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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Bamboo for Earthquake Reconstruction

I have just returned from Nepal where I attended the National Consultation Workshop on “Bamboo for Sustainable Post-Disaster Reconstruction in Nepal”. This is one of the activities in a CFC-funded project implemented by INBAR that aims to develop capacity for architects and builders in working with bamboo during the reconstruction after last year’s earthquake on 25 April.

The meeting was hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a fellow member of the Association of International Research and Development Centres for Agriculture (AIRCA).  We had a good turn-out with nearly 100 participants, and the meeting was opened by HE Agni Prasad Sapkota, Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation.

The presentations included recent experiences from two Nepali private sector companies: Himalayan Bamboo (www.himalayanbamboo.com) and abari (www.abari.org). They gave examples of building with bamboo, and stressed that a bamboo house does not have to look like a log cabin, but the final product can have the appearance of a “normal” residence. The following slide from Himalayan Bamboo makes the point:

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Nepal already includes bamboo in its national building code and during the past 15 years, INBAR and its Government focal point the Department of Forest Research and Survey have developed a number of bamboo building systems that meet national and international building standards.

One of the recent success stories is that the Ministry of Education has approved a new design for schools from ABARI that includes bamboo to produce the roof trusses. This could help Nepal rebuild many of the 7000 schools destroyed during the earthquake, which was one of the serious effects of the 2015 earthquake. Unicef estimates that nearly 1 million children have been affected as so many classrooms were damaged or destroyed. This recent agreement to use bamboo in those areas where it grows in abundance is a major step forward to resolve the shortage of teaching facilities.

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After the presentations we had a lively discussion with the audience, with many technical design questions, comments about supply and demand, interactions about government policies and building guidelines and more. One of the participants informed us that the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Kathmandu will include bamboo in its teaching syllabus.

One of the key messages during this discussion is that bamboo is not a “silver bullet” solution for all reconstruction efforts, and most buildings made with bamboo will have other materials in the construction as well. This point was emphasised during the afternoon visit to the building that houses Madan Puraskar Pustkalaya; the largest archive of Nepali literature.

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The original building was badly damaged in the earthquake, and a decision was made to use bamboo as the main structural component in the new construction, and ABARI is taking care of the work. The main vertical supports of the building are made from round bamboo poles that are resting on metal blocks. The bamboo that is used is Bambusa Balcooa; the predominant species in Nepal .

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But, while the main structure is made from bamboo poles, the walls of the building are constructed from rammed earth. This is a process of building by adding layers of soil that re compacted under pressure, creating a solid wall that is as hard as concrete. Other walls will be made by covering wire mesh with concrete and lime.

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The most striking feature of the building is the roof structure, which is made from many intersection pieces of bamboo.  It looks amazing, and will be covered with normal roofing tiles.cropped-roof.jpg

One of the challenges of building with bamboo is how to fix two or more round poles together without cutting the poles. The solution promoted by ABARI is a system that comprises a small metal bar that is inserted across the bamboo poles, and a long screw that is attached to this metal bar and that protrudes beyond the end of the bamboo pole. The screw is then fastened in a metal bracket that holds several bamboo poles together. It is an innovative method that works well, and does not affect the strength of the bamboo poles.

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What intrigued me most was that apart from bamboo and rammed earth, the building also has some concrete beams to hold the first floor.

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This illustrates that a bamboo building does not have to be made of only bamboo, and ABARI stressed the point that a mix of building materials is the best solution. Their main recommendation is to make the roof trusses from bamboo in new construction, which is the best way to avoid future damage from earthquakes, as they bamboo poles will bend but not break!

 

Propping up Pagodas

My wife and I celebrated the start of the Chinese “Year of the Monkey” in Myanmar (Burma). Travelling from Beijing, you arrive in Yangon (formerly Rangoon, and the airline code is still RGN), and we decided to spend a day for sightseeing.

When you are in Yangon, you have to visit the famous Swedagon pagoda.

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The following day we proceeded to Bagan, the ancient capital with its hundreds of pagodas and temples, which was our main reason for the trip. What an unbelievable place.

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Dhammayazaka Pagoda

 

Apparently, real art experts and historians have complained about some of the recent reconstruction work, but for a novice, the many structures on the Bagan plane are amazing. The infrastructure in the area is still rudimentary, with only one or two tarmac main arteries, and most of the access to the many stupas and temples only by small sandy tracks. It therefore feels relatively unspoilt and authentic.

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Re-construction continues until today, and maybe this reflects on the necessity for general upkeep.  I was most interested to see bamboo being used for scaffolding. The area around Bagan is very dry and the natural vegetation seems to comprise only thorn bushes, and I did not see any living bamboo. But a large number of bamboo poles had been shipped in for construction work from other parts of the country.

The main restoration work that I saw was taking place on the façade of the Ananda temple, which is one of the larger temples in Bagan. It has four impressive Buddha statues inside, one on each compass direction.

The northern wing of the temple was being repaired, and bamboo scaffolding covered the walls and part of the roof. I was happy to see that the scaffolding was well constructed and sturdy.

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Some years ago, INBAR published guidelines on the erection of bamboo scaffolding.  These guidelines were based on research in Hong Kong, but they are applicable in all situations.  I was pleased to see that this construction in Myanmar follows some of the recommendations of the INBAR guidelines.

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The bamboo scaffolding appeared very solid, and clearly provides a good working platform for the stone-masons.  There was even a bamboo stair case to get to the upper levels.

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The tour of Ananda Temple was memorable, and it was interesting and rewarding to also include a bamboo aspect in my visit.

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!

Land Degradation Neutrality and bamboo industry

I attended the 12th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Ankara.  The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is a new Observer to UNCCD, and I am was invited to participate in the high level events.

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Today, I was part of the dialogue with the private sector, and I was pleased to give our thoughts about private sector support to Land Degradation Neutrality.

Bamboo is arguably the world’s most important non-timber forest product, representing a growing economic sector worth some 60 billion USD every year. In many countries, potential gains are growing at a rapid pace. For example, in China, production was valued at 19.5 billion USD in 2012 – representing an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2010. And in India, where some 8.6 million people depend for their livelihoods on bamboo and the industries it supplies, the plant was projected to create value equal to 4.4 billion USD this year – around 130 times the 34 million USD recorded in 2003.

This rapid growth is attributable to the plant’s versatility and the multiple uses it lends itself to. Bamboo products include furniture, flooring and construction materials, pulp, paper and fabrics. Engineered materials and innovative fabrication techniques have also enabled the emergence of prefabricated bamboo houses made with laminated bamboo boards, veneers and panels.

Bhutan house under construction

Bhutan house under construction

In the years and decades ahead, bamboo’s economic role is likely to expand at an accelerating pace – as other forest resources become strained under climate change, as the imperative to mitigate climate change enforces less dependence on fossil fuels, as water stress forces us to look for crops that do not require irrigation and as research discovers new applications for this valuable plant.

The expansion of bamboo commodity production provides an opportunity to harness the plant’s many environmental benefits. Bamboo is an effective tool to improve soil health and control erosion and slope stability: it has an extensive root system that helps bind soil, and an evergreen canopy that drops leaves year round, providing a perennial source of nutrients. It also thrives on problem soils and steep slopes, playing a potentially important role in efforts to reverse land degradation, and as an effective tool to help achieve Land Degradation Neutrality and support SDG15.

Increasing demand will also deliver economic benefits to rural communities: the rise of industrial bamboo production creates new value chains that rural communities and SMEs can supply and opportunities for them to benefit economically from growing export markets. Bamboo can be harvested on an annual basis, as all bamboos are grass species. This makes it a particularly sustainable opportunity for small and medium business development.

La Florida, Peru

La Florida, Peru

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan represents currently 41 Member States, containing more than half the world’s population. We believe that there is great potential to link the potential use of bamboo for land restoration with the opportunity to develop profitable value chains for bamboo production.

Bamboo, rattan and the future of forest governance

I attended the 11th meeting of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York in May this year, as the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) is an official observer. We had several events planned, and the main objective was to raise awareness about bamboo and rattan, and to reconfirm our interest in joining the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

One of our main activities was a side event to talk about the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan (GABAR). The meeting was very successful, and the room was full to capacity. Minister Robert Pickersgill from Jamaica gave a welcome speech, and Vice-Minister Zhang Yongli from China presented a key-note address. Minister Nii Osah Mills from Ghana and Minister Ralava Beboarimisa from Madagascar also attended the event. We had three case studies from China, Ecuador and Kenya, and they were informative and presented interesting facts and figures.

UNFF11 INBAR side event

UNFF11 INBAR side event

The main outcome of UNFF11 was a ministerial declaration and a resolution about the International Arrangement on Forests beyond 2015 (IAF). The final approved text has now been released, and this has many interesting aspects for bamboo and rattan, and for INBAR.

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rattan fruit

The IAF is composed of the UNFF itself, the abovementioned CPF, the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network and the Trust Fund for the UNFF. As INBAR has requested to join the CPF, we would be considered a component of IAF as soon as our request has been approved. For the moment we will be seen as a partner to IAF.

The objectives of IAF are to promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, and to enhance the contribution of all types of forests and trees outside forests to the post-2015 development agenda. This description clearly includes rattan and bamboo both inside natural forests, in plantations and in agro-forestry plots. Bamboo is often grown around the homestead, and traditionally that would not be considered part of forestry. The new IAF text takes a different view.

Farmer and buffalo in Allahabad, India

Farmer and buffalo in Allahabad, India

IAF specifically says that it will foster South-South and triangular cooperation. As a Membership union of 41 States, comprising 40 countries in the Global South and Canada, INBAR has been practicing South-South and triangular cooperation ever since its creation in 1997. We therefore are glad that IAF stresses this aspect of international development.

According to IAF, the core functions of UNFF are to provide a platform for policy development, dialogue, cooperation and coordination on issues related to all types of forests and to promote international policy development on issues related to all types on forests. This means that UNFF will include rattan and bamboo in its work, and INBAR has a key role in supporting UNFF with regards to these two important Non-Timber Forest Products.

IAF says that the newly created Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network will give special consideration to the needs of Africa. This is particularly relevant to INBAR, as 18 of our Member States are from Africa, and there is great potential to develop sustainable bamboo and rattan development activities throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Bamboo in Ghana

Bamboo in Ghana

During the coming year, the CPF will assess its membership and will consider the potential added value of additional members with significant forest-related expertise. INBAR has requested to become a member of the CPF, and this statement suggests that our request will most likely be considered favourably.

The IAF stresses the need to ensure coherence and consistency with the post-2015 development agenda and relevant multi-lateral agreements. INBAR has already spelt out the significance of bamboo and rattan for the SDGs, and is proud to be observer to UNFCCC, UNSSD and CBD.

The Ministerial Declaration that was also produced at UNFF11 supports all the issues mentioned above, and stresses the relevance of UNFF.

So, apart from our successful side event and my speaking slots during the meeting in New York, the outcome of UNFF11 also supports the work of INBAR. It was time well spent!