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.

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.

Bamboo in northern Thailand

I celebrated Christmas 2015 in Thailand. My wife and I visited good friends in Chiang Mai, and we subsequently spent some days further north in rural Thailand. It was a wonderful experience, with several visits to Thai temples, walks in the forest to waterfalls, a fabulous Christmas dinner in the Four Seasons Hotel in Chiang Mai, evening shopping in Chiang Rai night market, views over the mountains in Burma and the chance to eat many delicious meals.

One of my overwhelming memories of the trip is the abundance of bamboo clumps throughout the area.  Rungnapar Pattanavibool wrote in 1998 that there are 60 species of bamboos recorded in Thailand.  Thai clumping bamboo forests are so different from the Chinese Phyllostachys forests that I have visited in China. The density of bamboo culms is much higher in clumps, and most of the clumps are part of a mixed forest canopy.

My first encounter with bamboo during this trip was near a small temple Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, not far from the zoo. After a steep walk we arrived at the temple complex, adjacent to a set of rapids in a small stream. There were several nice clumps of bamboo, but I am not sure of the species.

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After Christmas, we travelled north to Chiang Rai, where we stayed at “The Imperial”. This is a very pleasant hotel, with a nice garden on the bank of the Mae Ping. The island at the bottom of the hotel garden was full of green-and-yellow striped Bambusa vulgaris, and you could get from the bank to the island on a rickety bamboo bridge.  It is not the image I would like to promote, as there is so much more you can do with bamboo, apart from building simple emergency bridges, but it makes a pretty picture.

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The following day we travelled further north and west, through the landscape of the Chan community. There is bamboo everywhere along the road, and the Chan people are using bamboo for daily life use. Small stalls along the road sell bamboo baskets, brooms and other tools. Later we also found bamboo ladders for sale along the road.

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We stopped at a local village and saw how bamboo is used for fencing, for all kind of household tools, and for construction. Traditionally, houses are constructed by using bamboo strips to make the walls, although it seems that the main structure is often made from timber. This combination of wood and bamboo is what makes buildings that can withstand earthquakes or other natural disasters. INBAR has a lot of good experience in this area, especially in Latin America.

The houses we saw had very simple wall constructions. The bamboo is  split and the pieces are used as a panel of bamboo strips.  There does not appear to be any further enhancement.

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As I already stated, most of the bamboo in northern Thailand is part of the natural forest, and bamboo is mixed with timber tree species. In many cases you recognise the crown of bamboo trees from the distance, as they appear like plumes of feathery leaves. I assume there are different species, but is difficult to see from a distance. Although I had expected to see rattan as well, I did not notice any rattan in the forests that we travelled through.

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We stayed two nights in the Maekok River Village Resort in Mae Ai, which is a fabulous “chill-out” place with beautifully landscaped gardens. The owners, Bryan and Rosie Massingham, told us that the place is not very old, and it was created from nothing. One of the key activities of the resort is to link international school pupils from Chiang Mai or Bangkok with local school children in northern Thailand. This is a fantastic way of linking different groups for mutual benefit. They carry out joint projects in local villages and are using the resort as an education venue to teach outsiders about local culture. The resort has not used bamboo for construction, but there is bamboo in the gardens, and Bryan and Rosie are talking about bamboo in their practical classes.  The jetty in the Mae Kok River is also made from bamboo

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One day, Bryan suggested that we should visit a local waterfall, where there was natural bamboo forest. We found the place, and the bamboo: giant bamboo, or Dendrocalamus giganteus! The culms were up to 15cm thick, and 30 metres high or more. To say that these clumps looked “majestic” is an understatement!

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With all these bamboo resources, one might have expected a thriving bamboo industry in this part of Thailand, but that is not at all obvious. I saw lots of very simple uses, without much – if any – added value. The production value chains seem to stop at the most basic use of bamboo, mainly using the natural culm or slats that have been split from the culm by hand.

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There is no higher-value industrial use, despite the ample resources. Why are there no flooring companies, or pulp and paper mills, or modern furniture producers? This is an area which could be developed without too much effort. The “One Tambon One Product” philosophy could be a perfect way of promoting local bamboo development, but private investment may be needed to encourage some local communities to start production of high-value bamboo goods.

Thailand has just indicated that it wants to join INBAR as a Member State, and this may be one catalyst to identify opportunities for development. I hope that we can work with the Royal Forest Department of Thailand to identify and properly map the main bamboo resources, and then to help determine the best options for local and industrial green development with bamboo.

Happy New Year!

Are there really 276 Bamboo species in Yunnan?

I visited Yunnan Province in southern China several times during the first years of this century, when I was helping the local authorities and the UNESCO National Committee of China with the nomination of the Stone Forest near Shilin as a natural World Heritage Area.

Last weekend, I returned to Yunnan, but with a very different agenda, as I am now in charge of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). I had been told that Yunnan is very rich in bamboo species, and I wanted to see this with my own eyes.

First my wife and I spend the weekend in the charming old town of Lijian, a cultural World Heritage Area. It is a beautiful town, and well worth the visit. One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to the Mu mansion, and I did see bamboo in the garden of the palace.

Wu Mansion in Lijiang, Yunnan, chiina

Wu Mansion in Lijiang, Yunnan, chiina

But, the main objective of this trip was a visit to Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden-which is referred to as XTBG on signposts and posters. Professor Yang Yuming, President of the Yunnan Academy of Forestry, is about to publish a flora of bamboo species in Yunnan Province and the latest count is that the province houses 276 species of bamboo, which is more than half of the total of China’s bamboo diversity.

Xichuanbana Tropical Botanical Garden

Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden

All of the bamboos in Yunnan are tropical bamboo species, and that means that they represent sympodial, clumping bamboos, where the culms grow from a central root mass. There is no wide spread of roots and rhizomes, which is the case with the temperate monopodial bamboo species, which we call running bamboos. There are more than 100 different bamboo species represented in XTBG, including the striking Bambusa vulgaris.

Bambusa vulgaris in XTBG

Bambusa vulgaris in XTBG

A large number belong to the genera Dendrocalamus. Dendrocalamus yunnansis is only found in Yunnan, as the name suggests, and Dencrocalamus hamiltonii is only found in Xishuangbanna. Dendrocalamuus sinicus is one of the largest bamboos in the world, and can reach heights of more than 30metres. and Dendrocalamus giganteus is also a large species.

Dendrocalamus giganteus - XTBG

Dendrocalamus giganteus – XTBG

After our visit to the botanical garden we went to a forest research station of the Yunnan Academy of Forestry, which is focusing on finding opportunities for economic development of the forest, without the need to cut down the trees. The researchers are also testing alternatives to rubber trees. Large areas of Yunnan were transformed into rubber plantations in the sixties and seventies, but this is not good for biodiversity and ecosystem health. It is also no longer economically attractive, as the price of rubber has slumped and import of cheap rubber competes with local production. NTFP development, including bamboo planting and harvesting, is one of the many options that is being considered. The nurseries at the research station are very healthy, though currently stocked with hardwood seedlings, and not with bamboo plants.

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Our last visit was again focused on bamboo, and took us to a “bamboo introduction area” near Pu’er. The plan is for a 2000 hectares valley to be re-forested with different bamboo species. Currently, the upper slopes are covered in Eucalyptus and rubber trees, and the valley floor and lower slopes are non-productive agricultural land. A healthy bamboo forest would be a real asset, with significant ecotourism potential.

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Mr Zhang Xingbo, who is the driving force behind the initiative, explained that the garden will become a living museum, with information about the botanical aspects of bamboos, as well as details about their ecology and examples of the many uses. Eventually, the bamboo garden will also house restaurants where bamboo shoots can be eaten and bamboo beer can be drunk, and guesthouses built from bamboo with bamboo furniture and bamboo fittings. There may be outlets for bamboo handicrafts and nurseries that sell bamboo plants for the garden. It is a long-term development plan that would be daunting in many parts of the world, but the Yunnan colleagues are convinced they will get the work done in the next few years.

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The first plants were planted last year, and it is real “work-in-progress”, but the new plants look healthy, and the current selection already represents a variety of species. There are some very interesting individual plants, such as a few species of Chimonocalamus, which is a genera tropical bamboos from Myanmar and Yunnan that are particularly rich in aromatic oil. The main stem and leaves could be exploited commercially for perfume industry or other purposes, but this is not yet happening. Folklore claims that the Japanese store tea in its culms, as it adds flavour to the leaves.

A Chimonocalamus plant with admirers

A Chimonocalamus plant with admirers

Mr Zhang’s nurseries include other exciting bamboo plants, including the smallest bamboo plants that look like grass, and could be used for ground cover. He also has saplings of red bamboo, and a healthy clump of recently discovered black bamboo from Vietnam. Professor Yang explained that the black bamboo is so unusual, that it does not yet have a scientific name.

Black bamboo with prof Yang

Black bamboo with prof Yang

The following day was spent in Kunming where we visited the Provincial Forest Bureau, and signed an agreement to establish a training centre for tropical bamboo, in the Yunnan Academy of Forestry.

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ll-in-all, this was a very interesting learning experience. There is still a lot more to see in Yunnan, and I hope to return next year, not in the least to see the progress with the afforestation of the Pu’er bamboo garden.

 

Are Bamboos Invasive

I was recently in Europe, and talked with different people about bamboo.  Many see bamboos as a threat, and talk about the invasiveness of bamboo.  I wonder how big a threat this is.

Bamboos are members of the grass family, and there are 1250 different species. Like many grasses, bamboos are perennials with a rhizomatous growth habit. The woody bamboos, which make up the vast majority of bamboo diversity, are classified into two large groups, the temperate woody bamboos and the tropical woody bamboos.

The temperate woody bamboos occur mainly in China and Japan, and most are characterized by running rhizomes, and relatively long flowering cycles, often on the order of 60 or 80 to 120 years.  The Chinese Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys edulis) is one of the best known temperate woody bamboo species.

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Moso bamboo plantation in Anhui Province, China

The tropical woody bamboos occur in tropical and subtropical zones in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. With few exceptions, they have clumping rhizomes and their flowering cycles range from 7 to 60 years.

In general, when bamboos do flower and produce seed, most of the seed falls near the parent plants. Much of the seed may be eaten by birds or rodents, but some will germinate and reestablish the clump.  Although many bamboos have small bristles adjacent to their seeds, which may allow animals to accidentally transport them, this is not a very effective dispersal mechanism.  Studies reported from USA suggest that dispersal away from the parent population is a relatively rare event.

Most temperate woody Bamboos reproduce usually by rhizome growth.  Running bamboos may extend their rhizomes from a few centimetres to several metres in a growing season, and this is often considered invasive behavior.  It is also possible that rhizome pieces could break off along river banks during floods or heavy rains and be transported downstream, but this type of dispersal is rare.

Running bamboo root system.  Photo by bamboobotanicals.ca

Running bamboo root system. Photo by bamboobotanicals.ca

The European Union has recently agreed a legislative text on Invasive Alien Species. The text, published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 4 November 2014, is in the form of an EU Regulation (Regulation 1143/2014), and becomes immediately enforceable law in all EU Member States on 1st January 2015. Unlike EU Directives, EU Regulations become national law without having to be transposed.

The backbone of the legislation is the list of harmful invasive species (a ‘black list’ approach), namely ‘‘Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern,’’ selected only among species that are alien to the EU and that are identified as invasive through a detailed risk assessment.

While the Regulation at this stage only lists a small number of species, there is concern about bamboo. Personal communication with focal persons in DG Environment in Brussels and colleagues in Headquarters of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Switzerland made it clear that Europe is worried about the potential invasiveness of certain bamboo species.

They made no differentiation between different bamboo species, and as a result all bamboos are considered as a threat.  This is not right, as has been pointed out by the American Bamboo Society. They issued a statement in 2012 that says that bamboos generally have low potential for invasiveness due to their rare flowering, but recognizes that some running bamboos can be aggressive spreaders and form large stands if left to their own devices.

The American Bamboo Society concludes that in almost every situation where bamboos are problematic, especially in urban and suburban settings, it is because people have not planted them properly, have not maintained them properly, or have not disposed of them properly.

Yet, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a species profile for two bamboo species under its list of invasive species.  USDA warns that this is not a list of all invasive plant species, nor does it have any regulatory implications, and the profiles are provided as an educational informational tool.  The list includes Phyllostachys aurea (golden bamboo) and Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo).  The US National Park Service list the following three species as invasive species: Common bamboo – Bambusa vulgaris; Golden bamboo – Phyllostachys aurea; and Arrow bamboo – Pseudosasa japonica.

Interestingly, Australia is one of the most vigilant countries against invasive species, but it has no bamboo species listed in its list of Weeds of National Significance.

The contradictions in USA and the concerns expressed in Europe show the need for clarity.   It is without question that the majority of bamboo species are not considered invasive, but some species may be a cause for concern.

There is a lot of interest in the Global South to develop bamboo resources, and one approach to expanding existing bamboo cover is to introduce exotic species. Without clear advice on the risk of invasiveness and guidelines on management of bamboo resources there is a possibility that we are introducing future problems.

I would be interested in your views.

Ethiopian Bamboo

 

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I am in Ethiopia, for the launch of the second phase of the Sustainable Land Management Programme, which lives under the name of SLMP2. The programme is part of the Africa-wide TerrAfrica programme which I mentioned in my earlier blog story, which is supported by the World Bank through its own loan arrangements and a Norwegian trust fund, together with several other donors. The SLMP2 project is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The State Minister for Agriculture, HE Sileshi Getahun is currently the Chair of the INBAR Council, and he is very supportive of INBAR playing a role in SLMP2.

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Minister Counsellor Tove Stub from Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ethiopia, HE State Minister for Agriculture Dr Ato Sileshi Getahun and INBAR Director-General, Dr Hans Friederich

The launch started with a welcome word by the Ministry and a series of key-note speeches from the World Bank, Norway, GIZ and INBAR, followed by the opening speech of Minister Sileshi. The World Bank stressed the fact that land degradation and climate change are the major challenges for agricultural development in Ethiopia. Norway explained that they have committed to help Ethiopia in its climate response strategy, and therefore they are very happy to support SLMP2. The representative from GIZ explained that the German government has supported Ethiopia for many years, and both the German development bank KfW and the technical assistance agency GIZ are involved in SLMP2.

I presented the case for bamboo as an alternative option for land restoration. Six out of the nine states in Ethiopia have native bamboo, and the total bamboo cover in Ethiopia is approximately 1million Hectares. I explained that INBAR is keen to support SLMP2 to show how to use bamboo for land management, and also to work with Small and Medium sized Enterprises to promote bamboo business. As is so often the case, people were surprised to learn about the many opportunities bamboo could provide, and some did not realise that Ethiopia is already rich in bamboo.

It is therefore very opportune that INBAR is one of the implementing partners of SLMP2, and this is something that was cemented the day before, when Minister Sileshi and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding our involvement in the project.

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INBAR Director General Dr Hans Friederich and State Minister for Agriculture HE Ato Sileshi Getahun sign MoU for collaboration in Addis Ababa on 13 June 2014

The agreement between the ministry and INBAR defines INBAR as the implementing agency for a component of SLMP2 that deals with bamboo. Currently, the proposal is to work in 12 field sites, where we will promote bamboo planting, help to establish nurseries and provide training in planting, maintaining and harvesting bamboo. We will also work with local business representative to help develop small scale industrial bamboo activities, we will work on bamboo carbon finance and we will promote charcoal bamboo as an alternative household energy source. The last point is particulalrly relevant, as INBAR has spent the last few years on testing the feasibility and economic viability of making bamboo charcoal for local use in Ethiopia and Ghana, through an EU-funded “bamboo as sustainable biomass energy” project.

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After my presentation, several people came to see me to ask if INBAR could expand the scope of its intervention and include more field sites. This is something we will discuss with the Ministry of Agriculture in the coming months, but my priority is to agree on the financial nitty-gritty and start the project.

Next stop: Nairobi, Kenya.

bamboo for land restoration

I had the great pleasure of participating in the seventh future environmental trends conference organized by Institut Veolia in Washington DC on 29 and 30 May 2014.  The conference was titled: “Ecosystems, economy and society: how large scale restoration can stimulate sustainable development”.  Andrew Steer from the World Resources Institute asked if it was time for a “Revolution for Conservation” as there is 2 billion hectares of unproductive land around the globe.  Dennis Garrity from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) had made a plea the previous day for a green revolution for Africa, promoting agro-forestry throughout the continent.

Bamboo could play a pivotal role, not only in Africa, but in many other parts of the world where land has been left unproductive, and I was pleased that I had the opportunity to present my thoughts and INBAR’s experience.  Below is the text of my speech:

Most bamboos are giant grass species, which occur throughout the tropical and subtropical belts. While bamboo is often associated with the Asia-Pacific Region, there is large area of native bamboo in Africa and in Latin America. There are more than 1400 species of bamboo, and they range from relatively small plants to giant culms. Bamboo naturally grows in between other species in a mixed forest, although some of the industrial bamboo plantations in China are mono-culture. Bamboo requires rainfall of at least 500mm per year, but thrives in wetter conditions and different species are adapted to their local conditions, based mainly on rainfall, temperature and soil conditions.

Bamboo grows very fast. In spring or the rainy season, new shoots appear above ground, which reach full height and diameter in several months. The growth rate can reach more than 1 metre per day. Once the bamboo stems (culms) have reached full height, they will not become bigger, but they will need 3 to 5 years to reach maturity, when they can be cut for use. As bamboo is a crop, it can be cut year after year, and new shoots will re-appear to replenish the stock of culms.

There are in general terms two types of bamboo – clump bamboo (sympodial) usually in tropical areas and running bamboo (monopodial) in subtropical areas. A third variety is a hybrid between the two. Clump bamboo grows from a central root mass, and does not spread. Running bamboo has rapidly growing rhizome and root systems, which can grow 1-5 metres in a year.

The rapid growth and the strong root systems make bamboo particularly suited for soil protection. It is reported that a single bamboo plant can bind up to 6m3 of soil and research in China showed that soil erosion in a bamboo plantation is 4.7 times lower than in adjacent sweet potato cropland.

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Dr Lou Yiping from INBAR at soil erosion study site in Datong village, Chishui County, Guizhou province – China

Rwanda has a national bamboo policy that specifies the objective to reduce soil erosion, siltation of rivers and water bodies by growing bamboo on slopes and buffer zones along riverbanks and lakeshores. Together with the ministerial order on buffer zone management, Rwanda has a practice to plant bamboo along ten (10) and five (5) metre corridors along big rivers and small rivers.

Similar arrangements are in place in other countries. For example, Dendrocalamus hookeri was planted along the Mahaveli river in Sri Lanka, and bamboo is also planted along rivers in Brazil, China and other countries.

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Dendrocalamus hookery planted along Mahaveli River in SriLanka. Photo by Dr Shantha Ramanayake

The Philippines National Greening Policy states: Bamboo and mangrove species shall also be tapped as reforestation crops, particularly in river banks and coastal areas, to control soil erosion and as buffers against wave action.” One project in Las Pinas is planting bamboo along 58 kilometers of its riverbanks, using the Philippine giant bamboo, scientifically known as Dendrocalamus asper and the Bambusa blumeana or what is commonly known in Filipino as kawayan tinik.

Bamboo is also used to help restore degraded lands. In India, INBAR worked with a local NGO Utthan in Allahabad, where a large area of land had been used for decades as a source of clay for brick-making. Introduction of pollution control measures and changes in rural development resulted in the collapse of the brick-making industry leaving local communities destitute. Bamboo was used in a pilot project of just over 100 hectares in 1997 and after a number of years, the red earth had been changed into a green oasis.

The pilot project ended some ten years ago, but the planting efforts have not ceased. In fact, the result of the initial investment has been that more than 85,000 hectares of degraded land have now been made productive again, helping 90,000 local households. The initial project was so successful that Utthan was awarded the UDS1million Alcan Prize for Sustainable Development in 2007. The economic benefits are enormous, and indirectly, the bamboo cultivation has resulted in local energy provision, better living conditions, fodder for livestock and poultry, a source of useful materials and therefore income for local communities.

Other villages in India have copied the successful approach in Allahabad, and 3 hectares of barren sodic soils in Madampoondi, Villupura, have been turned into a green forest in one year. Similarly, bamboo is used as a means to help restore eroded slopes in Chili and in Brazil.

In Ghana, tests were carried out to assess the suitability of bamboo for restoring degraded mined areas in the Ashanti region, and providing economic opportunities for the surrounding local communities. Some reclaimed mining sites were used in the research, and some areas that were untreated former mining terraces.After ten months, the space between individual plants had almost closed, and it was difficult to measure individual plants. The survival rate of all species was 95%.  Not surprisingly, native species were very suitable, but also an exotic species was considered particularly well suited.

In China, large areas of forested land were cut during the last century in order to make space for agricultural development. This has turned out to be a challenge in several areas, and more recent policies of Government have promoted the conversion of marginal agricultural sloping land into forest land. In those provinces where bamboo is the major native species, the restoration has been done with bamboo species.In 1999, the Central government set up piloting sites in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces to seek the pathway for conversion of farmland to forest and grassland countrywide.

From 1999 to 2011 the programme has been adopted in 2,279 counties in 25 provinces, involving 32 million rural household and 124 million farmers. The total conversion area is 28.94 million ha, including a) conversion into forest 9.26 million ha, b) plantation of bamboo and trees in waste land and mountains 16.98 million ha and c) mountain enclosure for forest rehabilitation 2.7 million ha. The total financial input from Central government during this period has been 438.5 billion Yuan, which is nearly 70 billion US Dollars.  About 12 bamboo species such as Phyllostachys pubesence and Dendrocalamus farinosuswere selected as priority species by farmers in 13 provinces where bamboo was used in the reforestation programme.

A case study in Guizhou Province covered a total plantation area of 38,466 ha of which 30,066 ha was planted with bamboo, mainly Dendrocalamus farinosus and Bambusa rigida. Before the planting started the slopes were covered with abandoned farmland, and after 8 years the area is a lush bamboo forest

In Sichuan Province, bamboo was used to restore the fragmented habitat of the Giant Panda. Due to agricultural expansion, unplanned landuse and development pressures, the former bamboo habitat of the Giant Panda has been fragmented and reduced. Grain for Green project and a landscape restoration programme in response to the 2008 earthquake provided resources to re-engineer the landscape and restore the bamboo habitat.

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The two photos above show the landscape around Xiakou village, Yaan County, Sichuan, China before planting in 2002 and afterwards in 2010. Photos by Yang Hanmei.

Bamboo has more recently also been planted as a means to create a carbon sink. Bamboo absorbs as much CO2 as a woody tree, and research in China has indicated that in comparison bamboo is a better CO2 sink than Chinese fir- one of the fast growing sub-tropical tree species. The China Green Carbon Foundation planted 47 Hectares of barren land in Lin’an County, Zhejiang Province, China in 2007 with Phyllostachys pubescens. After just five years, the site was covered in bamboo, and Alibaba company paid USD30,000 on 1 November 2011 to buy the 8155 ton CO2equivalent generated by the plantation. As bamboo is a grass species and not a tree, planting bamboo will help countries reach their REDD+ targets, while harvesting bamboo does not contribute to deforestation.

Cut bamboo can also play a role in erosion control and landscape restoration. In Ethiopia, local research found that check dams constructed with a frame made of local bamboo mats are much cheaper than gabion check dams. The bamboo ones work best in small gullies in the uppermost parts of the catchments. In the main valley, where there is risk of violent flash floods, the bamboo check dams cannot be used.

Another interesting example of landscape restoration with bamboo comes from Thailand. Along the coast of Kok Kham island, bamboo breakwaters and bamboo fencing have been used to reverse coastal erosion. 3″ diameter and 5m length bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) culms were used to build walls on the coastal mudflats, up to 4m above ground. The bamboo structure dissipates the wave energy and reduces wind velocity near the coast, and causes deposition of silt with an average 0.46m/year while there is loss of sediment in the neighbouring area without similar structures. The deposited sediment has a lot of food nutrient which is suitable for recovery of mangroves, and the bamboo walls therefore enable mangrove restoration to take place more effectively.

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Mangrove protection by bamboo fences in Kok Kham Thailand

All this illustrates how effective and useful bamboo can be in repairing degraded land and restoring ecosystem functions. The added advantage of including bamboo in restoration initiatives is the fact that it can be used for many purposes. There are reportedly 2000 different uses of bamboo products, ranging from pulp and paper to textile, from food to a source of renewable energy, and bamboo is a versatile construction alternative to wood.