Bamboo, rattan and FOCAC

This year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing, China.  The event, hosted by President Xi Jinping brought together delegations from Africa and China led by their Heads of State and Ministers for Foreign Affairs, to talk about building a “China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era”.  I was privileged to be invited as the Head of the only Inter-Governmental Organisation with its Headquarters in China – the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR).  The presence of so many key people in Beijing also provided an opportunity for additional discussions.

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INBAR has 19 Members in Africa, and the continent has abundant bamboo and rattan resources.  FAO statistics amount to 3.6 million hectares of bamboo, but this excludes figures for most of Central Africa.  I therefore estimate the total bamboo cover to be in the order of 6 million hectares, which is similar to the bamboo natural capital in China!

Our members in Africa are considering bamboo and rattan for a variety of purposes, depending on the country and its domestic development priorities.  Bamboo is used for household energy throughout the African continent, either as fuelwood or as charcoal.  We are particularly keen to promote bamboo charcoal, as research has shown that it has no sparks, little smoke or smell, but it has similar calorific values as traditional wood-based charcoal.  Most importantly, charcoal made from bamboo is sustainable, as bamboo re-grows naturally, and it is based on legitimately harvesting “woody grass” poles instead of illegally cutting trees.

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But bamboo is also used to produce furniture, construction panels and other materials, and this is an area where China has a lot to offer, as bamboo has been part of Chinese culture for centuries.  China has a well-developed bamboo research community, a productive bamboo industry worth 30 Billion US Dollars per annum, and many institutes that can provide training and capacity building.  I was therefore very happy to learn during the FOCAC Ministerial discussion on Sunday morning 2 September that bamboo is mentioned in the 2019-2021 FOCAC Plan of Action.

INBAR can play the bridge between China and Africa with respect to bamboo and rattan development, and I was pleased to be able to make that point during a live interview with Ms Hou Na from the China Global Television Network (CGTN).

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We are already providing such a link with China in East Africa, where the Netherlands and China have agreed to jointly support the establishment and strengthening of bamboo enterprises in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda through a technical assistance project.  We will develop new connections in other parts of Africa, as INBAR has signed an agreement with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to support bamboo development in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar, which builds on a current IFAD/EU-funded project.  Chinese technical expertise is expected to bolster the project through training and capacity building with additional support from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.  Finally, we are also discussing project ideas in Africa with the new International Development Cooperation Agency of China.

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INBAR already has two Regional Offices in Ethiopia and Ghana to facilitate these connections, but we are lacking a presence in Central Africa.  A key event for INBAR during FOCAS was the signing of the agreement for the establishment of the INBAR Regional Office for Central Africa with Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella during his presence at FOCAC.  The signing ceremony at the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon to the Peoples Republic of China during the afternoon of Sunday 2 September 2018 was another milestone for INBAR.

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With Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella

The FOCAC plan of action provides a strong foundation to work with our Members in Africa, and to mobilise Chinese support for technical assistance and investment opportunities in bamboo development.  One of the ways in which this will materialise is the establishment of a China-Africa bamboo training centre, with which INBAR will closely cooperate to create targeted capacity building initiatives.  I was thrilled that President Xi mentioned the establishment of the China Africa Bamboo Centre during his key-note speech at the opening ceremony of FOCAC on Monday 3 September, as this really put bamboo on the political map.

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On Tuesday morning 4 September we were approached with the offer to meet Republic of Congo President HE Sassou Nguesso.  INBAR has no Members in the central Congo Basin, and the Republic of Congo has a lot of forest.  I believe that it may be beneficial for the country to join INBAR, so I agreed to meet President Sassou Nguesso, and I was able to make that case during a short meeting with the President in the evening.  Congo borders Cameroon, and the new office in Yaoundé would be helpful in providing technical assistance and general support.  I also mentioned the planned China-Africa Bamboo Centre, and President Sassou Nguesso was keen to have young people from Congo trained in bamboo development techniques.

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With President of Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso

Finally, FOCAC was an opportunity for the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina, to spend some time in Beijing, and one of his activities on Wednesday 5 September was to visit INBAR Headquarters and the bamboo showroom in the building next door.  I had the privilege of showing President Rajaonarimampianina the many applications made from bamboo, and we talked about the opportunities for landscape management and economic development with bamboo.  He was very interested, especially in the household items, flooring, curtains and charcoal made from bamboo.

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With the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina

Madagascar has more than 40 species of natural bamboo, so there is real potential for development of small and medium bamboo enterprises.

All-in-all a few busy days, but some good achievements for INBAR and bamboo and rattan in Africa.

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BARC 2018 – what an experience

The first Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress, BARC 2018, opened on 25th June 2018, in Beijing, China. Although it is already two months ago, I want to use this moment to reflect on BARC 2018, as it consumed most of my time during the first half of the year.

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The three-day event, co-hosted by the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Grassland and Forestry Administration, welcomed (many) more than 1200 participants from 70 countries, including Ministers, policymakers and representatives from research institutes, development organisations, UN bodies and the private sector.

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Over the course of three days, participants could choose to attend a ministerial summit, three high-level dialogues – which covered South-South cooperation, climate change, and innovation and industry development – and around 80 parallel sessions.  The overarching theme of the Congress was “Enhancing South-South Cooperation for Green Development through Bamboo and Rattan’s Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals”.

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Overall, BARC 2018 was a great success.  Bamboo and rattan are critical resources, but still grossly under-used.  Fast-growing and local to some of the poorest communities in the tropics and subtropics, bamboo and rattan are used around the world in simple construction and as household utensils, but BARC 2018 illustrated that they could provide much more.  Discussions included how to realise bamboo and rattan’s huge potential in a number of areas: sustainable commodity production, disaster-resilient construction, poverty alleviation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, land restoration and biodiversity protection.

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I was very happy that BARC 2018 was not a stand-alone activity, but it followed the INBAR Strategy 2015 – 2030.  The strategy has four components: Policy advice, membership and partnership, information and technology sharing, and real action on the ground.  In my view, BARC 2018 supported these four objectives.

With regards to policy advice, we managed to raise the profile, especially amongst a new group of stakeholders.  Our aim is to help members to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, and that means reaching out beyond the world of forestry and foresters.  BARC 2018 involved many participants who were not “bamboo or rattan specialists”, and we managed to show new partners what amazing opportunities bamboo can provide.  This will directly and indirectly influence policy.

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Dr Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary , UN Convention to Combat Desertification

For example, we worked with UN Women to highlight the gender aspects of bamboo and rattan; we had key-note speakers from UN Conventions and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) who had not heard of INBAR before they joined us; we listened to parliamentarians from Ethiopia, Philippines and Uganda; we learned from global thinkers from the Club of Rome like Gunter Pauli, Fred Dubee and Jinfeng Zhou.

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Gunter Pauli

The opening of BARC 2018 included congratulatory messages from Heads of State from China, Colombia and Ecuador, and from the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and the Director-Deneral of FAO Graziano da Silva.  The Congress also launched the Beijing Declaration, which recognizes bamboo and rattan’s various benefits, and commits “ministers, senior officials and participants” to calling upon national governments and other bodies to implement a number of recommendations.

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Video message from Nobel Laureate and former President of Colombia, HE Juan Manuel Santos

With regards to membership support, we used this Congress very effectively for South-South Cooperation, and all our members were very happy to share their experiences and learn from each other.  We even announced a new INBAR Member – Central Africa Republic.

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We must have had several hundred representatives from our Member states all over the world, and in that respect BARC 2018 was a real membership-driven event.  The participants included Ministers and Vice-Ministers, senior civil servants and a whole range of technical and administrative officers.  I had bilateral meetings with several of the delegations, and most of the policy-makers had a speaking role in one of the plenaries or in parallel sessions.

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State Minister for Environment of Uganda, HE Mary Goretti Kitutu

One particular aspect that was particularly important was the opportunity to learn from China.  China has such a lot to offer, but most of the information is not readily available outside of the borders.  BARC was an opportunity to learn from the experiences from China, to talk with Chinese practitioners, to see Chinese products and to make contacts for future participation.  One publication that was extremely valuable is the “Yellow Pages” of bamboo and rattan in China, listing just about every bamboo or rattan enterprise in the country.

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Third, The Congress was a major tool to share information and innovation.  We had fantastic presentations, and learned the latest developments from inside and outside of China.  This included the bamboo fibre winding technology in China, but also the manufacturing of telegraph poles from bamboo in Kenya, the latest research on glues and adhesives from Australia and Ecuador and presentations about design and product development.  Prof. Mme Jiang Zehui reflected on the history of bamboo research in China, and John Hardy told us about the amazing bamboo constructions in the Green School in Bali.

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John Hardy

We also had an exhibition with amazing products, and a real eye-opener for newcomers.  The “piece de resistance” for me was the blade of a wind turbine, manufactured from bamboo fibre by Tsinghua University Science Park, but we had lots of other beautiful products.

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We launched INBAR-FAO-NEPAD report about bamboo for landscape restoration; we published a report about rattan terminology, prepared by the INBAR Task for on Rattan; we announced a report about subsidies for bamboo afforestation in China that was written by Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University; together with Delft University, we published a report about carbon storage in bamboo and we distributed the English translation of the China National Bamboo Plan 2011-2020.  We also distributed “Booming Bamboo”, written by Pablo van der Lugt.   This is an up-to-date review of what you can do with bamboo.

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Dr Martin Frick, Senior Director, Policy and Programme Coordination, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Finally, we made very practical, concrete decisions to support real action.  We signed agreements, had a political declaration, made new partnerships. It really was not just a talk-shop, but we build the foundations for a lot of new future work.  The most important agreement that we launched was a contract with IFAD Rome to start a new intra-Africa bamboo livelihoods programme, involving Ethiopia, Cameroon, Ghana and Madagascar.  I was very happy to sign this agreement with the IFAD Associate Vice-President Charlotte Salford.

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Congratulating IFAD Associate Vice-President, Ms Charlotte Salford

 

Other specific outcomes include a commitment from the Netherlands government to support the next phase of the Sino-Dutch bamboo project in East Africa with USD 2 million.  We reached a tentative agreement to hold a 2019 planning workshop in China for Giant Panda conservation and bamboo habitat management.  IFAD also confirmed financial support for a bamboo project in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.  Together with several partners we agreed to the creation of a global network of bamboo training facilities, and with FAO and potential recipient countries we discussed a large global “bamboo for climate change” project that will be submitted to GEF.  We signed partnership agreement with several organisations, including the International Tropical timber Organisation (ITTO), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA).

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Signing MoU with Ruud Jansen, Executive Secretary, Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa

One concern about flying lots of people around he world and organising a major event is the carbon footprint this creates.  I was very happy that we were able to offset all the CO2 produced by the Congress, through a contribution from the private sector to the China Green Carbon Fund.  BARC 2018 was really carbon-neutral

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Organising an event is mainly a logistics activity, and an event is only useful if it provides impact and it makes a difference.  There is no point in doing great things if we cannot share the lessons learned, and I believe that BARC 2018 was one of the most important communications tools that INBAR had at its disposal in 2018.  I was therefore thrilled that we had a lot of coverage, both in Chinese media and in international press.

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We had hundreds of Chinese media reports, including Xinhua, China Daily, and Chinese video channels CGTN and CCTV, as well as local media from BARC strategic partners Yong’an, Meishan and Yibin.

The most relevant English language reports about BARC 2018 are listed here:

There is a lot of information on the INBAR website as well.  This includes general stories about BARC 2018 as well as specific reports or interviews.  And we have hundreds of photos.  One of the young interns that helped me during BARC 2018, is now working with us to catalogue all the videos, presentations, speeches and other written products of the Congress.  A mammoth task.

Talking about interns – we had a large number of super volunteers at the Congress, and I was happy to recognise them by given  a token of appreciation to one representative.

In my closing remarks to participants at the end of the Congress, I stressed that: “Bamboo and rattan are no longer ‘poor man’s timber’ – they are truly ‘green gold’, and their applications for sustainable development and environmental protection go hand-in-hand with their industrial applications and use by the private sector.”

What a fantastic experience this was!

Bamboo in Bali

After four years at the helm of the Secretariat of INBAR, I finally visited the Green School in Ubud village in central Bali.  This is a well-known bamboo development, with a whole range of different buildings made from mainly Dendrocalamus asper bamboo.  The main halls of the school are several floors high, and illustrate how you can make beautiful construction with natural bamboo poles, but there are many other smaller class rooms and buildings on the grounds of the school.  The recent blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro is a very apt description of the Green School with stunning photos.

The school has some 450 students from a varied range of backgrounds and nationalities.  There is also a scholarship programme for promising students from Bali, and the contributions we made for a visit to the Green School are used to pay for the local scholarships.  My wife and I visited during the day, and were asked not to photograph students.  What a considerate request – keep their privacy and avoid them feeling exploited.  My photo is therefore rather empty of people, but for a reason.

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The Green School is the brainchild of John Hardy, who came to Bali many years ago and fell in love with the place.  He is a successful jewelry designer, and he created the blueprints for the original buildings. One of the first constructions was the bridge over the local river, which connects the school with the local village on the other side.  The original bridge was damaged during a flood a few years ago, but the replacement is a majestic structure spanning the river.

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The more recent additions to the Green School are created by IBUKU, the design and architecture firm lead by his daughter Elora Hardy.  Apart from working on the green School, Ibuku has created the nearby Green Village, a collection of stunning individually owned bespoke bamboo houses.  The “piece de la resistance” in the Green Village is a five floor high building on the slopes of the river, which I could visit, but some of the other buildings are privately owned and cannot be photographed.  Elora has given an inspiring TED talk about her work, which is worth watching. https://www.ted.com/talks/elora_hardy_magical_houses_made_of_bamboo

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The latest venture of Elora and John is a boutique hotel in Ubud, called Bambu Indah.   Thisis where I stayed during my visit to Bali.  This little haven of peace is a collection of historical teak wedding houses from Java, with a few specially constructed bamboo buildings to bring it all together.  I have photos, but another blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro captures the beauty of the place much better: http://beautiful-places.de/en/bambuindahubud-bali-thespecialeco-boutique-hideaway-by-john-hardy/

The main dining hall in Bambu Indah is a typical IBUKU construction and the open kitchen is a delight to see.  John explained that keeping the kitchen open for the guests to see what is being cooked gives a feeling of togetherness.  The food in Bambu Indah is healthy and very tasty.  Vegetables are grown on the property, and in the nearby organic garden, and little is needed to enhance the taste artificially.

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The other bamboo building in Bambu Indah is a replica of a Sumatra long house, constructed in black bamboo.  Apparently, it is a copy of a historic building, but made from bamboo instead of teak timber.  What a stunning construction.

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During our discussions, Elora explained that bamboo has to be treated to avoid insects eating the sugar, and she does this in an environmentally-friendly way.  We visited the bamboo factory where daily deliveries of long bamboo poles are soaked in a bath with a borax solution, made from a natural salt.  The system is a closed loop, and the solution is re-cycled and re-used for many years.  Once the poles are properly immersed (breaking a small hole in all the membranes that define the nodes of the bamboo, so that the liquid can freely flow through the whole length of the pole), they are left to dry before they are used for construction or other manufacturing purposes.  It was exciting to see so many large poles waiting to be used, and this illustrates how vibrant the bamboo construction industry is in Bali.

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The other protection against insect infestation is to use large boulders as the foundation stones of the main uprights.  This is an effective way to avoid white ants getting into the base of the culms, and I really like the look.

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While my wife and I were staying at Bambu Indah, John asked us to join him for a “trash-walk”.  He explained that every day, he goes out into the village, and collects litter.  He carries a large sac, and has a spear to pin down plastic bottles, bags and anything else he may come across.  John explained that local people are used to sweep the dirt from their courtyard into the road and the local stream.  That was fine in the past, when most of the litter was organic matter.  Nowadays, most of the rubbish contains plastic bags, plastic cups and other plastic items, and this is a sore sight, and it clogs the local streams.  Picking the rubbish up before it reaches the mouth of the river and the shore line is the best way of preventing more pollution of the coast.  I asked whether these litter collection walks have an impact, and John pointed out posters in the village that tell people in local language to avoid littering and to collect rubbish.  These posters are a direct result of John’s efforts, and joining John Hardy and other guests of the hotel on an early morning walk was a real pleasure.

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We stayed in Bambu Indah for five days, and what an inspiring visit this was!

2017 – a good year for bamboo and rattan

Happy New Year from the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Last weekend, I attended the China Council for International Cooperation for Environment and Development (CCICED) as delegate and international Member. This is a first for INBAR, and the first time that I attended the Council as a full member.

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I have been at CCICED meetings before; the first time many years ago when UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner attended as then IUCN Director-General, and I was a member of the support team from the IUCN Asia Regional Office. Last year, I attended as a special guest, but this time I was fully engaged. I spoke at several sessions and moderated the discussion about green investments along the Belt and Road.

This is an auspicious time for the Council. With the change of tone in Washington DC after the election of US President Donald Trump, and the direction provided by China President Xi Jinping during the 19th Party Congress, China is reaching out to the wider world. The Belt and Road Initiative that was launched earlier this year, is a clear example of the new role that China intends to play as world leader for sustainable development. CCICED is looking at ways and means to “green the Belt and Road”, and the discussion that I moderated was part of this.

I have attended the Belt and Road launch earlier this year, and was struck at that time by the fact that President Xi stressed the point that all developments along the Belt and Road should be green, and that sustainable development was more important than pure economic development. He has embellished on this during his speech at the Party Congress, and the concept of Eco-Civilisation is now embedded in China’s domestic and international policy.

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I first learned about Eco-Civilisation during the Eco-Forum Global(EFG) in Guiyang in 2015, and again in 2016. INBAR was present at the EFG to talk about our experiences in South-South Cooperation, and to explain how bamboo and rattan play a role in sustainable development. Eco-Civilisation is sustainable development with a Chinese flavor, adding cultural and political considerations to the common three components of sustainable development. Eco-Civilization is a balance between economic development, social considerations, nature conservation, cultural heritage and the political framework.

The over-arching message is to work with nature in order to deal with the big challenge of society, and this is a message that INBAR has been sharing for years. We have published a report about our experience together with the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. During the recent South-South Development Expo in Antalya, Turkey, I was very proud to launch this publication, together with UN Special Envoy for South-South Cooperation Jorge Chediek.

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Jorge Chediek and Hans Friederich

The report is an amazing record of some of the successes that INBAR achieved during the past decades, which are all about working between our Members. Currently, there are 43 governments that have ratified the INBAR Establishment Agreement, with Brazil the latest. We raised the Brazil flag during the 20th Anniversary celebrations on 6 November 2017 – just over one month ago. Cambodia and Timor Leste have formally announced that they want to become Members, and Fiji has indicated that it is very interested as well, so we may have 46 Members by the end of 2018. What we are still lacking is members in Europe, and I continue to talk with friends and colleagues in European Capitals and Embassies of European nations in Beijing about the relevance of what INBAR stands for.

This brings me back to the CCICED, and China’s role in the international sustainable development arena. When I was in Kew Royal Botanical Gardens earlier this year in June to launch the Global Checklist of Bamboo and Rattan, the representative from the Embassy of PR China to the UK made the point that the historical Silk Road started in Beijing and ended in London. This logic is currently also applied to the new Belt and Road Initiative, and it was repeated by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond yesterday during his visit to China. It would therefore make sense for Europe to join INBAR as well.

The role of China in the wider world was stressed again during the keynote speech at CCICED by Minister for Environmental Protection Li Ganjie, who made the point that China will assume its international environmental responsibilities. This followed similar statements during the 23rd Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention in Bonn last November, where China stressed that it will continue to fulfill its obligations under the Paris Agreement, and that it will play a strong role in global climate change mitigation and adaptation discussions. I had the pleasure of meeting the former China Climate Change negotiator Xie Zhenhua during COP23, and we discussed bamboo benefits for climate change.

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China Climate Negotiator Xie Zhenhua

When the international role of China is discussed, I always make the point that the nation also leads in the development of a global bamboo community, both for environmental and climate action objectives as well as the manufacturing of low-carbon products. I realise it is a niche-market, but it is an important niche that is worth USD 30 Billion in China alone, and which could grow rapidly around the tropics with political will, financial support and targeted capacity building.  We have just been informed that INBAR is now recognised as Observer to the United Nations General Assembly, and this will provide me with a platform from where I can raise awareness at the highest political level of the benefits that bamboo and rattan can bring to help countries reach their Sustainable Development Goals.

2017 was a good year for INBAR, and 2018 promises to be an equally important year, as we will host the global Bamboo and Rattan Congress from 25 to 27 June 2018 (BARC2018). That will be an opportunity to highlight some of the recent innovations and developments and we hope to agree on several new partnerships and launch a few new joint programmes of work.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year

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Happy New Year from the INBAR Headquarters 

Bamboo for Land Restoration

Late last week, I returned from Ordos in Inner Mongolia, where I attended the High-Level Segment of the UNCCD COP13.  It was a busy three days, and I had a number of meetings and events to attend.  I travelled to Ordos from Beijing together with INBAR Director of Host Country Communications Dr Wu Junqi and INBAR Global Policy Officer Dan Mejia.

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The first day started with the official opening by Vice-Premier Wang Yang, and keynote speeches by the UNCCD Secretary-General Monique Barbut and State Forestry Administrator Zhang Jianlong.  INBAR is official Observer to the Convention, so we had our spot amongst the other Inter-Governmental Organisations.  The first day ended with a spectacular meal for VIPs to the COP, and I was very happy to meet the representative from Haiti during dinner.  We talked a lot about the help that bamboo could bring to poor, unemployed youth in Haiti, but creating a source of material for construction, design and other uses.

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INBAR had a booth in the exhibition hall, to make publicity about INBAR, and in particular about the global Bamboo and Rattan Congress that we are organizing in June next year (BARC2018).  Nura Demuyakor and Michelle Liu had arrived earlier in the week, and Dr Li Zhiyong, Deputy Director-General joined me the following day.  The booth turned out to be an excellent venue for bilateral meetings, and a good place to sit and check email correspondence.  It attracted good deal of attention, and we shared many brochures and gave lots of information about bamboo, rattan, INBAR and BARC2018.

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We used the booth to good effect.  I talked with the Director of Forestry of Togo about the interest to develop joint action.  Togo has both bamboo and rattan resources, but we know little about the available natural capital, or about the potential value chains that we can develop in the country.  We agreed that a rapid appraisal would be very useful, and I offered INBAR help to make such an assessment.

I briefly talked to the Director of Forestry of the Comoros, and stressed the point that we can help with the development of a bamboo charcoal industry.  Comoros Ambassador Mahmoud Aboud has told me in the past that the Comoros imports charcoal from Thailand, and I explained to the Director of Forestry that Comoros could produce its own charcoal from bamboo.

We met with the delegation from COMIFAC, the Central African Forestry Commission, and talked about cooperation.  COMIFAC represents 10 countries in the Congo Basin of Central Africa, and aims at sustainable forest management.  The Executive Secretary, Mr Ndomba Ngoye, is keen to forge a partnership with INBAR and we talked about the possibility to launch a Memorandum of Understanding between both organisations during BARC2018.  The Executive Secretary will also reflect on the possibility for COMIFAC to join INBAR as a Regional IGO.

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Meeting with COMIFAC

We talked with Senator Heloo from Ghana, who used to be the Deputy Minister for Environment.  She is keen to develop her small charcoal manufacturing enterprise into a larger industry, and wanted to know if INBAR has experience to help her.  I offered to put her in contact with our Regional Office in Kumasi, Ghana, as they have given training courses in this field.  Later, we met with the official delegation from the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana, led by Hon Patricia Appiagyei, the Deputy Minister.  We talked about Ghana’s Sustainable Land Managemnt programme, and the role of bamboo.  Hon Appiagyei confirmed that Ghana has pledged to re-forest 2 million hectares, and a lot of this will be done with bamboo.  We briefed her about the 20th Anniversary of INBAR in November this year, and the BARC2018 in June next year. I asked about the location of the office in Kumasi, and whether we should try to move to Accra.  The Minister agreed that it would be easier to maintain active communication if we were in Accra, but she informed me that the Government is keen to decentralize responsibilities away from the Capital.  Maybe Kumasi is not such a bad location after all.

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Ghana delegation

We had a long, and very constructive discussion with Zimbabwe Forestry Commissioner Abedinigo Marufu and his team about bamboo in Zimbabwe, potential membership of INBAR and the keen interest from Zimbabwe to develop a bamboo industry.  They were asking for advice on propagation and tissue culture, and on effective methodologies for managing bamboo plantations.  We explained that INBAR Membership is a pre-requisite for a real partnership, but that we can accept Zimbabwe as Observer, if they send a letter of intent.  Mr Marufu thought it would be possible to sort this out before BARC2018, and he asked for more detailed information.

We also met the new Ambassador for Climate Change of Canada, Ms Jennifer Macintyre, and talked about bamboo and climate change.  Canada is a founding member of INBAR, and we talked about the fact that IDRC Canada helped to establish the organization.  I thanked her for the recent letter from Minister McKenna, that guaranteed support for INBAR from Canada for the coming five years.  We talked about possibilities of expanding and strengthening the relationship between Canada and INBAR, and Ambassador Macintyre advised me to contact people in Ottawa with concrete suggestions for collaboration, within the context of South-South Cooperation, and gender-based development.

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Hon Jennifer Macintyre, Canada

In the corridors, I met several old friends and colleagues, and I had a constructive lunch-time meeting with the UNCCD Global Mechanism.  We discussed and agreed that bamboo could play an important role as indicator for Land Degradation Neutrality Targets of countries in the Global South.  This is an issue we need to follow up, as it could be a significant means of support for our members.

I also had a very useful meeting with Madagascar Minister for Environment, Ecology and Forests, Dr Johanita Ndahimananjara and her team.  We are working in Madagascar on bamboo for livelihood improvement with financial support from IFAD, and hope to continue our engagement with a new IFAD grant.  In addition, we have submitted a separate proposal for bamboo and land restoration to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the UN Environment Organisation UNEP.  I also briefed Dr Johanita on our discussions with the French Development Agency (AFD) and the fact that they seem to be interested in working with INBAR on Madagascar.  We talked about the presence of Madagascar at BARC 2018, and I invited the minister to join us next year from 25 to 27 June.  She explained that this is impossible, as Madagascar National Day falls on 26 June, and she has to be in the Capital for the celebrations.  But, she will send one of her technical staff, and she advised that we contact Ambassador Sikonina in Beijing.

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Madagascar delegation

My last bilateral meeting in Ordos was with Hon Maria Victoria Chiriboga, Undersecretary of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador.  We talked about the fact that the INBAR Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean is in Quito, and Undersecretary Chiriboga is in close contact with our Regional Coordinator Pablo Jacome.  She explained that Ecuador is pursuing a bio-economy, and that the new Government is looking for good examples and easy wins.  She is convinced that bamboo can help, and wanted to know more about the use of bamboo for construction, pulp and paper, textiles and land restoration.  I explained what INBAR has done and is doing, and agreed to provide further information through emails.  We also talked about BARC 2018, and I invited Undersecretary Chiriboga to join us in Beijing next June.  I explained that we hope to launch a new trilateral project between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, with support from IFAD, and we would want senior representatives from each country to join us.

Ecuador

Undersecretary Chiriboga from Ecuador

Apart from the meetings, I attended the High-Level round table: Land degradation neutrality: “From targets to action…what will it take?”, but unfortunately INBAR did not get the opportunity to speak.  So many government representatives wanted to present their case, that the Chair had to end the session before everyone had had the chance to talk.  My case would have been to stress that bamboo offers a sustainable solution to help countries control erosion and reverse environmental degradation.   Bamboos are arguably the fastest-growing plants in the world, and they are natural vegetation in most of the tropical belt throughout the world.  Most bamboo species form an evergreen canopy, dropping leaves throughout the year and providing a perennial source of nutrients, and bamboo plantations are an important carbon sink.

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INBAR also organized a side event, together with FAO and the government of Ethiopia.  The time was not very good, as we started at 8 am, but this was the only slot available.  In the end, more than 50 participants attended the event, which was not bad considering the time.  We had presentations from FAO in Rome and the China State Forestry Administration (SFA), and we had a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia, the vice Minister for Environment of Ghana and the Secretary of State for Environment of Ecuador.  They gave very interesting lectures, with amazing facts and figures.  All of the countries are using bamboo in their work, and I was impressed with some of the ongoing activities.

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Ethiopia Presentation

After the presentations, I facilitated a dialogue with representatives from the World Bank, NEPAD and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, together with the previous speakers from FAO and SFA.  It was a lively discussion, but we did not have enough time to engage with the audience.  The panelists came up with several clear recommendations for INBAR:

  • We need to raise awareness (Paola Agostini from The World Bank said: “ I am convinced about bamboo, but I have real problems getting traction with my colleagues in the Bank”)
  • We need to look for new funding mechanisms (public-private partnerships, the Green Carbon Fund, Venture capitalists, Foundations, and more)
  • We need to strengthen the capacity of our Member states so that they can take on the development challenge
  • We need to engage with new constituencies, especially the private sector

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All-in-all, a very productive time in Ordos!

 

 

Bamboo for Urban Development

Last week, I attended the International Forum on Green Urbanisation in Langfang, China, which was organized by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Green Global Growth Institute (GGGI).

Langfang is a satellite town of Beijing, approximately 90 minutes from the centrum of the Capital.  It is part of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei urbanised region in Northern China, and has announced to become an eco-city.  The Mayor of Langfang had invited the organisers to come to Langfang for an exchange of information and discussion of potential green urban development options.

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MEP was represented by the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), a major think-tank in China.  We were invited by both CCICED and GGGI to participate in the Forum, and I had bilateral meetings with Guo Jing, Director-General of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Environment Protection and GGGI Director-General Frank Rijsberman to discuss closer cooperation.

The Forum involved a large number of national and international urban development experts, and the presentations covered energy, transport, urban development and more.

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I was happy to provide one of the opening speeches, and stressed the possibilities of bamboo in urban development.  I made the point that bamboo should be included in urban parks and green spaces, that bamboo can help mitigate carbon emissions from cities, that bamboo charcoal can be a sustainable source of household fuel and that bamboo can help with soil and water management.  I also stressed that bamboo as a product can play a major role in interior design and construction.  I believe that my ideas were well received.

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One of the key speakers was CCICED Senior Advisor, and former Minister Liu Shijin, who presented economic facts and figures.  He warned us that the economic downturn in China is real, and that we should not expect a major upturn after a few years.  He reckons the downward spiral will bottom out next year at 5% growth, and that this will be the norm for many years to come.  He promised long-term stability after 2018, but at a medium range economic growth, rather than the high growth experienced several years ago.

He also stressed that the main urbanization in China will continue to be focused in the three large metropolitan circles of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.

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Another presentation that provided an interesting perspective was that by Donovan Story, the GGGI Deputy Director and Global Lead on Green Cities.  He reminded us that by 2050 more than 6 Billion people, or 70% of the global population, will live in cities.

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He cited as main challenges in urban development the fact that there is still a divide between urban and rural societies, and urban areas are seen as sectors that focus on infrastructure.  Instead, he advocated a Green City approach that is inclusive and looks at environmental, social and economic aspects of development.  He called for smart, green and sustainable cities that improve energy efficiency and promote renewable energy; that close the waste/resource loop and improve access to clean water and sanitation; that are connected and walkable, pro-poor and inclusive.

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After lunch, Professor Qi Ye from the School of Public Policy & Management of Qinghua University, reiterated the rapid urban growth, and warned that the rural population is actually starting to shrink.  He also reminded us that 800 years ago, the Chinese Capital city had more than 1 million people, and in those days more than 20% of the population lived in urban areas.

Prof Qi showed how different energy sources have fueled the economic growth during the past decades.   Starting with biomass and coal as the main power source, oil, gas, hydro and nuclear power are playing a more important role.  In the big picture, other renewables hardly show up.

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Finally, Prof Qi talked about the future, and he stressed that new urbanization is a combination of compact, green, smart and low carbon

Nicholas You from World Future Council talked about “from smart cities to sustainable regions”. He presented several very interesting case studies from around the world.  This included the high-tech coordinated approach in Rio de Janeiro; the inclusive consultation processes in Bristol, UK and the integrated planning approach in Singapore.  I was astounded to hear that Singapore recycles all it used water, and that excess run-off during rain storms is collected in a maze of wetlands, parks and smaller reservoirs.

Nicholas advocated that we should have one Key Performance Indicator for urban development, and he suggested this to be human health and welfare.

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The third session, after tea break included a presentation by Marijn van der Wagt from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment about the Dutch perspective.  She stressed the consultative approach in the Netherlands, and explained that Dutch people are generally happy in small spaces.  She also mentioned that there are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands!

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Liu Kewei from INBAR gave a very interesting presentation about bamboo construction and how this can contribute to green urbanization.  She showed examples of bamboo design and architecture from around the world, and made the case that there is an important role for bamboo.   After all, bamboos are grasses, so any products manufactured from bamboo did not involve logging of timber and cutting of trees.

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She also explained that INBAR is the Liaison Organisation for ISO Technical Committee 165 for timber structures.  As Convener of the working group on structural uses of bamboo, INBAR has helped to develop national and local standards for bamboo construction in several countries.

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There were many other presentations about rural heating, urban planning, energy assessments, and other interesting aspects, and I learned a lot.  It is clear that the challenge to find ways in which to make future cities nice living spaces is enormous.

I hope that the examples provided during this interesting forum will help planners in China and abroad, and that urban planners, architects and designers will think about bamboo when they prepare their blue-prints.

 

 

Bamboo and Rattan Business in Ghana

A few weeks ago, I was in Ghana, one of the 18 Member states of INBAR in Africa, and the host of our Regional Office for West Africa.  The INBAR office is in Kumasi, where we are sharing the premises with Tropenbos Ghana.

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Michael Kwaku and Paul Osei Tutu – INBAR Office

The main reason for coming to Ghana was to speak at the workshop on “Innovative Management and Utilization for Bamboo Biomass in Agroforestry Systems”.  The workshop presented results from INBAR’s work under the project: “Improving food security in Africa through increased system productivity from biomass-based value webs – BiomassWeb”.

The workshop was organized at the premises of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Accra.  FARA is an African institution, representing agricultural research in all of Africa.  INBAR and FARA are discussing how to upscale cooperation to the continental level, and I hope I can write about this in the not too distant future.

The workshop was well attended and generated a lot of very frank and lively discussion about the need for market development, the lack of planting material, the challenges with inter-ministerial cooperation, and the fact that there is not enough understanding and awareness about bamboo and rattan in Ghana.  We had representatives from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Bamboo and Rattan Development Programme (BARADEP), the Forestry Commission, the Forest Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), the Ghana Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the Embassy of China.  The overwhelming recommendation was to organize a follow-up meeting next year, with a wider list of invitees, presence of the media, and more discussions about the challenges for development of a bamboo industry.

This involvement of the local private sector was one of the exciting aspects of my visit to Ghana, and I was able to talk with several local entrepreneurs and business people.  In the workshop I met Janette Poku Akom from Kwamoka Farms and Processing Ltd .  Kwamoka Farms is a bamboo agro-forestry business that produces bamboo seedlings and reforestation services.  They state that their aim is to help in the reduction of deforestation through the promotion of wider use of bamboo as a renewable natural resource whilst contributing towards rural development and poverty reduction.

Janette and Gloria

Janette Poku Akom and Gloria Asare Adu

During the workshop, I also had a long discussion with Gloria Asare Adu, the CEO of Global Bamboo Products Ltd   Gloria has attended several INBAR training courses in China, and she worked with INBAR during the EC-funded charcoal project.  As a result, she has launched her own bamboo charcoal manufacturing plant, and she is selling her charcoal for household consumption in the local supermarket in Accra.

 

Ghana is well known for the manufacturing of bamboo bicycles, especially after Bernice Dapaah, the CEO of Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative was profiled at the 2013 Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention. The photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on a bamboo bicycle went viral.

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The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is a Ghanaian social enterprise that addresses youth unemployment by creating jobs for young people, especially women.Netherlands-Embassy-Accra

Bernice employs nearly 35 workers, and they manufacture high quality bamboo bicycles.  She has good connections all over the world, and I was pleased to see one of her bamboo bikes in the reception of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Accra.

I last met Bernice during the 2015 World Bamboo Congress in Damyang, Korea.  She is a World Bamboo Ambassador, and she is passionate about using bamboo to create jobs for local women.  This time, we met at the INBAR Office in Kumasi, and she agreed to join me later this year to present her experiences during the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Congress (GSTIC2017) in Brussels, Belgium.

I also visited the workshop of the other bamboo bicycle manufacturer in Kumasi, Boomers international.  Their workshop is a good 90 minutes’ drive outside Kumasi into the countryside.  The CEO, Mr Kwabena Danso, was not on site, because he arrived back from UK that day, but I met him for dinner in Accra the following evening.  Boomers is employing approximately 35 young man from the neighbouring villages, and they are manufacturing very nice looking bamboo frames.

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The bamboo is harvested from nearby clumps, treated, sorted and used to make sturdy bamboo frames.  Boomers-Bike-workshop (13)They told me that the main market for the frames is currently in Germany and the Netherlands, and the bikes are assembled there.  I saw a large number of frames ready for dispatch, so business seems to be good, and Mr Danso confirmed that Boomers International is doing well.

Back in Accra, I visited several of the bamboo and rattan furniture stalls in the centre of town.  The furniture is manufactured and sold at the roadside, and there is a thriving business of local people who stop their car to have a look at the wares of display.  Several of these local artisans were in China last year, during a three-month bamboo training programme which was organized by INBAR and the Chinese International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (ICBR) with funding from the Ministry of Commerce of China.  I had joined the students during the closing ceremony last November in southern China, and wished them good luck back home.  It was therefore very nice to meet some of them again, but this time in Ghana.

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The former students told me that they were doing well, and that business had improved significantly after their return from China.  Apparently, customers specifically ask for the “Chinese students” when they visit the roadside markets, and the students told me that they had seen an improvement in their designs, their manufacturing process, and the finishing of the products.  It was very encouraging for me to learn about this positive outcome, as I had asked myself if the training in China would have made a big difference.  Clearly, it has made life and the living conditions of this group of furniture manufacturers a lot better.

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One aspect that particularly bothers the artisans, is the fact that they have no electricity in their manufacturing space along the road side, and therefore they cannot use any equipment or machines.  They also lack proper storage facilities, and during the rainy season all the new furniture gets wet.  They want to move to a proper furniture market where they have better services, and they have asked the Bamboo and Rattan Development Programme (BARADEP) to help.  The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, which is the host of BARADEP, has allocated land for such a common facility, and they are currently looking for funding to make it happen.  I agreed to help find a solution.

It is clear that there is a keen interest to develop the bamboo resources in Ghana, and there is already a local market.  Improved quality will make the local trade more lucrative, and an increased supply of bamboo will reduce the price of the raw material and consequently the price of the manufactured products.

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The ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is planning a major national programme to reforest some of the areas that have been devastated by small scale mining, and this could include bamboo plantations.  Such a large-scale intervention could be the game-changer that Ghana needs, and I have offered to work with the ministry to encourage the establishment of large-scale bamboo plantations