For the past five years, I was the head of the Secretariat of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (www.inbar.int) in Beijing, PR China. I stepped down in April this year, and now I am living in Europe again.
Europe is not a natural home of bamboo, but it is the main market for bamboo products primarily manufactured in Asia. Yet, there are many places where bamboos are already growing in this part of the world.
The Labirinto Della Masone in Italy is said to be the largest bamboo labyrinth in existence, made up of around 200,000 bamboo clumps. The labyrinth is located in Parma, near Milan, and I will be speaking at the “Under The Bamboo Tree” conference that will take place on 5 and 6 October 2019.
A few years ago, I was in Cornwall, UK and visited the Trebah botanical garden. I was surprised to see a large collection of very healthy bamboos, including the Chinese species Phyllostachys edulis. After my visit, I wrote about this on my blog:
Cornwall is warm enough for bamboos to grow outside of the botanical garden. In fact, it grows so well in Cornwall that until the early 1950s it was grown as a commercial crop at several sites across Cornwall, with one farm producing 5 million culms per annum. Currently, some of the bamboos are used to make coffins, as there is a small company near Truro that produces bespoke funeral arrangements from bamboo: http://cornishbamboocoffins.co.uk/
I never visited the French bamboo garden, La Bambouseraie, but have heard a lot about it. The fact that the garden is doing so well illustrates that bamboos can also grow in mainland southern Europe. The former CEO of La Bambouseraie has established a 100 Ha nursery in Portugal, which now claims to be one of the largest bamboo nurseries in Europe:
There are other nurseries in Europe that specialize in bamboo, including Oprins in Belgium. Oprins specialises in Fargesia, a non-invasive group of bamboo species, and production techniques are based on tissue culture.
All of this made me realise that bamboos could provide an innovative development trajectory for poor local communities, especially in southern Europe, and I have been looking for an opportunity to work on this. I have read about the decline of agriculture in countries like Portugal and Spain, and bamboo plantations could provide jobs for disillusioned farmers. Planting bamboo would also regenerate the productivity of the exhausted soils, as INBAR and FAO have shown through a number of case studies around the world Finally, bamboo could create a very effective natural carbon sink, and this fits with the political agenda of all European nations.
I am therefore pleased to announce that I will soon be working with Bamboologic in the Netherlands (www.bambulogic.eu) to help create the European Bamboo Programme. The aim of the Programme is the creation of local jobs, restoration of degraded farmland and mitigation of climate change by planting and managing bamboo, starting in Southern Portugal. We have identified this to be a particularly suitable location for bamboo, and have acquired a 150 hectares start-up location in the Municipality of Alcoutim. Planting will start before the end of the year and the area will be expanded to 2000 hectares in the near future.
Some people have expressed reservations about using bamboo for land restoration, but as we are considering this an agricultural development programme, the potential risks can be managed, and any perceived negative ecological effects will be mitigated.
Eventually, the programme aims to plant 8000 hectares of unproductive agricultural land with bamboo in different countries in southern Europe and to establish several processing factories, but that will take some time. At this moment, we are starting phase 1, and we are looking for partners to develop the second phase of the programme.