Bamboo, rattan and FOCAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella

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

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

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With President of Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso

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

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With the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina

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

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

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BARC 2018 – what an experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gunter Pauli

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

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

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

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

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State Minister for Environment of Uganda, HE Mary Goretti Kitutu

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

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

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John Hardy

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

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

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

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

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Congratulating IFAD Associate Vice-President, Ms Charlotte Salford

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a fantastic experience this was!

Bamboo and Rattan Business in Ghana

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

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Michael Kwaku and Paul Osei Tutu – INBAR Office

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

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

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

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

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Janette Poku Akom and Gloria Asare Adu

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

Greening “One Belt-One Road” with bamboo and rattan

Greening “One Belt – One Road” with bamboo and rattan

This morning, I attended the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) Annual General Meeting for a discussion about the greening of the “One Belt One Road” initiative. President Xi Jinping launched the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road in 2013, as two major regional cooperation efforts, and they are now referenced as the “One Belt One Road” initiative.

At the heart of “One Belt – One Road” lies the creation of an economic land belt that includes countries on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as a maritime road that links China’s port facilities with Southeast and South Asia and the African coast, pushing up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. But it has developed into a major Regional development plan, and an opportunity to promote South-South cooperation amongst the 60+ countries involved.

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Another Chinese innovation is the concept of eco-civilisation, which was incorporated into the Communist Party of China Charter at the 18th National Congress in 2012, indicating that it has been elevated to the center of China’s national development strategy. The core aim of eco-civilization is to balance the relationship between humanity and nature. Eco-civilisation is based on the socio-economic-environmental triangle of sustainable development, but also takes into account cultural and institutional considerations.  I have talked about eco-civilization in previous reports about the Eco-Forum Global in Guiyang, Guizhou.

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This CCICED meeting in Beijing brought together a group of experts to present their thoughts and recommendations about greening the “One Belt-One Road” initiative, and I was given the opportunity to speak about bamboo and rattan. I presented the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) as the first Inter-Governmental Organisation based in China and I explained how bamboo and rattan contribute to all 5 aspects of eco-civilisation.

  • Economically, bamboo and rattan currently represent a market value of nearly USD 60 billion, with China as the dominant producer and Europe and USA as the two main consumers.
  • Environmentally, bamboo and rattan provide opportunities for sustainable natural resources management, land restoration, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation. I reminded the audience that the Giant Panda depends on healthy bamboo vegetation for its survival.
  • Socially, bamboo and rattan cultivation and small and medium enterprise development provides jobs and income for local poor communities. Some 7.5million people are engaged in bamboo industry in China and this is expected to rise to 10 million by 2020.
  • Culturally, bamboo and rattan have been used for construction and production of furniture and household utensils for thousands of years, while bamboo is a traditional source of household energy. Both plants feature in local village life and play an important role in many traditions and ceremonies.
  • Institutionally, bamboo development requires inter-sector coordination, as the plants and their products fall under the purview of several authorities, including those responsible for forestry, agriculture, environment, rural development, energy and small scale industries.
Wayanad Bamboo in India.  Photo: Wikimedia

Wayanad Bamboo in India. Photo: Wikimedia

I reminded the audience that bamboo and rattan grow in many of the countries covered by the “One Belt One Road” initiative, and I made the point that bamboo and rattan therefore are excellent opportunities to promote green development in these countries. I explained that China is already providing training and capacity building for bamboo entrepreneurs, and promoting South-South collaboration in the field of bamboo and rattan development, bilaterally and through INBAR.

There is progress, and there are positive signs for global bamboo and rattan innovation and development. But – with proper planning and increased coordination, we can do a lot more!

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!

Back in Vietnam to discuss bamboo and rattan

I lived in Vietnam from 1994 to 2000, and visited several times until 2004, when I moved to Switzerland.  I have not been back since, and all-of-a-sudden found myself back in Hanoi.

The reason was two-fold. One the one hand, the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is the focal point for INBAR in Vietnam. They had sent a message that they would like to discuss future collaboration between INBAR and Vietnam. One the other hand, INBAR received messages from SNV – Netherlands Development Organisation in Hanoi who are supporting the Provincial authorities in Thanh Hoa Province in their efforts to develop a bamboo strategy and action plan for the province.

I therefore travelled to Hanoi for a day of discussions with MARD and SNV. I also met my old friend Nguyen Minh Thong, who took over from me as IUCN Country Representative when I left late 1999, and who is now the Country Representative of Fairventures Worldwide. Thong is also advisor to the Vietnam Green Building Council and he talked passionately about the opportunity to use bamboo as a sustainable building material in Vietnam.

I stayed in the Sofitel Plaza, which used to be the Meritus Hotel when my wife and I lived in Hanoi. We used to be members of the hotel’s fitness club and swimming pool in the late nineties, as we lived nearby. I went in search of our old house near Truc Bac Lake and found this has not changed much from the outside. Getting to places on foot is a challenge in Hanoi, as there are so many motorcycles and mopeds, and the pavements are often occupied with parked cars, hawkers or groups of people playing a game or chatting.

Lac Trinh street in Hanoi

Lac Trinh street in Hanoi

My discussions at the ministry and SNV were very constructive. Vietnam is very keen to develop its bamboo resources. According to MARD, out of the total area of nearly 14 million hectares of forests in Vietnam, 518,000 hectares are bamboo forest, and 673,000 hectares are mixed tress and bamboo forest. In addition, there are 87,000 hectares of bamboo plantation. This is a total of 1.278 hectares or roughly 9% of the total forest area in Vietnam. Thanh Hoa has the largest area of Luong bamboo (Dendrocalamus barbatu) in Vietnam, with over 80,000 hectares of natural bamboo forest and 71,000 hectares of planted bamboo, largely under household management.

Both MARD and SNV are asking INBAR to provide technical support in developing bamboo utilisation plans at national and provincial level. MARD explained that the main missing link is market access and appropriate technology for bamboo development, but they are also looking forward to working together on sustainable production of rattan.  Thanh Hoa Province is partially looking at its internal market, but SNV agreed that technology transfer is a key issue for the province as well. I took on board all the requests and comments, and we will discuss internally how best to respond, but it seems to me that INBAR has fantastic opportunities in Vietnam.

In the evening, I took a taxi to the centre of old Hanoi – Hoan Kiem Lake. This is a historical part of town, which still looks the same as in the early nineties. I read in the local newspaper – Vietnam News – that at a workshop earlier in the week, architects and cultural experts had agreed that no new high-rise buildings should be constructed around the lake to maintain the current outlook.

Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi

Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi

It was a joy to saunter around the lake and to lose myself in the old town. Hanoi is a very social city with people sitting on small stools along the road and on terraces and porches, chatting, drinking and eating.

What a pleasure to be in Hanoi again.  The discussions I had with MARD and SNV suggest that I will be back before too long.