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.

INBAR-team

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.

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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!

 

 

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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

 

 

Mediterranean Cane

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

St-George Square, Rabat, Gozo during Christmas

St-George Square, Rabat, Gozo during Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artisanal Bamboo Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Stone Forest in a Bamboo Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bamboos in Cornwall? You bet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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