About hansfriederich

A Dutch geographer with 30+ years experience as planner and manager of natural resources in Africa, Asia and Europe. On 1 January 2014, Hans became the Director-General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR - www.inbar.int). The views in this blog are his personal observations and do not represent the opinion of INBAR or its members.

Mediterranean Cane

I spent the Christmas and New Year’s holiday on the island of Gozo, which is part of Malta. The weather was generally nice, and the island was quiet, compared to the summer when I normally visit. The Gozitans know how to celebrate Christmas and New Year, with concerts and performances in the squares and in the churches.

St-George Square, Rabat, Gozo during Christmas

St-George Square, Rabat, Gozo during Christmas

Gozo is a dry island, and there are not many trees. I was surprised to read in the local Museum that in the past the island was covered in woodland, which was cut for construction and fuel. You would not believe that, as currently the main woody vegetation is made up of olive and fig trees. I also noticed that many of the dry valleys on the island have clumps of reeds that look remarkably like bamboos from a distance, and the local farmers call them canes.


This year, I walked up the dry valley in Mgarr-I-Xini, and I found myself in a forest of these canes. The stems have nodes and the roots have rhizomes, just like the bamboos that we see in many parts of the Global south.


But the leaves clearly show that they are not real bamboo species, and I therefore took this opportunity to learn more about these plants.  Wikipedia tells me that these reeds are Arundo donax, or giant cane. Other common names apparently include Spanish cane, wild cane, and giant reed, and A. donax is native to the Mediterranean Basin and the Middle East. Wikipedie says that plants generally grow to 6 metres high, with hollow stems 2 to 3 centimetres in diameter. The leaves are alternate, 30 to 60 centimetres long and 2 to 6 centimetres wide with a tapered tip, grey-green, and have a hairy tuft at the base.


The canes in Gozo used to be the main raw material for fishing traps and lobster pots, but these are now often manufactured from plastic an imported from outside the country. Fortunately, there are still some fishing traps to be found, and I saw these for sale in the market on I-Tokk in Rabat, Gozo.


The other use of the reeds is the manufacture of curtains that traditional houses have on the front door. It provides privacy when the door is open during the hot summer days. We do this ourselves, as a breeze in the courtyard is very nice, but you do not want the house to be open to the elements and the casual passer-by.
Many of the modern curtains come from the Far East, as it is often cheaper to buy imported mass-produced goods, than hand-made local produce, but fortunately there are still some local manufacturers on the island. My wife and I bought a custom-made curtain from a traditional manufacturer in Gharb, and he has no website or other means of advertising. We got to his house by talking to a lady in the street and asking where he lives. I forgot to take a picture, so will share a photo from the internet.


It was an interesting discovery to learn about the Gozo canes, and although they are not a bamboo species, I can relate to them.

Bamboo for Sustainable Cities

Last month, I was in Shenzhen, southern China, where I spoke at the first International Forest City Conference about using bamboo for urban parks and human wellbeing. This conference brought together some 400 participants from around the world and all over China, to discuss green urban development, within Chinese parameters. The concept of Forest Cities was launched several years ago, and it is resonating in China as a way to express eco-civilisation and eco-culture in an urban context.


Eco-civilisation is sustainable development within a Chinese context. It includes the three traditional socio-economic and environmental aspects of development, but incorporates also culture and governance. Eco-civilisation started as a scientific concept, but it is now fully supported by the Chinese political leadership, as was explained during the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development that I attended in Beijing in December.


Eco-civilisation is China’s way to protect the environment, restore degraded ecosystems and raise awareness about resource efficiency and green economic development. This includes the promotion of renewable energy in cities to curb pollution, but also re-thinking spatial planning and the need for green spaces. The 42 Member States of INBAR have identified 6 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) where bamboo and rattan can make a significant difference, and this includes SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.

INBAR’s main entry point for SDG 11 is the first target that aims to “ensure access to adequate, safe and affordable housing”, as bamboo is a cheap and secure building material in the Global South. INBAR has just carried out an assessment of the damage that bamboo constructions sustained after the earthquake in Ecuador, and the findings support the assumption that bamboo bends but does not break.


Unlike many brick and concrete buildings, Most of the bamboo constructions in the earth-quake affected area are still standing, often with only minor damage.


In the Andean Region, bamboo is predominantly used as round poles in the so called Bahareque building methodology. INBAR has recently produced guidelines for this particular method of construction in partnership with ARUP (http://www.arup.com/). This is the first time that we have published a report together with a large global firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, Working with a renowned global industry player is a way to confirm that the construction is sound from an engineering perspective, and not just promotion of bamboo by INBAR.


Round pole construction can be extremely impressive, as is illustrated by the buildings constructed by Simón Vélez, a world famous bamboo architect from Colombia. For Expo Hanover 2000, he designed and constructed a 2000-square-meter bamboo pavilion for ZERI Foundation. It was the first time in history that a bamboo structure received a building permit in Germany.  He also made impressive structures in his native Colombia, including this amazing church.


Church in Colombia by Simon Velez


In 2009, Simon Velez was recipient of the coveted Prince Claus Award, in recognition of his use of bamboo in construction. The award is annually awarded by the Prince Claus Fund, which is named in honor of Prince Claus of The Netherlands.

The round bamboo poles can also be transformed into square beams and planks through splitting the pole and glueing the pieces together under pressure. This is the preferred technology in China, and the “engineered bamboo” provides a full range of construction and architecture opportunities. INBAR is working closely with Moso International from the Netherlands, to promote this particular use of bamboo, and the photo below of Schiphol Airport Lounge 2 is a recent example of their work.

Lounge 2, Schiphol

Schiphol Airport by Moso International BV


Another target SDG 11 – target 7 – aims to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities. This is where I focused my contribution to the International Forest City Conference.  Research in the University of Sheffield in 2015 found that urban green spaces provide environmental benefits through their effects on negating urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and attenuating storm water. They also have direct health benefits by providing urban residents spaces for physical activity and social interaction, and allowing psychological restoration to take place.

In Europe and the USA, these open spaces are normally planted with trees and bushes, but there is no reason why in the tropics green urban spaces cannot be planted with bamboo. Shenzhen has good examples of this.  On the internet, I found reference to the Jade Bamboo Cultural Plaza in Shenzhen, which is a recent urban development project by a local company (http://www.urbanus.com.cn/projects/jade-bamboo-cultural-plaza/?lang=en). Bamboo is used in the natural vegetation islands, as bamboos are indigenous to Shenzhen.

During the conference, I visited the Shenzhen bamboo park, which is an extensive public space with a good collection of different bamboo species that provides room for recreation, exercise and general wellbeing. The park straddles a hill, and the main path is a circular walk, with diversions to the left and right. There is a lot of bamboo, and there are carvings and statues focused on bamboo.



This park in Shenzhen reminded me also of the Black Bamboo Park (formerly Purple Bamboo Park) in Beijing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Bamboo_Park). This is another large park with many bamboo species that is used for Tai Chi, dancing, exercise and all sorts of pastimes. The Beijing bamboo park is flat and has several lakes, but there is as much bamboo in the Black Bamboo Garden as there is in the Shenzhen Bamboo Park.


I dealt with another aspect of urban development and bamboo in early December, when I signed the partnership agreement with the Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites (ERCBWC) of the China State Forestry Administration. ERCBWC promotes the development of innovative composite material through winding of bamboo fibres. One of the key products that they are manufacturing are pipes for storm drainage or waste water transport, that can be used in an urban environment. The key characteristic is that the fibres used are bamboo fibres, instead of silica or other more expensive and less environmental fibres. The bamboo winding pipes are as durable as other pipes, have a lower carbon and environmental footprint and – most important – are cheaper than traditional alternatives. This could be a practical example of green procurement!


Bamboo certainly has a place for urban parks and human wellbeing in China. It could have a similar role in the urban environment of other countries with natural bamboo, which was the subject of a conference in Pittsburgh earlier on the year. The resulting “Pittsburgh Declaration” is a call for action by leading construction experts to ensure bamboo plays a critical role in the provision of safe and affordable housing, and becomes a key driver of greener urban environments. http://www.inbar.int/sites/default/files/Pittsburgh%20Declaration.pdf






Bamboo and Rattan in Cameroon

I have just returned from Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon in Central Africa. Cameroon is a country with extensive forest resources, and it is a member of the Central African Forest Commission, COMIFAC. Since 2002, Cameroon is also a member of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan – INBAR. In 2013, Cameroon and INBAR signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate the promotion of bamboo and rattan in the country, and to work together towards a bamboo and rattan programme.

Last year, we agreed to co-host a bamboo and rattan workshop in Yaoundé as an expression of the MoU, and this was postponed to 2016, after recruiting Rene Kaam from Cameroon in the INBAR Headquarters in Beijing.  During the discussion of the details of the workshop, we realised that this was rapidly becoming more than just a workshop, and in the end it was officially opened on Thursday 11 August 2016 as the Regional Conference on Bamboo and Rattan. The conference had three key sessions, dealing respectively with construction, land restoration and value chain development.  The sessions involved speakers and participants from 16 other INBAR Member States and a number of international organisations.

Keynote-speakers (2)

The Conference was formally opened by HE Ngole Philip Ngwese, Minister for Forestry and Wildlife (http://www.minfof.cm/), and we listened to a key-note speech from the Director of Forestry of Nigeria, Philip O. Bankole, on behalf of HE Minister Amina Mohammed. Minister of Environment of Liberia, HE Anyaa Vohiri unfortunately arrived after the opening ceremony, due to cancellation of her flight, but she gave her key-note speech during the closing ceremony. The Secretary of State for Forestry and Wildlife of Cameroon and the Ambassador of Cameroon to the People ’s Republic of China also attended the opening ceremony, and Dr Li Nuyun represented the China Green Carbon Foundation (http://www.thjj.org/en/), one of the sponsors of the Conference. I spoke on behalf of INBAR.

Prior to the Conference, INBAR had organised training for some 70 local people, including a group of mayors. They worked in three groups, each focusing on different aspects of the value chain. This included training in manufacturing of handicrafts, and Master Chen from Sichuan in southern China helped to introduce bamboo as a possible raw material for weaving.


Master Chen explaining how to make a bamboo weaving


INBAR advisor and project manager of the IFAD-funded bamboo for livelihoods project in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Tanzania, Dr Jayaraman Durai, provided advice and guidance about management of bamboo plantations, and general inputs about the value chain. There are several bamboo species in Cameroon, and there are bamboo groves throughout the country, but there is room for more plantations. Durai provided advice on how to plant new bamboos and how to make sure they flourish.


Dr Jayaraman Durai teaching plantation management


Professor Zhu, INBAR Fellow for Life, shared his extensive knowledge about bamboo and rattan and we had two trainers from Peru to provide advice about modern construction methods with bamboo. All this was coordinated by INBAR Training Coordinator Ms Jin Wei.

During the actual Conference, we were extremely fortunate to have the inputs from Dr Li Nuyun, the Secretary-General of the China Green Carbon Foundation (CGCF – http://www.thjj.org/en/). CGCF is the department in the Chinese State Forestry Administration that is responsible for climate change mitigation, and they were one of the sponsors of the conference. They have developed methodologies to count carbon in forests in China, and this includes a method to deal with bamboo. It is currently the only method available in the world to measure CO2 in bamboo, and Dr Li explained how we can apply this methodology in Cameroon.


Dr Li Nuyun, China Green Carbon Foundation


While I was in Yaoundé, I had a series of very productive meetings, with a range of policy makers, including HE Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, Minister Delegate for External Relations, HE Ms Ebelle Etame Rebecca, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation and Ms Marie Madeleine Nga, National Coordinator of the National Community Driven Development Programme in the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development. My meetings culminated in a very engaging discussion with HE Prime Minister Philemon Yang. The Prime Minister comes from an area in Cameroon that is rich in bamboo resources, and he told me that traditionally houses in this part of the country are mainly constructed from bamboo. He told me that the method of construction of the walls in a compound illustrates the tribal background of the family. He also made the point that bamboo is particularly useful for beehives, as the hollow stems provide insolation to keep the swarm warm.



Discussion with HE Prime Minister Yang


I also met the Minister for Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (http://www.minep.gov.cm), HE Hele Pierre. Minister Pierre admitted that he mainly thought about bamboo as a commodity, but he had not given full recognition to the many ecosystem services that living bamboo provides. We explained that biodiversity conservation, renewable energy, erosion control, landscape restoration and climate change mitigation are all areas where bamboo and rattan can play a role.  In this respect, Minister Anyaa Vohiri from Liberia invited Cameroon to join the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA – http://www.gaboronedeclaration.com/).  GDSA is looking for ways to help countries in Africa account for the natural capital that they possess, and bamboo is one aspect that could be used as an example.

I informed Minister Pierre that INBAR is Observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United National Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and we agreed that there are clear areas for collaboration in the field of ecosystem management and nature conservation

Minister Pierre was most impressed with the latest innovations of the Chinese bamboo industry, and gratefully accepted a radio made from bamboo.


HE Minister Hele Pierre admires bamboo products


All the discussions came the same point: Cameroon wants to develop a national bamboo and rattan development programme, and Minister Ngole Philip Ngwese stressed that this will be the overwhelming result of the conference and associated meetings. This programme will include policy discussions, a capacity building programme, an awareness and publicity campaign and a series of demonstration sites to show potential investors what can be achieved. I confirmed the willingness of the INBAR Secretariat to help develop this programme for Cameroon during the closing session of the conference.


closing-ceremony (2)

Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwese; Minister Delegate for External Relations, Dr Joseph Dion Ngute; INBAR Director-General Dr Hans Friederich and State Secretary for Forestry and Wildlife at closing ceremony


The conference also provided lots of other opportunities for collaboration and future joint action. I had meetings with the national office of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Canadian High Commission in Cameroon to discuss regional initiatives. Minister Vohiri from Liberia and I discussed ways to implement the bamboo roadmap that INBAR has helped to prepare for her country.  Nigeria Director of Forestry Philip Bankole has proposed that we sign a Memorandum of Understanding to describe what INBAR and Nigeria can do to promote bamboo and rattan in Nigeria.  INBAR has been invited by the Rwanda Ecologists Association ARECO-Rwanda-Nziza (http://arecorwandanziza.org) to a regional forest meeting in Kigale in December, to introduce bamboo into discussions about gender and forest management in the Congo Basin. Finally, Benin offered to work on a GEF project for bamboo cultivation and landscape restoration.

All-in-all, a very productive few days, which would not have been possible without the strong support of HE Martin Mpana, Ambassador of Cameroon to the People’s Republic of China. Ambassador Mpana has become a strong supporter of INBAR, and has been a key driver of this conference.



HE Ambassador Martin Mpana with bamboo shoot.  Ms Jin Wei, INBAR Training Coordinator in the background

Artisanal Bamboo Paper

Bamboo paper has excellent ink absorption and good toughness. Last year, I visited a modern pulp and paper factory in Guizhou, which was a high-tech industrial plant, but bamboo paper is also being produced by local artisans. Nancy Norton Tomasko has written an interesting article in 2010 about hand-made bamboo paper production, and she mentions that Fuyang in Hangzhou district in Zhejiang province, China, is the most famous place for traditional bamboo paper production in China.

INBAR produced a Transfer of Technology Model for manufacturing hand-made bamboo paper in 2001. This describes the process, and makes the case that producing bamboo paper is a relatively low-investment use of bamboo fibres. It could be done anywhere where there is healthy bamboo, and I could be an opportunity for local industry development in many INBAR Member States, as you need minimal infrastructure and capital investment.

I was in Hangzhou recently to participate in the award ceremony for the Most Beautiful Bamboo Village in Hangzhou. During the trip, I also paid a visit to the Hangzhou Fuyang Greater Yuan Zhu Paper company where they make paper by hand from bamboo fibres.


I was told that bamboo paper manufacturing began in Fyyang during the Southern Song Dynasty, and has been passed down from generation to generation for more than a thousand years. The key is to use young bamboo culms, so the stems are still relatively soft. They are cut into pieces and soaked in a bath of lime water. I was told that the company used the culms of the current growing season – only a few months after they have reached maturity. These have not yet become hard and contain relatively small amounts of lignin.

The bundles of bamboo pieces are stacked side by side under water, and lime is added to accelerate the decomposing process. This particular company prides itself on the fact that no chemicals are used, and natural lime is added to reduce the PH in the bath, and to allow for the decomposing of the bamboo fibres.   If chemicals are used, the process may be faster, but the waste water is polluted. In the case of the Greater Yuan Zhu Paper company there is no chemical pollution, and the waste water is released into the nearby stream.


Once the fibres are softened, the bundles are taken out of the water and drained. You can still see the individual bamboo culms, but the strength has been leached out of the culms, and the fibres are soft enough to be pulped. The bundles are washed, boiled and further broken down to produce raw bamboo fibres, which can then be processed further


The breakdown of the fibres into mulch is done of the traditional way, by using a large mills stone. In historical times this must have been the work of donkeys, but now a simple machine operates the mill stone. I can imagine that in another other geographical context animal power could still be the way to move the mill stone for grinding the fibres into pulp.


Once the fibres are pulped, and soaked further into smaller pieces, the solution is thick enough to make paper. This is done by pulling a screen through the water, which collects a thin film of bamboo fibres. Tomasko describes different ways of doing this, but the company that I visited dips the screen only once.   The thin films are stacked to form a pile of thin, fragile sheets, which are the basis for the traditional paper.


The actual paper sheets are produced by drying the thin films of fibres on a heated sheet. This is professional work – Several members of our team tried their hand at it, and everyone ripped the sheets of fibres. You need to be trained and experienced to paste the thin sheets onto the heated panel and pull off the dried sheet of paper.


The dried sheets are stacked and packaged to be put on the market.  I was told that this type of hand-made paper is sold to artists, museums and vocational training centres, mainly for use in calligraphy and professional drawing. This factory does not produce paper for thecomputer printer or for normal daily use: it provides a source of high-quality professional material. It may be a small high-value niche market, but what a wonderful use of bamboo fibres.


A Stone Forest in a Bamboo Village

I was in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province recently. Hangzhou District covers not only the central city but also a number of districts and many villages. I was told by our friends in the Hangzhou Forest Academy that this is the area with most of the Moso bamboo in China – 164,000 hectares!

My main reason for my visit was to help award certificates to the ten “Most Beautiful Bamboo Villages” in Hangzhou. The competition had been organised by the Hangzhou Forest and Water Affairs Bureau, Hangzhou Culture, Radio and Television Group and Hangzhou Daily Group, in partnership with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan -INBAR. The ceremony took place in the offices of the local TV station, and I was asked to say a few words on behalf of INBAR.


It was touching to hear the emotional thank you speeches from some of the winners, and I was very happy to learn that the awards were not just decided by a panel of judges. The local people in Hangzhou had the opportunity to vote through social media, and they have been active supporters. Therefore, the lucky winners were recognized by their own peers, and this made it even more meaningful.

One of the villages that received an award was Shi Lin, which is the smallest town in China, with only some 5000 participants. The town has large bamboo resources, and we visited one of the plantations to see the big Moso culms. The village leader told us that nearly half the population depends on bamboo for its livelihood, while eco-tourism is another main form of economic development.


Interestingly, there were a number of bent bamboo culms in the Moso plantation that we visited and when I enquired how this happened, I was told that this was a result of heavy snow fall last winter. It is difficult to imagine snow when the temperature is around 35o Celcius, but the 2015/2016 winter has been severe in this part of China. Judging from the number of damaged bamboo culms, the weight of the snow must have been considerable.


The added excitement of my trip to Shi Lin was a visit to the local Stone Forest. Many years ago, I visited Shilin Stone Forest in Yunnan, and I was part of the committee that worked on the World Heritage nomination for this natural monument in southern China. I recall the discussions about the fact that this formation was rather unique, and I supported the registration of the Yunnan Stone Forest as a natural World Heritage Area. With reason:

Major Stone Forest - view1

Therefore, I was intrigued to learn that there is a stone forest in Hangzhou, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to visit the site, which is called the Qiandao Lake Stone Forest. It is a most interesting geological and morphological phenomena, although much smaller than its namesake in Yunnan. There appears to be a relatively small limestone lens between other rocks, and the surface outcrop of this limestone bed has weathered into deep karst fissures. It is still relatively unknown to the public, and we were almost the only visitors.


The limestone is eroded down to ten metres in some cases, creating narrow, deep trenches, and solution patters are obvious throughout. There rocks are badly weathered, and form all kinds of shapes, with the usual innovative names. There is a path that enables you to walk around, and this is tastefully constructed, without damage to any of the rocks, and without obvious concrete or other construction features.


There is a cave in the area, which is a classic vadose stream passage of some ten, twelve metres high. You can traverse from the lower entrance where a stream emerges to the upper entrance, and a steep staircase allows you to climb out. I saw a good number of bats roosting on the ceiling, and there are a few Buddha statues in the lower entrance. I wonder if there are more such cave passages further along the cliff wall.


Shilin village does not only qualify for one of the “Most Beautiful Bamboo Villages”, but it would also be a candidate for a beautiful karst village.

Bamboos in Cornwall? You bet!

I visited Trebah Gardens in Cornwall in South-West England, a sub-tropical paradise near Falmouth with a stunning coastal backdrop of the Helmford River.  It is one of the Great Gardens of Cornwall and rated among the 80 finest gardens in the world.

The garden has an interesting collection of bamboos and I therefore wanted to get some photos for the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).  The bamboos in Trebah Garden are grouped together in a specially created maze of paths known as the Bamboozle which zig-zags alongside the small stream that eventually flows into Helford River. There are some 40 different species and cultivars to be found there.


It surprised me to see so many bamboos in an English garden, but the micro-climate in this area is very gentle. The fairly narrow, steep valley runs north-south into Helford River, and rarely experiences frost. The steep slopes protect the plants from severe winds. It was unfortunately raining when I visited Trebah, but this clearly benefits the bamboos as well. They all look very healthy, and there were many new shoots. Bamboos shoots are a delicacy in China, and the local squirrels in Trebah Garden also like to take a bite out of new bamboo shoots. In order to avoid this, the shoots are protected with wire mesh.


Most of the bamboos in Trebah Garden come from China, which is not surprising as the largest number of bamboo species are found there. But there are others in Trebah Garden as well, and I was taken by Thamnocalamus spathiflorus from the Himal Region, which is a clumping bamboo with relatively thin culms.


The Garden has several Phyllostachys species, including a hybrid that was cultivated in Trebah Garden. It has beautiful thin yellow culms. There are also several nice stands of Phyllostachys aurea. Apparently, the English name is fishpole bamboo, so it was appropriate that the bamboos are planted around a small lake. For security reasons, they have positioned a life-ring next to the healthy bamboo clump, as you can see on the following photo.


A different species from SW China is Fargesia robusta, with a tight, non-invasive clumping habit.  It is apparently one of the earliest bamboos to break soil in spring and the white culm sheaths contrast beautifully with the dark green canes to give what is often described as a chequerboard effect


The common Moso bamboo from China, Phyllostachys edulis, is also very happy in Trebah Garden, and there is an information plaque about its incredible growth rate. In China, this species can grow up to one metre per day, and can reach heights of 30 metres, but the English climate does not provide for this. According to the information on the board, the growth rate in UK is up to 20cm per day and the maximum height is 6 metres. That is still a lot faster than any tree species that I know of!


This was a nice visit to a beautiful garden and a very interesting discovery of healthy bamboos in the UK.  For more information about bamboos in the UK, you can contact the Bamboo Society of Great Britain .  They had a meeting in Trebah Gardens last May!



More Bamboo and Earthquakes – Ecuador!

My last post was about a bamboo-based earthquake-response in Nepal.  Unfortunately, I now have to write about Ecuador.

On April 16th 2016, Ecuador was hit by a massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Directly impacting 6 provinces located on the northern coastal area this disaster was responsible for claiming the lives of 660 people. Forcing 7,600 families or around 30,000 people into temporary shelters the earthquake also had a devastating effect on more than 560 schools and 7,000 other buildings. Destroying many roads, it led to the isolation of rural communities from aid.

Utilising its Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) located in Ecuador, INBAR swung into action.  Understanding the gravity of the situation, INBAR immediately deployed its in-country team and network of specialists in bamboo construction to support local partners learn how to incorporate bamboo into post-earthquake planning.

Preliminary reports state that most buildings using bamboo have either been able to withstand the impact or have only been partially damaged. International and local media outlets including New York Times, BBC, CNN, ABC, El Tiempo, El Comercio, El Universo, El Expreso, and El Telegrafo have reported on a number of cases that show the relative performance and strength of Bamboo.

Our local team sent the following to illustrate how bamboo buildings are still standing



While these observations are encouraging, we need scientific knowledge to be able to state without hesitation that bamboo construction survives earthquakes.  With the support of local, regional and international partners, INBAR is now coordinating a technical evaluation of the impact the earthquake had on existing bamboo structures and resources. The report aims to inform authorities on how bamboo could be appropriately used in the reconstruction process.  The photo below shows bamboo engineers Louis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran from Colombia reviewing the state of a bamboo market in the affected area.

visiting the Ecuador earthquake area with experts Luis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran

In partnership with a number of collaborators, INBAR successfully organised workshops on bamboo reconstruction and regulations for safe homes in Quito and Manta. Based on their prior experience and knowledge in utilising bamboo for alleviating relief efforts in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru experts shared their observations with the participants. The event held on the 12th of May at Quito was attended by 70 people and organised with the support of Mesa Sectorial Bambu Ecuador and the Association of Provincial Governments of Ecuador (CONGOPE).  The attendees included people from the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, and Agriculture, as well as representatives from provincial governments, universities, and volunteer organisations. The attendees of the event acknowledged the crucial need for Ecuador’s national building code to reinstate bamboo and allow earthquake reconstruction subsidies for bamboo houses. On the the 13th of May, another event was organised in Manta supported by the University Laica Eloy Alfaro of Manabi and was attended by 300 people. The attendees included a number of municipal and provincial government officials from Manta and Manabi who were directly responsible for reconstruction after the earthquake. The participants were determined to promote and encourage the usage of local materials and techniques for reconstruction using local material and techniques such as bamboo and bahareque walling systems. They further resolved to actively encourage the integration of bamboo in the national construction code and future housing policies.

training event in Manta

The Bamboo Training and Awareness-raising Seminar in Manta


An email address consultoriodebambu@gmail.com was created by INBAR to assist users in answering technical questions including the optimal utilisation of bamboo, information on providers, prices, and quality. So far, INBAR has answered more than 250 emails. The Virtual Bamboo Desk Support continues to get messages on bamboo usage and other related topics.  INBAR has also shared manuals and technical notes that offer information on optimal usage of bamboo and construction with over 600 different groups via emails, print copies and social media.

Collaborating with a number of national platforms, INBAR is working with the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, Foreign Affairs, Environment, and Agriculture along with local government authorities to coordinate the reconstruction work.  We also participated in several coordination meetings organised by the National Bamboo Roundtable (platform that comprises 70 public and private organisations interested in bamboo in Ecuador). A formal resolution related to bamboo reconstruction was signed by 28 stakeholders in the month of April.

We are now looking at the future, and we have several projects in the pipeline to help build capacity for construction with bamboo.  This will involve the construction of demonstration houses, training of local builders and architects, updating the bamboo construction code and bamboo harvesting regulations.  We are also talking with the Government about the establishment of a Vocational Training Centre to train young people in bamboo-related employment opportunities.

All of this is coordinated by our Regional Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean in Quito, Ecuador.  The LAC Regional Office, established in Ecuador in 2001, represents the 10 INBAR Member States in the Region. The office supports projects to promote use of bamboo – improve value chain; strengthen local capacity; and create local policies that develop harvesting, construction and commercialisation. We also helped to develop national guidelines for bamboo construction in Peru and Colombia (see the picture below), that can now be used to support the activities in Ecuador.


I hope we can help the people of Ecuador to re-build their lives and their houses!