About hansfriederich

A Dutch geographer with 35+ 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 Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR - www.inbar.int). After 4 successful years of raising awareness about the opportunities that bamboo and rattan provide for sustainable development, INBAR was recognised in a congratulatory letter by Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2017 and obtained UN Observer Status in December 2017. In June 2018, INBAR organised the very successful Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC2018) in Beijing. In April 2019, Hans stepped down as DG of INBAR and moved to Malta, where he is now promoting nature-based solutions to development challenges.


When I worked in Thailand from 1999 to 2004, we lived in Turtle House on Soi Prommitr in the Sukhumvit area of central Bangkok.  Turtle house got its name from the fact that the house was built over a pond.  The owners told us that their grandfather had been admiral of the fleet, and when he retired he was given a piece of land.  He asked for the plot of land to be on the edge of a water body, and was therefore offered this plot on Soi Prommitr.

Turtle House 028

The main house was a simple two-floor wooden structure with a concrete terrace and a flat roof.  We had a separate kitchen with an adjacent room for Jit, who helped to keep the place clean. There was another building where the gardener Kamsing and his family lived and my wife Bee and I had our study.


Turtle House was the residence of Italian author Tiziano Terzani when he wrote his 1995 book “A fortune teller told me”, and Kamsing features in the book. (https://www.travelfish.org/book-reviews/134).  Tiziano was the Asia correspondent of “Der Spiegel”, and the book is a record of travels through Southeast Asia.  Having been told by a fortune teller in 1976 that he should avoid flying in the year 1993, Tiziano agreed with his editors to only travel by land or water that year and to write a book about his experiences.  It is a fascinating snapshot of what Southeast Asia was like in the mid-nineties.


What made Turtle House so special was the pond and the lush vegetation around it.  The pond was a sacred place, and the home of a giant soft-shell turtle, whom we christened Thor.  Thor’s back was at least 1 metre in diameter, and you could see him from time to time in the pond.  Over the years, a daily routine involved the offering of chicken bones from a neighbouring food stall in the early evening, and Thor often showed up to have his share.

He was not the only turtle in the pond.  There were several local hard-shell specimens, and a few recently introduced red sliders.  We never managed to count them all, as they disappeared under water from time to time.  The pond was also home to several catfish, a few snake fish and a good number of other smaller fish species.



Because of the turtles, local monks would regularly visit the house to say prayers and bless the pond.  The first time this happens we were shocked, as the garden was all-of-a-sudden full of young men in saffron robes who we had not invited.  Kamsing explained patiently that this was not our choice, but that the monks were part of the scenery.  A similar experience occurred each year during the Song Kran festival in April, when residents from around the neighbourhood came to say prayers and float their wishes on our pond.

Around the pond was a lush garden with fig trees, palm trees, bird of paradise flowers, ferns and much more and we used to decorate the trees with orchids that we purchased at Chatuchak market.  There was a small jetty and a wooden canoe, and we could switch on a submersible pump to create a fountain.

Turtle House - boat and garden 2


We discovered a small Buddha statue that had been in the garden for a long time, and there were some beautiful pots to collect water.  At night we sometimes had visits from snakes, and we had squirrels and birds galore.   It was a real heaven in the midst of central Bangkok, and we were very sad to leave Turtle House when I moved to IUCN Headquarters in Switzerland in January 2004.

I had little to do with turtles while we lived in Switzerland, and during the past years when we lived in China, and although they are spotted offshore, we had never seen a turtle in Malta.  So it came as a surprise to read about the nesting of a loggerhead turtle in Gozo, and when the local NGO Nature Trust Malta (NMT) asked for volunteers to monitor progress we offered to help.  All of-a-sudden, turtles were back in my life!

Apparently a loggerhead turtle laid eggs on the beach in Ramla Bay during the night of 30 May. There have been rumours for years about turtles coming onto the beach, but there has not been a confirmed nest in Gozo in 70 years.  This recorded visit was therefore rather special, and the Environment and Resources Authority of Malta asked Nature Trust Malta to look after the nest.


A Loggerhead turtle can lay 80 – 120 eggs in one go, and normally, the eggs take some 60 days to hatch, so we were expecting action by the end of July.  Until that time, NTM arranged for round-the-clock, seven days per week protection through a group of volunteers who each had 3-hour shifts.  I had been worried that we might not find enough people willing to spend 3 hours on the beach, but the support has been overwhelming.  All volunteers were linked through a WhatsApp group, and Bee and I have met some lovely people during these past two months.

Hans and Marco

NTM volunteers: Hans with Marco Ricordini

The nest was cordoned off, so there was no disturbance, and sandbags were prepared to eventually guide the little turtles towards he sea when they would come out.  A screen was dug in around the site to a depth of nearly one metre.  This helped to keep out dogs, cats or human visitors, but was also meant to be a barrier for ghost crabs, as they can eat turtle eggs or little turtles.  Security was provided by a private company, and publicity was made through social media and the press.  I must say that NTM have been exemplary in the way they have dealt with the management of the nest and everything to around it.


Meanwhile, we did have the opportunity to take part in the release of a turtle that had been rescued from being trapped in old fishing gear.  This turtle was let go on Hondoq beach in Gozo, with great publicity.  As soon as its transport box was opened the turtle legged it to the sea.  A promising sign, with indications of what was likely going to happen in Ramla Beach


Finally, a few days ago we received news around midnight that the sand was moving and that turtles were coming out.  It caused great excitement amongst the volunteers, and many of our friends got up to witness the event.  We did not join the party, so I have no photos to share.  The first batch of 62 hatchlings came out on the night of 1 August and another group of 11 came out the following night.

On 4 August, the authorities dug up the nest to ascertain if any eggs were still there.  They found 4 live turtles, who made it to the sea, and two dead ones.  Some 20 eggs were unhatched.


So, all-in-all, this next produced 77 live turtles that are now swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.  It is the end of the turtle story for Ramla Bay this year, but there are currently two other turtle nests on Malta.  A good year for turtles in this part of the Med, and I hope there will be another nest on Gozo next year.


Turtles on the beach in Goa, photo by Protraveloholic


Sand – a finite natural resource

I read an interesting story by Laura Cole in the latest issue of Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society in London.  The story focused on sand mining.


Geographical Magazine, July 2020 ; page 34 – 41

Maybe you are better informed than me, but I had no idea that sand is “the single most mined commodity, eclipsing minerals and metals by a colossal margin”.  I always assumed that sand is one of those items that will always be there, and I had not given much thought to the fact that one day we may run out of sand.

Sand was a regular feature of my youth in the south of the Netherlands.  We lived far from the coastal sand dunes, but we had an inland sand dune landscape – the Loonse and Drunese Duinen.  It was a popular spot for walking our dog, looking for chanterelle mushrooms in the autumn and generally having a hike during the weekend.  In those days it was quiet, and we would walk for hours without seeing many other people.  I recall rabbits, the occasional roe deer and sometimes a fox early in the morning.  In 2002 the area was declared a National Park, and it is now a popular destination for local recreation.


Loonse and Drunese Duinen National Park, Netherlands

I never thought much about sand until the seventies, when I lived and worked in Botswana as a land-use planning officer. The country is a semi-desert, and the river beds are dry for most of the year.  They are filled with sand (a problem when you want to get across by car) and the sand was often dug for local use.  But, this was small-scale local extraction, and while there was a concern about water availability, we never talked about the risk of the sand being a finite resource.  So I was very surprised to read the Geographical story that warns about the serious implications of mining of sand.


After reading the story, I started looking for other information on the web, and there are some astounding news reports:

  • Global production of concrete has risen by a quarter in just five years, fueled by the insatiable demands of China and India for housing and infrastructure;
  • China used more concrete between 2011 and 2013 than America did in the entire 20th century;
  • Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand and gravel, and globally our annual aggregate (N.B. this is sand and gravel) consumption is somewhere around 53 billion. This is expected to increase to 60 billion tonnes per year by 2030;
  • Singapore is currently the world’s largest importer of sand, owing to its land reclamation activities which have seen the city-state’s land area increase by 20% in 40 years;
  • Wind action in deserts results in rounded grains that are too smooth and too small to bind well in concrete, so you cannot use most of the sand from the deserts for concrete manufacturing.

Yet, despite these news stories, there is not a lot of scientific information available about sand mining, although this is obviously a growing environmental disaster.  In fact, a 2019 report from UNEP – “Sand and Sustainability: Finding new solutions for environmental governance of global sand resources” – says that the scale of the challenge inherent in sand and gravel extraction makes it one of the major sustainability challenges of the 21st century.  The UNEP report was the result of an expert round table event in October 2018, which seems to be the first time that scientists talked about sand extraction and consumption.

The report admits that there are real gaps in statistics about global sand extraction, and some of their figures are extrapolation from cement statistics which are apparently quite reliable.  The report claims that typically 1 ton of cement is used to produce 10 tons of concrete.  2.5 tons of the concrete mix is sand, and another 4,5 tons is gravel.   Given that annual cement production is reported to be some 4.1 billion tonnes in 2017, 40 billion tons of concrete was produced in 2017, which used more than 10 billion tonnes of sand.

One website that provides a running commentary about sand extraction is the blog by Kiran Pereira, called: http://www.sandstories.org/about/.  She says that “Sand Stories works to create awareness about the urgent need to manage our consumption of sand as a resource. We aim to bridge the gap between science, policy and industry by identifying and promoting potential solutions to the looming sand crisis.”  Most of her news is about India, where sand mining is apparently a real issue, and there are many local news reports about sand mining in India.


Sand mining in India

I read that in 2016 national sustainable sand mining guidelines were issued to control the Indian sand extraction industry, but these guidelines were often ignored.  In a more recent study, the Government of India admits that “…in spite of the above-suggested guidelines being in existence, on the ground level, illegal [sand] mining is still going on”. Therefore, new, improved Monitoring and Enforcement guidelines were enacted earlier this year, and the authorities hope this will stem some of the rampant extraction.

But, I also learned that mining sand is not just an issue of the global South.  Europe is using a lot of sand for its construction industry as well, and much of that is dredged from the North Sea and surrounding mudflats.  I found information from the Belgian Government that the yearly extraction volume of Belgian sea sand is currently about 3 to 4 Million m³, almost 75 % of which is used in the construction sector. A similar report from the UK Crown Estate states that 403 million tonnes of marine sand and gravel was dredged from UK-licenced areas between 1998 and 2017.  In the text, this is converted to 245 Million m³, and I therefore reckon that the UK dredges an annual volume of some 12 Million m³.


Sand dredging ship in the Netherlands. Photo by HdeK, Wikimedia

Another major use of sand in northern Europe is so-called beach nourishment, which is a term to describe the artificially depositing of sand offshore or on beaches that have lost sand due to erosion, changing currents and other environmental processes.  One of the serious long-term challenges for northern Europe is that one the one hand the continental shelf is slowly subsiding, while on the other hand the melting ice on the north pole is raising sea levels.  This means that low-lying areas along the coast of the countries bordering the North Sea are under threat, and one way to help them is to reinforce the beaches and the dunes behind them.

A 2010 article from Hydro-International claims that the amount of sand needed for nourishment along the Dutch coastline is likely to increase from an annual amount of 12 Million m³ to about 80-100 Million m³.  That seems to be a lot, compared to the UK report that I quoted above, but the Dutch North Sea Policy 2016-2021 states that the Netherlands currently already extracts in excess of 25 Million m³ per annum, half of which is replenishment sand for coastal reinforcement and half of which is sand for construction and other uses.


Beach nourishment in Spain.  Photo from Wikimedia

How do we deal with this demand for a finite natural resource?  In a 2019 reflection on this issue, Oli Brown claims the three main issues are: 1) to reduce demand for sand; 2) finding alternatives wherever feasible, and 3) ensuring that primary sand is extracted in the most responsible and sustainable way possible.  Finding alternatives would include recycling sand, and the Geographical report claims that there are ways.  Apparently, Japan has created a method for fine sand production by crushing quarry waste, and there are industry initiatives to recycle concrete.  But, sand is so cheap that recycling building waste is not yet worth-while from an economic viewpoint.


Sand extraction along upper Red River in China. Phot by vmenkov, Wikimedia

It was very interesting to find out a little about this growing environmental issue, and with the continued growth of cities, it is something that may well become even more serious during the course of the next decades.


These are some of the news stories about sand that I read recently:

https://www.mining-technology.com/features/six-things-sand-mining/ https://wedocs.unep.org/handle/20.500.11822/28163










Bamboo for Climate Resilience

A climate resilient society has the capacity to deal with the effects of climate change, while responding to these changes with new approaches.  The use of bamboo is one of these approaches, and bamboo can help to:

  • Mitigate climate change;
    • Bamboo plants absorb carbon dioxide and manufacturing of bamboo products can enhance this capacity by locking CO2 into durable goods;
    • Bamboo fibre can be a source of renewable, non-fossil-fuel energy;
    • Bamboo forests can help to maintain ecosystem services, and bamboo plantations can restore degraded landscapes.
  • Adapt to the effects of climate change;
    • Bamboo shoots can help with food security, while bamboo leaves can provide fodder for livestock and small-stock;
    • Primary production and manufacturing of bamboo goods provides jobs, often for vulnerable or marginal groups.
  • Generate employment;
    • Manufacturing and trade of high-value goods creates jobs in urban context, and can help with national and international trade.  Such goods can be used in urban planning, interior design and construction.


Bamboo plantation in Mexico

Carbon sequestration

Bamboos are a particularly effective natural carbon sink option as the roots and rhizomes stay in the ground when the bamboo culm is cut, and they continue to store considerable amounts of carbon.  The bamboo carbon sink is therefore not just an above-ground phenomena, but it includes a considerable below-ground reservoir. This is different from tree forests, where the roots die and the underground capture is lost when the trees are cut.

A model of a well-managed bamboo plantation in Central China shows that over a period of 60 years, it will have created an aggregated carbon stock of approximately 300 tonnes of Carbon per Hectare, compared to less than 180 tonnes of Carbon per Hectare for a Chinese fir tree plantation.  More recent estimates of carbon storage in bamboo forests in China range from 94 – 392 tC/Ha.

In addition, bamboo can be used to manufacture durable products which store carbon over several years, and over a period of 30 years, carbon stored in bamboo products produced from 1 ha is between 70 and 130 tC.  Taking these various aspects together, recent report state that a bamboo plantation in China can store 160-530 tC/ha, which is more than many tree forests.  Maybe even more carbon is stored in a tropical bamboo forest, where temperatures are higher, but I am not aware of research findings to confirm this.

Bamboo-Sea-Park (7)

Bamboo plantation in Chishui, Guizhou Province, China

Renewable energy

There are several ways in which bamboos can help to achieve SDG7 for renewable energy.  Because bamboos grow quickly and do not require re-planting when harvested, an established and well-managed bamboo plantation can provide a continuous supply of fuel.

Bamboo poles are hollow and therefore bamboo is not as efficient for household firewood as solid wood.  However, when bamboo is used to produce charcoal it is a different story, and I wrote about this in 2014.  Currently, some 80% of Africa rural households use charcoal for cooking, and this is one of the main causes for deforestation on the continent.  Most charcoal is produced from (sometimes illegally) cut trees and bushes.  Using woody bamboo poles – giant grass – instead, would reduce deforestation rates and create legal employment opportunities.  And bamboo charcoal is just as good; research in Ethiopia showed that the calorific values are similar to acacia charcoal, and charcoal from the invasive weed Prosopsis.  Bamboo charcoal burns without much smoke because it has little volatile matter, and this important when the cooking fires are in huts or small houses without good ventilation.  When the charcoal is molded into briquettes, it can be used in energy-efficient stoves, to enhance to efficiency.


Bamboo charcoal.  Wikimedia, photo by Malcolm Koo

Another way of using bamboo for energy is as fuel for community gasifiers, creating syngas to power small generators.   Growmore Biotech in India has successfully used a variety of Bambusa Balcoa, called BEEMA bamboo to generate energy through gasification in several locations in India.  The methodology is now implemented in other countries as well.  Meanwhile, in Indonesia, electricity produced through gasification of bamboo is piloted in three villages on the island of Siberut, the largest of the Mentawai Islands.  Feasibility studies show that two bamboo poles – each weighing approximately ten kilograms – can provide enough energy for a single family over a 24-hour period. To maximize impacts, the by-product – charcoal – will also be used for cooking and fertilizing soil.

At a larger, industrial scale, bamboo fibre can be used to produce pellets, similar to wood pellets.  This is a particularly profitable use of sawdust or off-cuts from other industry lines, but pellets can also be made from smaller bamboo poles that may not be suitable for other uses.  A study in 2016 compared three types of bamboo pellets with pellets from Eucalyptus and concluded that the bamboo pellets were suitable as a potential source of renewable energy.  Europe would be an obvious market, as the Europe 2020 strategy includes a target of reaching 20% of gross final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, and at least 32% by 2030.

Land management and erosion control

Bamboo forests are habitats for a variety of key species, including giant and red pandas in Asia, mountain gorillas and lemurs in Africa and a number of birds in Latin America.  Maintaining the natural bamboo habitat is therefore important for the survival of these animals.  Fortunately, bamboos are able to thrive on degraded soils and steep slopes where many plants cannot grow. They have extensive fibrous root systems that enables bamboos to survive and regenerate when the biomass above ground is destroyed, even by fire.  This make them very suitable to help stabilize slopes and prevent soil erosion, and bamboos are therefore often planted along waterways.


Bamboo along the riverbanks in Rwanda – photo from Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (Phase 2).

Many bamboo species possess qualities that make them ideal for restoring degraded lands. The fast growth and dense roots and rhizomes create an ability re-vegetate and restore productivity to bare land over a short period. In fact, sustainable harvesting of bamboo, at between a sixth and a third of the stand every year, encourages thicker growth of the stand in subsequent years.  Continuous leaf fall during the year creates a natural layer of humus at the base of the bamboo plants, and this improves the soil quality under a bamboo forest.  For these reasons, an increasing number of countries have begun to explicitly include bamboo as a priority species for use in landscape restoration.

A 2018 INBAR/FAO/NEPAD publication about bamboo for land restoration reviewed 14 case studies where bamboo was used for erosion control and land restoration from different locations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  The results show that, when properly selected and well managed, planting bamboo can improve the soil quality of degraded land and even raise the groundwater table.

Adaptation and food security

Bamboo can also play a key role in adaptation to the effects of climate change.  Its resilience provides an alternative option for development, and a certain insurance against droughts, floods and snow.  A farmer who includes bamboo in his or her fields will most probably have poles to sell even if the other crops are destroyed by drought, floods or other calamities.

Bamboo production generally starts with harvesting bamboo by hand and pre-processing with simple tools.  Further down the value chains, many more jobs are created in different stages of treatment, processing and manufacturing.  In China, nearly 10 million people are employed in the bamboo sector, and it is estimated that globally some 2.5 billion people depend on bamboo.

Another aspect of increased resilience is that bamboo shoots are both a delicacy and part of the local diet in many Asian countries.  Bamboo shoots production is an effective means of reducing poverty, as was illustrated by a case study in Lin’an County, Zhejiang Province of China.  With relatively high nutritive and evergreen characteristics, bamboo leaves can also be a useful supplementary fodder for livestock, small stock and even fish farms.

TakenokoBambooSprouts by Chris 73 Wikimedia Commons

Bamboo shoots in supermarket – photo from Wikipedia by Chris 73

Employment through construction and design

In tropical rural areas, bamboo is still used for farm houses and local buildings, as a cheap alternative to timber.  Rural communities or individual farmers under climate change stress can build with bamboo that is readily available, and building with bamboo makes housing repairs and extensions easy as the poles are relatively light.

Bamboo poles are also use to create magnificent constructions such as the Green Village in Ubud, Bali, the Panyaden International School sports hall in Chiang Mai, Thailand or the INBAR Pavilion in the 2019 Beijing Horticultural EXPO.  But these bamboo palaces are built in areas where the bamboo grows in abundance, and it would not be realistic to consider such large bamboo pole constructions in Europe.


A majestic bamboo house in the Green Village, Ubud, Bali

Transporting bamboo poles internationally is not very efficient, as the poles are hollow, and you therefore transport a lot of air.  This is one of the reasons for the growing interest in engineered bamboo as a resource for the manufacturing of furniture, flooring and interior design.  The global export value of these products was more than USD 1.7 billion in 2017, and the main supply chain is from East and southeast Asia to Europe and the USA.

Recent media reports suggest that climate change is driving urban architects also to consider treated timber and engineered bamboo as a resource for construction, which would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from urban development.  One of the first such projects was the construction of the ceiling of Terminal 4 of Madrid International Airport, and more recent examples include the CityLife Shopping Mall in Milan and Hotel Jakarta in Amsterdam


Hotel Jakarta, Amsterdam.  Photo by MOSO International B.V


Bamboo has an important role in mitigating the impact of climate change and helping communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.  These effects may be most apparent in countries where bamboo grows naturally, but opportunities also arise in Europe and the USA, where the market for bamboo products is most advanced.

“The existential climate crisis requires even more urgent action by the entire global travel & tourism sector than has been generally recognized to date.”

Last week, I was part of the inaugural SUNx Malta 2020 Climate Friendly Travel and Tourism Think Tank with 35 global thought leaders from the travel and tourism sector.  We met from 24th – 28th February in Qawra, Malta.  Prior to the discussions of the think tank, I attended the meeting of the Board of SUNx Malta.


The Board of SUNx Malta

SUNx Malta was designed by Professor Geoffrey Lipman, the founder of the SUNx Programme, and Leslie Vella from the Malta Tourism Authority, and is a legacy to Maurice Strong.  Maurice was a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, arguably the father of Sustainable Development and a true visionary on climate resilience.  He had a passionate belief in the potential of Travel & Tourism to be a positive change agent for sustainability generally and for action in response to the Climate Crisis specifically.  The SUNx Programme is advocating that all travel and tourism should be “Measured, Green, and 2050-proof”.


Leslie Vella and Geoffrey Lipman

The First “Climate Friendly Travel” Sector Report was co-produced by SUNx Malta and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and issued on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.  The 2020 Think Tank strongly endorsed the report and its key messages that:

  • The Climate Crisis is eXistential.
  • Climate Action is Urgent
  • Climate & Carbon Ambitions Globally must increase
  • Travel & Tourism Sector Climate Ambition must intensify
  • Climate Friendly Travel can be a solution
  • “We must Act Now. We must Act Fast.”

The Think Tank was organised in a way that different experts provided a discussion paper on a specific topic, which was then debated further in the group discussion.  The first presentation on Day 1 was by Professor Ian Yeoman from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who provided an analysis of four alternative future scenarios.  Felix Dodds provided a review of historical and current thinking in the United Nations international policy arena, and Jeff Poole elaborated on the position of the World Travel and Tourism Council.


Professor Ian Yeoman

The objective to establish a climate-friendly travel and tourism ambitions register in Malta was introduced by Professor Geoffrey Lipman.  I am particularly interested in this aspect of SUNx Malta, as I will be acting as the Registrar.

In the evening, we had a lively discussion with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, who is the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Transport & Tourism.

The second day took place in Gozo, at the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies in Qala.  The day started with a presentation from Professor Susanne Becken from Griffith University in New Zealand. Her overriding message was that the climate crisis is existential, and that it requires even more urgent action by the entire global travel & tourism sector than has been generally recognized to date.



Susanne Becken raising awareness about the climate crisis

This was followed by an introduction to the potential of new technology in the 4th industrial revolution by Carlos Moreira from WISeKey International in Switzerland.  He introduced the idea of an electronic identity for tourists and travelers, as a potential component of Sunx Malta.

The afternoon saw a heated debate about the role of aviation in climate mitigation and the opportunities to develop alternative aviation fuels.  The discussion drifted into the positive and negative aspects of carbon offset, and further exchange of views was deferred to the following day.


The Think Tank in Gozo – photo by Ian Yeoman

The third day focused on big data, and how this can be used to promote climate-friendly travel, and we came back to the discussion about carbon offsets and afforestation.

These in-depth discussions resulted in the following key recommendations:

  • All Stakeholders including Transport, Hospitality, Travel Services, and Infrastructure Providers must urgently start the transformation in 2020 to get onto the Paris 1.5o trajectory within the next 7-10 years. Governments, companies, communities and consumers must all engage and take action now.
  • “Climate Friendly Travel” ~ measured: green: 2050 proof, must urgently become an imperative and the new norm.
  • SUNx Malta agreed to support The European Green New Deal to promote the strong integration of Climate Friendly Travel, and we agreed with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, Vice Chair of the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament, to convene a meeting in Brussels in the second quarter of 2020 to advance this.
  • Improving the Research Base was underscored on both de-carbonisation and sector resilience. The initiative of the Universities of Surrey and Griffith to host a meeting of global experts to focus on this issue was warmly welcomed, with an agreement to collaborate going forward.
  • Fully transforming all modes of transport was seen as pivotal. SUNx Malta’s call for a Moon-shot approach for aviation to further accelerate technological research and deployment was strongly supported.  The highest importance must be given to the immediate distribution and rapid scaling up of currently available solutions to substantially reduce aviation fossil fuel reliance. There is a need for renewed commitment from the sector to radically increase financing of synthetic fuels. Current fuel suppliers were called on to apply full financial and corporate commitment to a solution, as well as to give the highest priority to synthetic aviation fuel production. In addition, states may wish to consider including international Aviation in their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • In regard to Climate Financing generally, the Travel & Tourism sector must engage more actively with emerging Green Finance programs to be able to secure adequate funds for transformation. High quality offsetting of carbon impacts were seen as short-term transition instruments but totally inadequate as a long-term solution. In this context it was broadly believed that aviation action to date was falling behind the rapidly intensifying transformation need.
  • Emerging innovations and technologies were reviewed, and it was felt that there are “low hanging fruits” that could be acted upon rapidly, in areas such as building refurbishment, cruise shipping, carbon reduction, waste to fuel transformation, developing consumer behaviour and digital opportunities.
  • The SUNx Malta Climate Friendly Travel Registry of Ambitions was reviewed and endorsed, as was the initiative with WISeKey to develop an innovative consumer facing secure platform.
  • Education of the Next Generation was underscored as a high priority with an emphasis on an accredited Graduate Diploma, from the Gozo Institute of Tourism Studies Campus. The SUNx Malta 100,000 STRONG Climate Friendly Travel Champions and as well as its school’s program – was seen as a very positive step forward to support company and community transformation.

After three days of intense discussions, the Think Tank had a lively meeting with Malta’s Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Hon. Julia Farrugia Portelli on Day 4.  In the afternoon Minister Farrugia Portelli hosted a “town-hall meeting” with representatives from the Malta tourism and travel community.


Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Hon. Julia Farrugia Portelli

We all agreed that the emerging collaborative framework between the Government of Malta and the Maltese travel & tourism supply chain is a pioneering approach, which could be replicated around the world, as States seek to fulfill their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions

The Initiative of the Government of Malta to become a global Centre of Climate Friendly Travel, and the leadership of Minister Farrugia Portelli was warmly welcomed.


Bamboo in Europe – reflections after key events in Spain and Italy

I just attended the first Ibero Bamboo Symposium in Madrid , where I talked about bamboo in Europe.  Planning for the symposium started in 2018, when I was the Director-General of INBAR, but we had not concluded negotiations by the time I left Beijing in April 2019.  Borja de la Pena Escardo from INBAR must be congratulated with his perseverance to make it happen, together with the Spanish organisation BAMBUSA.  The symposium took place on 1 October 2019, and was attended by some 100 participants from Portugal, Spain and a number of other countries.  




This was a very opportune time, as in recent months in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, there has been a lot of news about the benefits of planting trees for climate change mitigation, and the Climate Summit stressed the importance of Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change.

A report from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in the scientific journal Science a few months ago advocated to plant at least a trillion trees.  The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

However, the report only looked at trees and did not consider the significant opportunity that could be provided by planting bamboo.  Woody bamboos look like trees, although they are genetically members of the grass family.  According to Guinness World Records, Bamboos are the fastest growing plants in the world, and when the poles are harvested the roots and rhizomes maintain their health so that new shoots appear during the next growing season.


Bamboo shoot in Zhejiang Province, China

Although it would take decades before new forests would be mature enough to store large amounts of carbon, bamboo plantations are very effective within a few years of planting.  Reports by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) from China and Ecuador have illustrated this in earlier studies, and a recent 2019 report by Bamcore in California strongly supports these findings.

The research from Bamcore leads to the fundamental conclusion that woody bamboo afforestation and reforestation significantly out-performs wood afforestation and reforestation, providing significant near-term carbon capture and ultimately more carbon capture and storage per hectare of land used.

Bamboos are part of natural vegetation in sub-saharan Africa, much of Asia east of Pakistan and most of Latin America and the Caribbean.  They are not native to Europe, although the Mediterranean Cane that grows in the Mediterranean Region is very similar to bamboo.  We know from pilot tests that bamboos also thrive, and many small areas of healthy planted bamboos exist in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain

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Arundo donax (Mediterranean cane) in Anapo Valley, Sicily

The European Commission claims in recent reports that during the period 2015-2030 more than 20 million ha of agricultural land in the EU are under high potential risk of abandonment due to factors, related to biophysical land suitability, farm structure and agricultural viability, population and regional specifics.  The same report claims that the incremental abandonment of agricultural land, especially in southern Europe, is projected to reach about 280 thousand ha per year on average, bringing the total abandoned land to 5.6 million ha by 2030, the equivalent of 3% of total agricultural land.


Abandoned farm in southern Europe

This combination of available abandoned land and the need to plant vegetation to create natural carbon sinks is a very strong argument to augur for the planting of bamboos on degraded agricultural land in southern Europe, and I was very happy to present the plans of the European Bamboo Plantation Programme by Bamboologic during the bamboo symposium in Madrid.  We are starting a small 150 Hectares plantation in southern Portugal, and we plan to expand this soon to 2000 Hectares.  The next phase will be to out-scale to other South-European countries and we aim for 8000 Hectares in total.

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

The benefits of these European bamboo plantations are:

  • Job creation when developing the plantations in deprived agricultural areas where currently not many economic opportunities exist;
  • Carbon sequestration that is more efficient that other means of carbon capture;
  • Provision of a source of fibre for a multitude of uses, and related small and medium enterprise development;
  • Creation of more jobs in this new, green economic sector.

Once a source of bamboo has been created, we hope to be able to create supply chains that have a very small carbon footprint, compared to the current practice of shipping bamboo from Asia or Latin America.  We know that even with inter-continental transport, the overall carbon foot print of bamboo flooring is close to zero.  Imagine what that would be like if the raw or semi-processed material came from southern Europe.

I was pleased to hear that many participants support the proposals to plant bamboo in Portugal and Spain, and the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that there are no legal restrictions on planting bamboo.  In fact, we found out that there are already several small bamboo groves on the Iberian Peninsula, which will help us to garner further support.

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

After the meeting in Madrid, I flew to Italy where I spoke at the Labirinto della Masone near Parma during the event “Under the Bamboo Tree”.   The Labyrinth was created by Franco Maria Ricci, an Italian graphic designer and publisher, and it is constructed with 200,000 bamboos. What an amazing setting for a discussion about bamboo!

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in the bamboo labyrinth


Overview of the bamboo labyrinth from the viewpoint

Under the Bamboo Tree 2019 was geared towards sustainable development, and I gave a presentation about the contribution of bamboo for several of the SDGs.  I highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals where bamboo could make a significant difference with examples from around the world.  I focused on poverty reduction, renewable energy, construction and urban development, sustainable production and consumption, climate change and terrestrial ecosystem management.

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Speaking at “Under the Bamboo Tree 2019”

My presentation ended with a reflection of the opportunities that bamboo provides for green development in Europe, including the Bamboologic proposition that we can plant bamboo in southern Europe for rural employment, land and water management and industrial development.  Like in Madrid, the response was very positive, and I was told by the President of the Italian Bamboo Society that there are already nearly two thousand hectares of bamboo in Italy.


Bamboo in Rome Botancial Gardens – photo from Wikimedia

After these two events, I am convinced that there is scope to plant bamboo is several South-European countries, and I am looking forward to make this idea a reality during the coming years.


Nature can help us reach SDGs

The United Nations Climate Action Summit has given a real boost to the recognition that nature can help us reach some of the Sustainable Development Goals (https://www.unenvironment.org/nbs-contributions-platform).  There are some wonderful new innovations that use natural products instead of materials that a made from plastic.

  • For example, companies in Indonesia (https://www.avanieco.com/) and Thailand (http://www.ubpack.com/) are manufacturing carry bags, and packaging from cassava starch with bamboo reinforcement. These items are bio-degradable alternatives to plastic utensils.
  • In India (https://elephantpoopaper.com/index.html) and Kenya (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-36162953), handmade paper and card is made from elephant dung. The fibre content of elephant droppings is very high and it provides an excellent raw material to produce paper products. This kind of paper does not require any trees to be cut.
  • A company in Italy is producing a type of vegetable leather made from a particular mushroom( https://www.mycoworks.com/) . The mushroom leather does not cause any animal to be slaughtered, and the production does not require the use of chemicals that have serious environmental impacts.

But, these exciting new innovations are all still small-scale, experimental activities.  In order to illustrate the real impact that nature can make, I will highlight four larger scale developments.  They are all supporting large-scale reforestation, because a tree is the cheapest and most efficient machine to suck CO2 out of the air, and many trees make a forest.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL2swGjau8w)

The first example is the planting of mangroves for coastal protection to create true green infrastructure!  It was clear after the 2004 tsunami that coastal areas that still had natural mangrove forests came away with less damage than those coastal flats where the mangroves had been cut.  Recent modelling research at NASA found that a 2-meter-wide strip of mangroves along the shore can reduce wave height by 90 percent.

Mangroves are therefore re-planted to increase coastal protection.  Moreover, mangroves are also a major breeding ground for a range of marine life, and a healthy mangrove forest is the foundations for thriving on-shore fisheries industry.  Finally, mangroves have an enormous capacity for sucking up carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


It is therefore not surprising that many coastal nations in the tropics are including mangroves in their current reforestation efforts.   A recent report notes that Senegal has planted 79 million mangrove trees, which will help protect vital arable land, preserve aquatic habitats and absorb around 500,000 tonnes of carbon over 20 years.  (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/09/senegal-is-planting-millions-of-mangrove-trees-to-fight-deforestation/)  During the meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development in New York, we were told that China will support bamboo conservation in Southeast Asia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

The second example is the use of bamboo to produce off-the-grid household energy in remote communities by manufacturing charcoal from bamboo, as an alternative for the often illegally harvested wood charcoal.  After all, woody bamboo looks like trees, but they are all grasses, and can be harvested sustainably without the need for reforestation.  Bamboo charcoal has little smoke, no sparks and a similar calorific value as acacia or teak, and bamboo is a giant grass that is readily available throughout the tropics.


bamboo charcoal

Ethiopia and Ghana have already thriving local bamboo industry, and other countries in Africa are hoping to replicate their achievements.  Recently, India announced at UNCCD COP 14 that they will promote this as well.  (https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-to-pitch-for-charcoal-extracted-from-bamboo/story-4iyFbdHqBB7pXvG0xOIegO.html)

The third example is the use of wood as a modern building material.  Most of the current construction boom around the world depends on cement and concrete, which is made from sand and limestone, both non-renewable resources.  According to Chatham House, concrete production accounts for eight per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a modern alternative to concrete that stands out for its strength, appearance, versatility, and sustainability. This material consists of planks of sawn, glued, and layered wood, where each layer is oriented perpendicular to the previous. In this way structural rigidity for the panel is obtained in both directions, similar to plywood but with thicker components.


CLT is already being used for low-rise construction in many countries, but a recent proposal for London, called Oakwood Timber Tower, is nearly 300 metres tall. (http://www.plparchitecture.com/oakwood-timber-tower.html)

Fourth, bamboo fibre is being used to produce composites for a range of applications.  Basically, it involves the use of natural bamboo strands as an alternative to the glass and carbon filaments in plastic-fiber composites.

In China, drainage pipes and railway carriages are already produced using bamboo fibre as the main material.


Railway carriage made by bamboo winding technology

Several European car manufacturers are currently using bamboo fibre in dashboards and trims, and they are looking into the application of bamboo composites for the shell of the cars.  Bamboo is used as the main material for the blades of modern wind turbines in China, and discussions for joint venture production are under way in other parts of the world.  And a consortium in France is seriously looking into the use of bamboo composites for airplane cabin interiors and panels.  (https://www.compositesworld.com/news/consortium-works-to-develop-biosourced-composites-from-bamboo-fiber)

I am working with a company in the Netherlands that is planting bamboo in southern Europe, with the aim to create a source of fibre for European manufacturing.  European bamboo fibre has a much lower carbon footprint than fibre from other parts of the world, while creating bamboo plantations will help the countries in southern Europe to absorb more carbon and re-create new jobs in their struggling agricultural sector. (bamboologic.eu)

All of these initiatives already make a difference, but need further upscaling, if we want to make real impact.  As most are investment opportunities, they do not rely on project funding from Governments or Foundations, but they are looking for private investors who are willing to fund new sustainable development activities.

Bamboo in Europe

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.

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Chinese Bamboo Heroes

During the 20th Anniversary of INBAR, the Foreign Languages Press from China published the “100 Heroes of China’s Bamboo Industry”. The book is a snapshot of “who-is-who” in the bamboo world of China.

Not everyone is mentioned in the book, and a second volume is in the make, but the first “100 heroes” is an impressive list of bamboo luminaries.

I have had the fortune to meet several of them, and want to use this blog to reflect on these personal interactions. I have marked the page numbers in the 100 heroes book, where you can read more about the achievements of these amazing men and women.

Professor Zhou Guomo (page 25), the President of Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University (ZAFU) has become a friend during my time at INBAR. INBAR has been working with ZAFU for a number of years already, and ZAFU was one of the main partners in the development of guidelines for carbon accounting in bamboo.

He invited me last year to give a speech at the 70th Anniversary of ZAFU, and it was a pleasure to share INBAR’s experiences with the audience. I always enjoy speaking at universities and the feedback from the students is rewarding and encouraging. This time, the audience included a number of university deans from other parts of the world, and many of them did not know much about bamboo or rattan. I hope that I was able to raise awareness and I certainly helped ZAFU to stress the importance of bamboo in China.

During my stay, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the laboratories and the bamboo garden of the university, and talk with several of the experts. There is a lot of bamboo knowledge in ZAFU, and I hope to maintain contact after I leave China in April this year.

With Prof.  Zhou Guomo from ZAFU

Professor Yang Yuming (page 31), the former President of Yunnan Academy of Forestry in Kunming is another old friend. I visited his former institute a few years ago, and during this trip, he guided me and my wife through the tropical botanical gardens at Xishuangbanna. This is a most impressive garden with an enormous number of trees, plants and flowers, and also an outstanding collection of tropical bamboo species.

We saw a valley that is being afforested with bamboo, with the intention to create an eco-tourism site, including restaurants, bamboo rafts on a lake and craft shops. We also visited several nurseries, where he showed me new species and interesting developments. In one of the nurseries, we saw black bamboo, which originates from Vietnam. The stems really are black, and it not due to age or disease. There is a lot of variety in the bamboo world!

Prof. Yang Yuming and black bamboo

Mr Ye Lin (page 84), on the other hand, is a real entrepreneur, and a private sector innovator. He is the President of Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo Winding Composite Technology Co Ltd in Hangzhou, a company that has patented the use of bamboo fibre in the production of composites for a multitude of uses. The main breakthrough was the manufacturing of agricultural and urban drainage pipes with bamboo instead of other fibres. This research is a major development for bamboo industrial use, that was also reported by UNIDO!

I had the pleasure to accompany Ye Lin to the Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) in Brussels in 2017. He presented his innovation and received a warm applause for the new application of bamboo fibres. He told me later that this was the first time that he had given a presentation in a foreign country to an international audience, which made it even more impressive.

We went back to G-STIC in 2018, and this time he talked during a session that I had organized together with my Dutch friend and colleague Pablo van der Lugt. He was no longer just presenting the bamboo composite drainage pipes, but talked about using this technology to manufacture the shells for railway carriages or even housing units. He is already thinking about airplanes, boats and more.

Railway carriage made by bamboo winding technology

Another amazing entrepreneur is Ms Yu Yan (page 119) from Yong’An in Fujian Province. She runs a business that produces the flooring for containers, and she told me that originally the company produced floors made from wood. When Ms Yu became the CEO of the company she decided to change this into flooring manufactured from bamboo, as bamboo is strong, light and abundantly available in Fujian Province. Her business is immense – she apparently provides one quarter of the global container flooring market – so this decision had a lot of impact.

I first met Yu Yan in Durban in 2015 during the World Forestry Congress, where she participated in a private sector dialogue about bamboo. She made it clear that for her bamboo is the future, and she mentioned how her company supports thousands of local households who supply the raw bamboo.

We have kept in contact, and INBAR now has a partnership agreement with Yong’an City. She has participated in other INBAR events, including the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress that INBAR and the Chinese National Forest and Grassland Administration organised in June – BARC 2018.  I met her most recently during the 2018 Yong’An bamboo EXPO.

With Ms Yu Yan and my wife in Yong’An

The third entrepreneur that I have to recognise is Mr Lin Hai (Page 107) from Dasso Industrial Group in Hangzhou. Ms Lin is one of the first businessmen that recognized the opportunities of industrial application of bamboo. Lasso was the supplier of the bamboo that was used to make the fire-resistant ceiling in Madrid International Airport, and currently provides the materials for several European importers of bamboo furniture and interior design material.

I visited his factory and offices in 2014, and was struck by his passion for bamboo and his understanding of the opportunities bamboo provides for sustainable development. He showed me around the showroom, and I was so impressed that I asked if he could supply a dining table for the apartment where my wife and I live in Beijing, as we did not have one.
He supplied a table that is beautiful and strong, but unfortunately it was too large to fit in the lift of our building. We had to find a solution, and it is now the conference table in my office. Due to the dry climate of Beijing, and the temperature changes between winter and summer, many bamboo products crack after a few years. Mr Lin’s table has been in my office which is air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter, but after 5 years it has no dent or crack, which is tribute to the skills of the workers and the quality of the products manufactured by Dasso.

With Mr Lin Hai at the conference table in my office, made by Dasso

Master Chen Yunhua (page 104) is an entrepreneur, but also an artist and a gifted master trainer of the Meishan bamboo weaving craft. He manages a local museum and a training centre in Qingshen County of Sichuan Province, where many students come to learn how to use thin bamboo strips to create magnificent art pieces.

I have met Master Chen so many times, that I cannot remember our first encounter, but several of our meetings are memorable. I recall vividly being with him during a discussion in Lima, Peru on the sidelines of the Climate change meeting in 2014, and I saw him in action during the World Bamboo Congress in Damian, Korea in 2016. During the Regional Bamboo Symposium in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2017, he provided training and advice to a large group of local farmers and entrepreneurs. He is a true Ambassador of bamboo and he has become a friend, and what struck me was that without foreign languages he is able to communicate extremely efficiently, and he manages to get his ideas across without fail.

Master Chen teaching in Yaoundé, Cameroon

Another Master bamboo weaver is Mr Zhang Deming (page 201), and we celebrated his skills during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. I was fortunate to receive a gift of exquisite bamboo weaving from him during the Congress.  Basically, it is a ceramic vase with a cover from woven delicate bamboo slivers, like the ones in the photo below.

I was so impressed that I asked if I could buy a similar item as a gift for UN Deputy Secretary-General, HE Amina Mohammed, whom I was planning to meet during my presence at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018. We had an inspiring conversation about bamboo and sustainable development, climate change, and could have taled a lot longer. When I gave her the vase, she placed it immediately on her bookshelf, where it now functions as a beacon for “bamboo as a tool for Sustainable Development”.

A different bamboo artist is Jeff Shi (page 178), who runs Dragonfly Design Centre. Jeff makes the most beautiful bamboo furniture, and his main issue is to make furniture with a Chinese touch. He understands that many people want to buy simple, cheap, mass-produced bamboo cabinets, but he produces affordable custom-made, unique pieces from selected pieces of treated bamboo. His design is a fusion between western and Asian styles, a combination of antique and modern touches, but always focused on individuality and innovation.

He explained this to me when we first met on the way to Yibin in Sichuan Province, and he refreshed my memory in a session about bamboo for design during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. His designs have received international recognition, and he continues to promote the use of bamboo as a real tool for design.

Some of the beautiful furniture designed by Jeff Shi

One of the first bamboo woodlots that I visited when I arrived in China in 2014 was the Zizhuyuan Park in Beijing, also referred to as the purple bamboo garden. Mr Cao Zhenqi (page 274) is the Head of the Park, which is one of the impressive greenspaces in central Beijing. Zizhuyuan Park is famous for the many bamboo stands, with different species, and in 2016 INBAR celebrated Earth Day by planting a few extra bamboos.

HE Ambassador Sikonina from Madagascar at 2016 Earth day celebrations

Many years ago, INBAR helped to construct a tea house in the garden, which is built from bamboo panels. I was quite disappointed when I first visited, as I did not see any bamboo, but my colleagues explained that this is its main attraction. The new middle class of China does not want to live in a house or an apartment that looks like a traditional bamboo hut, but they want a dwelling that looks modern. If you can do this with bamboo, so much the better.

In 2017, INBAR organised an outdoor exhibition of photos of bamboo scenes from all our Member States in the Park, as one of the activities to celebrate our 20th Anniversary. We took a long time collecting, selecting and choosing the final pictures, but the exhibition was a great success. It showed visitors that there is a lot of bamboo in other parts of the world, which was a surprise to many of the tourist in the Park.

One of the key benefits that bamboo can provide for national governments is the ability to sequester and store large amounts of carbon. INBAR has carried out research on the ability of bamboo to sequester CO2, together with the China Green Carbon Foundation (CGCF), and Dr Li Nuyun (page 277) was at that time the Director of the Foundation.

CGCF is the first nation-wide non-profit organisation dedicated to combating climate change in China, and has successfully developed a system which helps enterprises, organisations and individuals to store carbon and increase income. Since its establishment in 2010, CGCF has established more than 1.2 million acres of forest to store carbon across 20 provinces in China.

My most recent meeting with Dr Li was during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. In a video message to the Congress, Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: “Bamboo and rattan can make an important difference to the fight against climate change. Nature-based solutions like bamboo and rattan do not just contribute to sustainable development; they also help build the kind of world we want.”

One of my concerns about organising a large congress in Beijing was the carbon footprint of bringing participants from all over the world to China and having three days of discussions in a conference centre. With well over 1200 participants from 68 countries, the Bamboo and Rattan Congress was a huge event with a significant impact on the environment.

Fortunately, CGCF helped us to make the Congress a carbon-neutral event. In a ceremony during the final day of the Congress, Dr. Li announced that CGCF will help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China, which is funded by Kunming Suge Greening Engineering Company Ltd. This plantation will sequester all the carbon emitted over the course of the Congress.

According to Dr. Li, just under 2000 tons of CO2 were generated through transportation, catering, accommodation and energy consumption over the course of the three-day Congress. It will take the bamboo plantation around ten years to offset these emissions.

Dr. Li Nuyun and I hold up a certificate, announcing BARC 2018 to be a ‘zero-carbon Congress’

These are some of the Chinese bamboo heroes that I have met during the past years. The list is not exhaustive, as I met so many other bamboo and rattan experts.  I will be stepping down as Director-General of INBAR in a few weeks time, but I hope to keep in touch with all these friends and colleagues.

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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!