Committee 165 on Timber Structures agreed to establish a new working group on structural uses of bamboo, which will have a mandate governing not only round bamboo, but also engineered bamboo.  It will be a forum for standardizing the design, testing and manufacturing processes of engineered bamboo structural products.  Therefore, I hope to get buy-in and participation from the private sector.  I am talking to several leading industry partners in the weeks to come, and this is one issue that I will discuss with them.

House construction with round bamboo poles in Bhutan

House construction with round bamboo poles in Bhutan

INBAR is the International Commodity Body for Bamboo and Rattan and together with the World Customs Organisation we have established a range of Harmonised System codes that classify traded bamboo and rattan products.  These codes cover raw materials, plaited products, industrial products, furniture and bamboo shoots.  One of the challenges with engineered bamboo is that the terminology of bamboo products is not uniform, and we have signed an agreement with several partners in December last year to work together on the classification of engineered bamboo construction products.

The last step is to have regulations in place that allow bamboo products to be used in construction of housing.  Not all countries provide for this, and only Colombia, Ecuador, India and Peru have included bamboo in their national building codes, although the US Green Building Council provides for LEED credits when bamboo is used in building construction.   INBAR will work with all its Members and the international community to promote the inclusion of bamboo in national and international building standards.

Black Bamboo Garden in Beijing - house construction with engineered bamboo panels

Black Bamboo Garden in Beijing – house construction with engineered bamboo panels

As I said above – a lot has happened but there is still a lot of work to be done.  Check out the INBAR website to follow our progress.  Of course standards are also needed for other uses of bamboo and rattan, such as charcoal, textile and paper manufacturing, but that is another story.









New Beginnings

I am on the way to Beijing to take on the responsibilities of Director-General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).  The Headquarters of INBAR are in China, and maybe surprisingly it is still the only inter-governmental organisation that has established its global seat in Beijing.

These first weeks will be a time of familiarising and learning, but already I have gathered that bamboo and rattan have amazing qualities not just for livelihoods improvement in the producing countries, but also for climate change adaptation and mitigation, for landscape restoration and enhancing resilience of local communities, for industrial construction and architectural design, for renewable energy production and more.

Bamboo flooring Copyright all rights reserved by INBAR

Bamboo flooring Copyright all rights reserved by INBAR

During the coming weeks and months, I will be reviewing many of these qualities, and provide examples of how bamboo and rattan play a role in sustainable development and in bolstering the green economy.  I will talk about what INBAR and its members do, but my blog provides a personal take on the issues – it is not the official website of the organisation, and my musings should not be taken as institutional statements.

Let me finish by wishing you all a very Happy New Year.