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

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

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

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

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

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Bamboo shoot in Zhejiang Province, China

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

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

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

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Arundo donax (Mediterranean cane) in Anapo Valley, Sicily

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

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Abandoned farm in southern Europe

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

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

The benefits of these European bamboo plantations are:

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

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

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

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At the Madrid Symposium.  Photo credit: Garcia-Pena

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

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in the bamboo labyrinth

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Overview of the bamboo labyrinth from the viewpoint

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

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Speaking at “Under the Bamboo Tree 2019”

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

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Bamboo in Rome Botancial Gardens – photo from Wikimedia

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

 

Bamboo in Europe

For the past five years, I was the head of the Secretariat of the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (www.inbar.int) in Beijing, PR China.  I stepped down in April this year, and now I am living in Europe again.

Europe is not a natural home of bamboo, but it is the main market for bamboo products primarily manufactured in Asia.  Yet, there are many places where bamboos are already growing in this part of the world.

The Labirinto Della Masone in Italy is said to be the largest bamboo labyrinth in existence, made up of around 200,000 bamboo clumps.  The labyrinth is located in Parma, near Milan, and I will be speaking at the “Under The Bamboo Tree” conference that will take place on 5 and 6 October 2019.

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A few years ago, I was in Cornwall, UK and visited the Trebah botanical garden.  I was surprised to see a large collection of very healthy bamboos, including the Chinese species Phyllostachys edulis. After my visit, I wrote about this on my blog:

https://hansfriederich.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/bamboos-in-cornwall-you-bet/

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Cornwall is warm enough for bamboos to grow outside of the botanical garden.  In fact, it grows so well in Cornwall that until the early 1950s it was grown as a commercial crop at several sites across Cornwall, with one farm producing 5 million culms per annum.  Currently, some of the bamboos are used to make coffins, as there is a small company near Truro that produces bespoke funeral arrangements from bamboo: http://cornishbamboocoffins.co.uk/

I never visited the French bamboo garden, La Bambouseraie, but have heard a lot about it.  The fact that the garden is doing so well illustrates that bamboos can also grow in mainland southern Europe.  The former CEO of La Bambouseraie has established a 100 Ha nursery in Portugal, which now claims to be one of the largest bamboo nurseries in Europe:

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There are other nurseries in Europe that specialize in bamboo, including Oprins in Belgium.  Oprins specialises in Fargesia, a non-invasive group of bamboo species, and production techniques are based on tissue culture.

All of this made me realise that bamboos could provide an innovative development trajectory for poor local communities, especially in southern Europe, and I have been looking for an opportunity to work on this.  I have read about the decline of agriculture in countries like Portugal and Spain, and bamboo plantations could provide jobs for disillusioned farmers.  Planting bamboo would also regenerate the productivity of the exhausted soils, as INBAR and FAO have shown through a number of case studies around the world   Finally, bamboo could create a very effective natural carbon sink, and this fits with the political agenda of all European nations.

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I am therefore pleased to announce that I will soon be working with Bamboologic in the Netherlands (www.bambulogic.eu) to help create the European Bamboo Programme.  The aim of the Programme is the creation of local jobs, restoration of degraded farmland and mitigation of climate change by planting and managing bamboo, starting in Southern Portugal.  We have identified this to be a particularly suitable location for bamboo, and have acquired a 150 hectares start-up location in the Municipality of Alcoutim.  Planting will start before the end of the year and the area will be expanded to 2000 hectares in the near future.

Some people have expressed reservations about using bamboo for land restoration, but as we are considering this an agricultural development programme, the potential risks can be managed, and any perceived negative ecological effects will be mitigated.

Eventually, the programme aims to plant 8000 hectares of unproductive agricultural land with bamboo in different countries in southern Europe and to establish several processing factories, but that will take some time.  At this moment, we are starting phase 1, and we are looking for partners to develop the second phase of the programme.

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Two busy weeks of membership relations in INBAR!

INBAR is an organisation of 44 Governments that believe in bamboo and rattan, and we are constantly in touch with existing member states and potential new members.  Let me give you a snapshot of recent and ongoing discussions.  I have to admit that these two weeks were exceptionally busy!

Earlier this week, we were co-hosting the Caribbean International Bamboo Symposium in Jamaica, together with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries of Jamaica, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund of Jamaica, the Bamboo Industry Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and other agencies.

The 2-day meeting reflected on “Bamboo: An Economic High-Value Chain Resource for the Caribbean”, and involved members and potential member states in the Caribbean.  It was an important gathering that was agreed some time ago, when Jamaica was the Chair of the INBAR Council, but was deferred in view of the Bamboo and Rattan Congress in Beijing in June this year.  We sent a large team headed by INBAR Deputy Director-General Prof Lu Wenming and Director of Membership Relations Ms Hao Ying.

Apart from participating in and speaking at the conference, several bilateral meetings took place with representatives from several of our member states in the Region, including Suriname.

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Ms Kitty Sweeb, Deputy Foreign Policy Coordinator in the Office of the President of Suriname with Hao Ying and Lu Wenming from INBAR

In preparation of the symposium, INBAR Trustee, Ms Sharon Folkes Abrahams visited the Embassy of Jamaica in Beijing, when she attended the meeting of the INBAR Board of Trustees earlier this month.  Ms Folkes Abrahams and I met with Ambassador Antonio Hugh and his deputy Head of Mission Ms Cheryl Campbell to talk about planned symposium and general cooperation between INBAR and Jamaica.

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Jamaica Ambassador HE Antonio Hugh, INBAR Trustee Sharon Folkes Abrahams and Jamaica Charge d’Affaires Cheryl Campbell

On the other side of the world, INBAR Member State Cameroon is getting ready to host a team of project staff to launch the Intra-Africa Bamboo Smallholder Livelihood Development Programme, funded by IFAD.  INBAR Director of Programme Brian Cohen and future Cameroon Head-of-Office Rene Kaam will be in Yaoundé, together with colleagues from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar to hold the inception workshop and agree on the plans for the coming year.

In addition to the inception workshop of the intra-Africa project, the INBAR team will also kick off a Cameroon bamboo sub-project of IUCN’s The Restoration Initiative, and they will informally discuss the date for the official opening of the new INBAR Regional Office for Central Africa. The decision to open the new office was made during the visit of the Cameroon Minister of Foreign Affairs in August this year, when we signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

In preparation of the meetings in Yaoundé, I met last week with Cameroon Ambassador to China, HE Martin Mpana.  Ambassador Mpana is a dear friend and a strong supporter of INBAR, without whom the developments in Cameroon would not have been so easy.  It is always nice to spend some time with Ambassador Mpana, and to talk about future plans.

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Cameroon Ambassador HE Martin Mpana

While some staff were in Jamaica and others will be in Cameroon, I joined the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference in Brussels to talk about new research and innovation with bamboo.  Although we have no members in Europe, we used the meeting to share the latest developments with regards to composite manufacturing and applications of bamboo for the production of drainage pipes, bicycles and housing units.

The details will be given by a group of Chinese business people and researchers, and my assistant Li Ting has spent a lot of time to help them prepare for speeches and presentations.  They also presented the state-of-the-art production of closed-loop bamboo pulp production for tissue paper manufacturing.  This bridging role between China and Europe is an important function for the Secretariat, and I believe this relationship is critical for the future development of INBAR.

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Small-Vanov

In early December, I will move to the Climate Change meeting in Poland, where I will touch base with a number of our members that are present.  I am speaking in several events, and INBAR is organising a discussion about bamboo, climate change and South-South Cooperation with speakers from Canada, China, Ethiopia and Nepal. Apart from these speaking roles, I will undoubtedly have bilateral discussions with a number of ministers and other representatives.

Talking about South-South Cooperation, INBAR Global Policy Officer Borja de la Pena and INBAR Trustee Ms Jan McAlpine are currently in UN Headquarters in New York to speak at the Global South-South Development Forum and to discuss INBAR’s participation next year in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action 40th celebration.  Borja is also arranging meetings with delegates from several INBAR members.

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INBAR Trustee Jan McAlpine

Meanwhile, the INBAR Headquarters is preparing for a possible visit of the First Lady of Ecuador in December.  This visit would be extremely opportune, as the Ministry of Housing in Ecuador has just approved the design of a bamboo-bahareque house for a new national social housing programme “Casa para Todos” (housing for all).  This social housing programme is one of the 7 components of the Inter-institutional Committee of the “Plan Toda una Vida” that is chaired by the first lady of Ecuador.

“Bahareque” is a traditional construction style based on a wooden or bamboo frame that has provided shelter for rural communities in Latin American culture.  This little known tradition is getting a new lease of life from the Ministry of Housing with a new modernised style.  Supported by INBAR as part of our Bamboo Aruaclima Project in Peru and Ecuador financed by the Spanish development agency AECID, the ministry has approved the use of a cement bamboo-bahareque prototype.  INBAR, local government and university partners will finish construction of the first unit in December 2018.

The house, the first of its type ever built by the Ecuadorian government, has an area of 56.95m2.  It cost the government just $12,500 to build, uses entirely bamboo poles for its frame, and under the government Housing plan ‘Housing for All’, it will now be scaled up for mass construction.  Alongside construction work, INBAR is supporting research into the thermal properties and carbon footprint of this type of house, allowing us to compare it with other construction methods.

Another bamboo construction success story focuses on the Philippines, where last week 23-year old Earl Patrick Forlales has been awarded the £50,000 “Cities for our Future” Prize by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the UK.

Forlales’ idea, inspired by his grandparents’ bamboo shack, is to transform the slums of Manila into a livable space using the most sustainable, abundant material possible – bamboo!  The outcome, named the Cubo, is a modular design made from bamboo panels that could be constructed in a week and assembled in just under four hours. The Cubo is estimated to cost just $77 per square metre – an incredibly affordable living space.

When we contacted Earl Patrick Forlales he explained that he used INBAR publications in the preparation of the design.  We are very proud of his achievement, which has been recognised by international news outlets all over the world, and for bringing the benefits of bamboo as a sustainable, affordable building material to the Global South.

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We are also actively engaging potential new members.  Last week, I gave a lecture at the Peking University Public Policy Forum, which addressed how bamboo and rattan can help countries to achieve their sustainable development goals.  More than 60 students attended from a wide range of countries, including several INBAR Member States.  I invited the Ambassador of Costa Rica to China, as she is keen to promote Costa Rica as the next Member of INBAR.  She wanted to know more about bamboo opportunities, and told me that she learned a lot from my presentation.

The discussions after my talk were rich and lasted for nearly one hour.  We could have continued, but unfortunately the working day was ending.  We touched on issues like the consumer’s demand for production standards, the need for a reliable supply chain, the choice between planting food crops and bamboo, the challenges of invasiveness of running bamboo and flowering of clumping bamboo and more.

Last week, I also met with the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas.  Timor Leste is currently Observer of INBAR, after they formally approached us to become Member in 2016.  Subsequent elections and budget negotiations have created confusion and uncertainty, and we are concerned that the Observer status may lapse before we receive the formal Instrument of Accession that would make Timor Leste a formal Member of INBAR.

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With Hao Ying from INBAR and the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas

Ambassador dos Santos Freitas advised us to write to the new Speaker of Parliament and the new Minister of Agriculture to find out what the current state of affairs is, and how to proceed.

Earlier this week, I met the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to greet the President of the Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso when he was visiting for the Africa-China Forum (FOCAC), and he suggested that the Ambassador has a more substantive meeting.  Ambassador Owasa and I talked for an hour about the benefits of bamboo and rattan, and the possibility of Congo joining INBAR.

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Talking with the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa

 

This gives an idea of the membership work of INBAR during a very busy period.

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.

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

BARC 2018_27.6.18_Li Nuyun_Hans Friederich

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.

BARC 2018_25.6.18_press

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!

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.

CCICED

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.

Pres Xi

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.

Antalya

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.

Xie Chenhua.jpg

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

Xmasparty.jpg

Happy New Year from the INBAR Headquarters 

Can bamboo help to reach the Sustainable Development Goals

Last week, I was asked to be panellist at the closing session of the World Congress on Agroforestry in Delhi.  The topic for the panel discussion was agroforestry and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Dennis Garitty, former Director-General of ICRAF the World Agroforestry Centre had made the point in his key-note speech that we need new approaches towards agro-forestry and that the time has come to look for innovation and out-of-the-box solutions.

My message was that bamboo and rattan are excellent tools to help reach these goals, and that they should play a key role in future agro-forestry schemes.  I made the case that bamboo is found throughout the tropics and sub-tropical belt; that it is arguably the fastest growing plant in the world and that cultivating bamboo is relatively simple compared to other crops.  Therefore, bamboo could be one of the innovative solutions that Dennis Garrity was asking for.

Milicent Atieno at her farm in Kenya

Milicent Atieno at her farm in Kenya

I explained that bamboo is directly helping to reduce poverty and provide alternative income for local people, for example by transforming the bamboo into charcoal.  This is a sustainable practice, as bamboo grows back after harvesting, it produces good charcoal with a high calorific value and the smoke from bamboo charcoal is cleaner than smoke from a wood fire.  What I did not stress is that charcoal can be used in fuel-efficient stoves, using smaller quantities of fuel and reducing the smoke production even more.

bamboo charcoal

bamboo charcoal

I stressed the environmental aspects of bamboo, especially the ability to bind soil, maintain slope stability and therefore the potential to help combat soil erosion and land degradation.  I also made the point that a bamboo forest absorbs more Carbon Dioxide than an equivalent forest of fir trees, by showing one of the graphs of the INBAR publication on bamboo and climate change.

 

Finally, I explained that bamboo also has a major economic role to play.  Traditionally, bamboo and rattan were mainly used for mats, baskets and furniture, and this is still a major economic activity for many local communities and individual households or small enterprises.  The future for bamboo production is to enable large-scale landscape restoration, create industrial building materials of high quality and high value and maybe provide a source of bio-ethanol and bio-butanol.

I concluded by reiterating that bamboo and rattan are extremely helpful tools for the goal of sustainable development, and urged the agro-foresters in the room to consider bamboo in their future planning.