Bamboo and Rattan Business in Ghana

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

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Michael Kwaku and Paul Osei Tutu – INBAR Office

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

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

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

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

Janette and Gloria

Janette Poku Akom and Gloria Asare Adu

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

OneBelt-OneRoad

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.

rattan fruit

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.

 

USD 60 billion – the total value of trade in bamboo and rattan?

INBAR has just released an analysis of the 2012 international trade figures of bamboo and rattan products. This is an important report with an in-depth review of the international import and export of bamboo and rattan, recorded in the United Nations Comtrade database. INBAR is the International Commodity Body for bamboo and rattan, and therefore it monitors the international trade.

The report concludes that in 2012 the international trade in bamboo and rattan amounted to USD 1.9 billion. However, these figures are questionable, for the following reasons:

  • There is a limited number of so-called HS codes that can be used to describe products that are exported or imported. More HS Codes for bamboo and rattan have recently been approved by the World Customs Organisation, but these new codes will not come into operation until 2017
  • Some countries still include bamboo and rattan products in wood products when they report their trade, as they do not use the HS codes effectively. This could be due to a lack of understanding or recognition of bamboo and rattan products
  • Not all countries register their trade figures consistently and accurately. This can be a result of lack of awareness, or the need for training of those responsible for reporting the trade figures.

The recorded international trade of bamboo and rattan products in 2012 was nearly USD 2 billion, and the predictions for 2015 amount to USD 2.5 billion, but the shortcomings that I have just listed mean that the real figure could be much more.

Even if we assume that the figure for international trade is double what we have recoded, cross-border import and export is dwarfed by the domestic market, and the total value for trade of bamboo and rattan globally is therefore a lot more than the international trade figures would suggest.   Let me explain.

We have a fairly good idea of the domestic trade in China, as the State Forestry Administration of China has a bamboo development plan. According to the official statistics, the national production value of bamboo industry increased to USD 19.5 billion in 2012 from USD 13 billion in 2010, with an annual grow of 16%. Using the same figure of growth for the following years, the production value of bamboo industry of China in 2015 can be expected to be as high as USD 36billion.

In a bamboo handicrafts factory in Anji County, Zhejiang Province

In a bamboo handicrafts factory in Anji County, Zhejiang Province

 

 

The other main bamboo producer in Asia is India. In 2011, the Forest Service of India reported a total cover of bamboo forests in India of nearly 14 million Hectares, which is more than double the 6.7 million Hectares of bamboo reported by the State Forestry Administration of China in 2013. Yet, despite the fact that there is such a large amount of bamboo available in India, the potential size of bamboo industry of India in 2015 is estimated as USD 4.35 billion in a recent report by Aniket Baksy.

This must be an underestimate, but there are no reliable up-to-date statistics for bamboo trade in India, maybe due to the fact that in many States bamboo is simply included in forest and timber statistics. I know that the bamboo industry in India is not as developed as the bamboo industry in China, but I cannot believe that the production is only one-tenth of what China produces.

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Using the figures above, the total domestic market of China and India, the two most important traditional bamboo producers in Asia, and arguably in the world, would amount to at least USD 40 billion by 2015, but it is presumably more.

Although we have little or no information, it is very likely that a domestic market also exists in other traditional bamboo producing countries in Asia, like Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. There must also be a local market in Brazil and Mexico in Latin America, and in some African countries with significant bamboo resources such as Ethiopia and RDC.

We have no real figures, but using the trade distribution in the international market in 2012, the domestic market of bamboo products in the major producing countries, excluding China and India, can be estimated to be at least USD 5.5 billion in 2012. This is again a gross under-estimate as we have no statistics for DRC, and Brazil does not record its trade in bamboo. Yet, these countries both have significant bamboo resources, simply by virtue of the size of the country.

If we use the figure of USD 5.5 billion as the baseline, and we apply the same 16% growth for other countries as experienced in China during the past years, there will be an additional USD 9 billion by 2015.  This would lead to a combined total value of domestic trade in bamboo products of nearly USD 50 billion, which is more than ten times the value of the recorded international trade.

Bamboo sculpture from the Philippines.  Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua, INBAR

Bamboo sculpture from the Philippines. Photo by Prof Zhu Zhao Hua, INBAR

The area of natural rattan distribution is much smaller than the natural cover of bamboos. Using the percentages of bamboo and rattan products in international trade, an amount of USD 6.2 billion can be estimated for the domestic market for rattan products in the major rattan producing countries in 2012. As the general view holds that rattan trade is not expanding very much, or maybe even contracting, we can assume the same figure of USD 6.2 billion for 2015.

Using these estimates above, the global trade of bamboo and rattan products in 2015 can be considered to have a value in the order of USD 60 billion. But, as I said earlier, these figures are most likely still gross under-estimates, and INBAR will try to get better information directly from the countries during the coming years. I cannot make any founded suggestions about the real figures, but the real value of global trade in bamboo and rattan products must be more than USD 60 billion. This is serious business!

Eco-civilisation, and what does bamboo have to do with it

A few weeks ago, I attended the Eco Forum Global in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in southern China. This was the fifth annual meeting of the forum, and it turned out to be a higher-profile event than I had expected. I met the President of Ethiopia and his Minister of Environment, the Prime-minister and his deputy from Malta, the Vice Prime Minister from China and several other high-ranking diplomats.

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The Forum promotes the introduction of eco-civilisation and eco-culture. Ecological civilization is a concept proposed in 2007 by Hu Jintao, the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It reflects an important change in the Party’s understanding of development. Rather than emphasizing economic construction as the core of development as it did in the past, the Chinese authorities realised that development, if sustainable, must include the right relationship between man and nature.

The political decision was a very important first step, but China will need to put the relationship of its huge population with nature in a new perspective: consider nature as part of our life rather than something we can exploit without restraint. In a way, it is finding back the strong link that has existed with nature for centuries. Bamboo has always been part of life in China, and neighboring countries, but the accelerated economic development during the past decades has changed the priorities. The party leadership, and therefore the Government as a whole has realized this is no longer sustainable, and eco-civilization is an expression of the new thinking.

sustainable-development

China talks of eco-civilisation, but this is not very different from the concept of sustainable development promoted by the rest of the world. After all, the integration of social and economic development with environmental protection aims for the same goal of working with nature, rather than exploiting nature without controls. INBAR uses the term “inclusive and green development”, and co-civilisation and inclusive development are both concepts that are based on the recognition that nature is part of life, and that humans and nature need to live in harmony in order to achieve sustainable development. Whether we use the term sustainable development or green development, we mean that nature, culture and economic development are working in synchrony, not in conflict. Bamboo and rattan are excellent examples of plants that provide both environmental services and economic goods to support human society. I therefore felt “at home” in the Eco Forum Global, and was happy to lead a discussion about the many ways in which bamboo and rattan can help to achieve sustainable development and eco-civilisation.

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Eco-culture is a society that has embraced the concepts of eco-civilisation and sustainable development, and bamboo and rattan have helped populations of many countries to do so for generations. While both species provide the raw material for a whole range of products, the natural living plants have formed part of the East Asian landscape as long as we can remember. The typical ancient pen-and-ink drawings of bamboo landscape and culture in China are recognised the world over, and natural bamboo forests provide the habitat for some charismatic species like the Giant and the Red Panda. But, bamboo forests also give life to the Mountain Gorilla in the Ruwenzori Mountains of East Africa, the Golden Lemur in Madagascar and the Bale monkey in Ethiopia.

Bale monkey in Ethiopia.  Photo by Jennifer Corinne Veilleux

Bale monkey in Ethiopia. Photo by Jennifer Corinne Veilleux

Bamboo as a commodity has also played a role in the culture of many societies for centuries, and what is so exciting is that its role has adapted over time. It has provided traditional music instruments like the Pan flute in Peru, or the Angklung in Indonesia, but bamboo instruments are still used today by music ensembles and orchestras. Bamboo paper was used as the canvas for calligraphy in East Asia in ancient times, but modern bamboo pulp can provide eco-friendly paper made from a sustainable source of fibre, and recently patented processing has enabled paper to be made from bamboo pulp without the use of chemicals. Ancient bamboo tools are forerunners of some of the plastic utensils used by modern society, but modern cooks around the world use bamboo chopping boards in the kitchen as they are strong and eco-friendly.

Maybe most striking are the developments in the construction and interior design sectors. Traditional bamboo and rattan furniture has been used for centuries around the homestead in the Global South and in the gardens of many European households, but modern designers have found bamboo and rattan as a source for state-of-the-art creations, such as the iconic bamboo chair from Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen.

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Bamboo has been one of the main eco-friendly construction materials in the tropics, as it is strong but flexible, resilient but soft to touch, insect-proof and easily replaceable. Bamboo and rattan are the raw material for some amazing traditional creations, including bridges, houses and other structures. But also in the world of construction has bamboo adapted with time, and it now is the foundation for some eye-catching modern structures, not only in Asia but also in other parts of the world.

Bus shelter in USA, by www.bamboo.us

Bus shelter in USA, by http://www.bamboo.us

The Eco Global Forum in Guiyang launched a code of conduct to promote eco-civilisation and to recognise the importance of eco-culture. One of the tasks of the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) will be to promote bamboo and rattan as eco-friendly species and commodities, which will contribute in many ways to the achievement of these goals.