Bamboo in Europe

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

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

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

MASONE-LABYRINTHE2

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

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

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

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

la-bambouseraie

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

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

bamboo-planting-Tanzania

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

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

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

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Bamboo for Land Restoration

Late last week, I returned from Ordos in Inner Mongolia, where I attended the High-Level Segment of the UNCCD COP13.  It was a busy three days, and I had a number of meetings and events to attend.  I travelled to Ordos from Beijing together with INBAR Director of Host Country Communications Dr Wu Junqi and INBAR Global Policy Officer Dan Mejia.

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The first day started with the official opening by Vice-Premier Wang Yang, and keynote speeches by the UNCCD Secretary-General Monique Barbut and State Forestry Administrator Zhang Jianlong.  INBAR is official Observer to the Convention, so we had our spot amongst the other Inter-Governmental Organisations.  The first day ended with a spectacular meal for VIPs to the COP, and I was very happy to meet the representative from Haiti during dinner.  We talked a lot about the help that bamboo could bring to poor, unemployed youth in Haiti, but creating a source of material for construction, design and other uses.

Minister-dinner (5)

INBAR had a booth in the exhibition hall, to make publicity about INBAR, and in particular about the global Bamboo and Rattan Congress that we are organizing in June next year (BARC2018).  Nura Demuyakor and Michelle Liu had arrived earlier in the week, and Dr Li Zhiyong, Deputy Director-General joined me the following day.  The booth turned out to be an excellent venue for bilateral meetings, and a good place to sit and check email correspondence.  It attracted good deal of attention, and we shared many brochures and gave lots of information about bamboo, rattan, INBAR and BARC2018.

INBAR-team

We used the booth to good effect.  I talked with the Director of Forestry of Togo about the interest to develop joint action.  Togo has both bamboo and rattan resources, but we know little about the available natural capital, or about the potential value chains that we can develop in the country.  We agreed that a rapid appraisal would be very useful, and I offered INBAR help to make such an assessment.

I briefly talked to the Director of Forestry of the Comoros, and stressed the point that we can help with the development of a bamboo charcoal industry.  Comoros Ambassador Mahmoud Aboud has told me in the past that the Comoros imports charcoal from Thailand, and I explained to the Director of Forestry that Comoros could produce its own charcoal from bamboo.

We met with the delegation from COMIFAC, the Central African Forestry Commission, and talked about cooperation.  COMIFAC represents 10 countries in the Congo Basin of Central Africa, and aims at sustainable forest management.  The Executive Secretary, Mr Ndomba Ngoye, is keen to forge a partnership with INBAR and we talked about the possibility to launch a Memorandum of Understanding between both organisations during BARC2018.  The Executive Secretary will also reflect on the possibility for COMIFAC to join INBAR as a Regional IGO.

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Meeting with COMIFAC

We talked with Senator Heloo from Ghana, who used to be the Deputy Minister for Environment.  She is keen to develop her small charcoal manufacturing enterprise into a larger industry, and wanted to know if INBAR has experience to help her.  I offered to put her in contact with our Regional Office in Kumasi, Ghana, as they have given training courses in this field.  Later, we met with the official delegation from the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana, led by Hon Patricia Appiagyei, the Deputy Minister.  We talked about Ghana’s Sustainable Land Managemnt programme, and the role of bamboo.  Hon Appiagyei confirmed that Ghana has pledged to re-forest 2 million hectares, and a lot of this will be done with bamboo.  We briefed her about the 20th Anniversary of INBAR in November this year, and the BARC2018 in June next year. I asked about the location of the office in Kumasi, and whether we should try to move to Accra.  The Minister agreed that it would be easier to maintain active communication if we were in Accra, but she informed me that the Government is keen to decentralize responsibilities away from the Capital.  Maybe Kumasi is not such a bad location after all.

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Ghana delegation

We had a long, and very constructive discussion with Zimbabwe Forestry Commissioner Abedinigo Marufu and his team about bamboo in Zimbabwe, potential membership of INBAR and the keen interest from Zimbabwe to develop a bamboo industry.  They were asking for advice on propagation and tissue culture, and on effective methodologies for managing bamboo plantations.  We explained that INBAR Membership is a pre-requisite for a real partnership, but that we can accept Zimbabwe as Observer, if they send a letter of intent.  Mr Marufu thought it would be possible to sort this out before BARC2018, and he asked for more detailed information.

We also met the new Ambassador for Climate Change of Canada, Ms Jennifer Macintyre, and talked about bamboo and climate change.  Canada is a founding member of INBAR, and we talked about the fact that IDRC Canada helped to establish the organization.  I thanked her for the recent letter from Minister McKenna, that guaranteed support for INBAR from Canada for the coming five years.  We talked about possibilities of expanding and strengthening the relationship between Canada and INBAR, and Ambassador Macintyre advised me to contact people in Ottawa with concrete suggestions for collaboration, within the context of South-South Cooperation, and gender-based development.

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Hon Jennifer Macintyre, Canada

In the corridors, I met several old friends and colleagues, and I had a constructive lunch-time meeting with the UNCCD Global Mechanism.  We discussed and agreed that bamboo could play an important role as indicator for Land Degradation Neutrality Targets of countries in the Global South.  This is an issue we need to follow up, as it could be a significant means of support for our members.

I also had a very useful meeting with Madagascar Minister for Environment, Ecology and Forests, Dr Johanita Ndahimananjara and her team.  We are working in Madagascar on bamboo for livelihood improvement with financial support from IFAD, and hope to continue our engagement with a new IFAD grant.  In addition, we have submitted a separate proposal for bamboo and land restoration to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the UN Environment Organisation UNEP.  I also briefed Dr Johanita on our discussions with the French Development Agency (AFD) and the fact that they seem to be interested in working with INBAR on Madagascar.  We talked about the presence of Madagascar at BARC 2018, and I invited the minister to join us next year from 25 to 27 June.  She explained that this is impossible, as Madagascar National Day falls on 26 June, and she has to be in the Capital for the celebrations.  But, she will send one of her technical staff, and she advised that we contact Ambassador Sikonina in Beijing.

Madagascar-group

Madagascar delegation

My last bilateral meeting in Ordos was with Hon Maria Victoria Chiriboga, Undersecretary of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador.  We talked about the fact that the INBAR Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean is in Quito, and Undersecretary Chiriboga is in close contact with our Regional Coordinator Pablo Jacome.  She explained that Ecuador is pursuing a bio-economy, and that the new Government is looking for good examples and easy wins.  She is convinced that bamboo can help, and wanted to know more about the use of bamboo for construction, pulp and paper, textiles and land restoration.  I explained what INBAR has done and is doing, and agreed to provide further information through emails.  We also talked about BARC 2018, and I invited Undersecretary Chiriboga to join us in Beijing next June.  I explained that we hope to launch a new trilateral project between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, with support from IFAD, and we would want senior representatives from each country to join us.

Ecuador

Undersecretary Chiriboga from Ecuador

Apart from the meetings, I attended the High-Level round table: Land degradation neutrality: “From targets to action…what will it take?”, but unfortunately INBAR did not get the opportunity to speak.  So many government representatives wanted to present their case, that the Chair had to end the session before everyone had had the chance to talk.  My case would have been to stress that bamboo offers a sustainable solution to help countries control erosion and reverse environmental degradation.   Bamboos are arguably the fastest-growing plants in the world, and they are natural vegetation in most of the tropical belt throughout the world.  Most bamboo species form an evergreen canopy, dropping leaves throughout the year and providing a perennial source of nutrients, and bamboo plantations are an important carbon sink.

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INBAR also organized a side event, together with FAO and the government of Ethiopia.  The time was not very good, as we started at 8 am, but this was the only slot available.  In the end, more than 50 participants attended the event, which was not bad considering the time.  We had presentations from FAO in Rome and the China State Forestry Administration (SFA), and we had a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia, the vice Minister for Environment of Ghana and the Secretary of State for Environment of Ecuador.  They gave very interesting lectures, with amazing facts and figures.  All of the countries are using bamboo in their work, and I was impressed with some of the ongoing activities.

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Ethiopia Presentation

After the presentations, I facilitated a dialogue with representatives from the World Bank, NEPAD and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, together with the previous speakers from FAO and SFA.  It was a lively discussion, but we did not have enough time to engage with the audience.  The panelists came up with several clear recommendations for INBAR:

  • We need to raise awareness (Paola Agostini from The World Bank said: “ I am convinced about bamboo, but I have real problems getting traction with my colleagues in the Bank”)
  • We need to look for new funding mechanisms (public-private partnerships, the Green Carbon Fund, Venture capitalists, Foundations, and more)
  • We need to strengthen the capacity of our Member states so that they can take on the development challenge
  • We need to engage with new constituencies, especially the private sector

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All-in-all, a very productive time in Ordos!