Bamboo for Urban Development

Last week, I attended the International Forum on Green Urbanisation in Langfang, China, which was organized by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Green Global Growth Institute (GGGI).

Langfang is a satellite town of Beijing, approximately 90 minutes from the centrum of the Capital.  It is part of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei urbanised region in Northern China, and has announced to become an eco-city.  The Mayor of Langfang had invited the organisers to come to Langfang for an exchange of information and discussion of potential green urban development options.

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MEP was represented by the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), a major think-tank in China.  We were invited by both CCICED and GGGI to participate in the Forum, and I had bilateral meetings with Guo Jing, Director-General of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Environment Protection and GGGI Director-General Frank Rijsberman to discuss closer cooperation.

The Forum involved a large number of national and international urban development experts, and the presentations covered energy, transport, urban development and more.

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I was happy to provide one of the opening speeches, and stressed the possibilities of bamboo in urban development.  I made the point that bamboo should be included in urban parks and green spaces, that bamboo can help mitigate carbon emissions from cities, that bamboo charcoal can be a sustainable source of household fuel and that bamboo can help with soil and water management.  I also stressed that bamboo as a product can play a major role in interior design and construction.  I believe that my ideas were well received.

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One of the key speakers was CCICED Senior Advisor, and former Minister Liu Shijin, who presented economic facts and figures.  He warned us that the economic downturn in China is real, and that we should not expect a major upturn after a few years.  He reckons the downward spiral will bottom out next year at 5% growth, and that this will be the norm for many years to come.  He promised long-term stability after 2018, but at a medium range economic growth, rather than the high growth experienced several years ago.

He also stressed that the main urbanization in China will continue to be focused in the three large metropolitan circles of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.

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Another presentation that provided an interesting perspective was that by Donovan Story, the GGGI Deputy Director and Global Lead on Green Cities.  He reminded us that by 2050 more than 6 Billion people, or 70% of the global population, will live in cities.

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He cited as main challenges in urban development the fact that there is still a divide between urban and rural societies, and urban areas are seen as sectors that focus on infrastructure.  Instead, he advocated a Green City approach that is inclusive and looks at environmental, social and economic aspects of development.  He called for smart, green and sustainable cities that improve energy efficiency and promote renewable energy; that close the waste/resource loop and improve access to clean water and sanitation; that are connected and walkable, pro-poor and inclusive.

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After lunch, Professor Qi Ye from the School of Public Policy & Management of Qinghua University, reiterated the rapid urban growth, and warned that the rural population is actually starting to shrink.  He also reminded us that 800 years ago, the Chinese Capital city had more than 1 million people, and in those days more than 20% of the population lived in urban areas.

Prof Qi showed how different energy sources have fueled the economic growth during the past decades.   Starting with biomass and coal as the main power source, oil, gas, hydro and nuclear power are playing a more important role.  In the big picture, other renewables hardly show up.

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Finally, Prof Qi talked about the future, and he stressed that new urbanization is a combination of compact, green, smart and low carbon

Nicholas You from World Future Council talked about “from smart cities to sustainable regions”. He presented several very interesting case studies from around the world.  This included the high-tech coordinated approach in Rio de Janeiro; the inclusive consultation processes in Bristol, UK and the integrated planning approach in Singapore.  I was astounded to hear that Singapore recycles all it used water, and that excess run-off during rain storms is collected in a maze of wetlands, parks and smaller reservoirs.

Nicholas advocated that we should have one Key Performance Indicator for urban development, and he suggested this to be human health and welfare.

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The third session, after tea break included a presentation by Marijn van der Wagt from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment about the Dutch perspective.  She stressed the consultative approach in the Netherlands, and explained that Dutch people are generally happy in small spaces.  She also mentioned that there are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands!

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Liu Kewei from INBAR gave a very interesting presentation about bamboo construction and how this can contribute to green urbanization.  She showed examples of bamboo design and architecture from around the world, and made the case that there is an important role for bamboo.   After all, bamboos are grasses, so any products manufactured from bamboo did not involve logging of timber and cutting of trees.

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She also explained that INBAR is the Liaison Organisation for ISO Technical Committee 165 for timber structures.  As Convener of the working group on structural uses of bamboo, INBAR has helped to develop national and local standards for bamboo construction in several countries.

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There were many other presentations about rural heating, urban planning, energy assessments, and other interesting aspects, and I learned a lot.  It is clear that the challenge to find ways in which to make future cities nice living spaces is enormous.

I hope that the examples provided during this interesting forum will help planners in China and abroad, and that urban planners, architects and designers will think about bamboo when they prepare their blue-prints.

 

 

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Bamboo for Sustainable Cities

Last month, I was in Shenzhen, southern China, where I spoke at the first International Forest City Conference about using bamboo for urban parks and human wellbeing. This conference brought together some 400 participants from around the world and all over China, to discuss green urban development, within Chinese parameters. The concept of Forest Cities was launched several years ago, and it is resonating in China as a way to express eco-civilisation and eco-culture in an urban context.

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Eco-civilisation is sustainable development within a Chinese context. It includes the three traditional socio-economic and environmental aspects of development, but incorporates also culture and governance. Eco-civilisation started as a scientific concept, but it is now fully supported by the Chinese political leadership, as was explained during the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development that I attended in Beijing in December.

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Eco-civilisation is China’s way to protect the environment, restore degraded ecosystems and raise awareness about resource efficiency and green economic development. This includes the promotion of renewable energy in cities to curb pollution, but also re-thinking spatial planning and the need for green spaces. The 42 Member States of INBAR have identified 6 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) where bamboo and rattan can make a significant difference, and this includes SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities.

INBAR’s main entry point for SDG 11 is the first target that aims to “ensure access to adequate, safe and affordable housing”, as bamboo is a cheap and secure building material in the Global South. INBAR has just carried out an assessment of the damage that bamboo constructions sustained after the earthquake in Ecuador, and the findings support the assumption that bamboo bends but does not break.

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Unlike many brick and concrete buildings, Most of the bamboo constructions in the earth-quake affected area are still standing, often with only minor damage.

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In the Andean Region, bamboo is predominantly used as round poles in the so called Bahareque building methodology. INBAR has recently produced guidelines for this particular method of construction in partnership with ARUP (http://www.arup.com/). This is the first time that we have published a report together with a large global firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, Working with a renowned global industry player is a way to confirm that the construction is sound from an engineering perspective, and not just promotion of bamboo by INBAR.

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Round pole construction can be extremely impressive, as is illustrated by the buildings constructed by Simón Vélez, a world famous bamboo architect from Colombia. For Expo Hanover 2000, he designed and constructed a 2000-square-meter bamboo pavilion for ZERI Foundation. It was the first time in history that a bamboo structure received a building permit in Germany.  He also made impressive structures in his native Colombia, including this amazing church.

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Church in Colombia by Simon Velez

 

In 2009, Simon Velez was recipient of the coveted Prince Claus Award, in recognition of his use of bamboo in construction. The award is annually awarded by the Prince Claus Fund, which is named in honor of Prince Claus of The Netherlands.

The round bamboo poles can also be transformed into square beams and planks through splitting the pole and glueing the pieces together under pressure. This is the preferred technology in China, and the “engineered bamboo” provides a full range of construction and architecture opportunities. INBAR is working closely with Moso International from the Netherlands, to promote this particular use of bamboo, and the photo below of Schiphol Airport Lounge 2 is a recent example of their work.

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Schiphol Airport by Moso International BV

 

Another target SDG 11 – target 7 – aims to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities. This is where I focused my contribution to the International Forest City Conference.  Research in the University of Sheffield in 2015 found that urban green spaces provide environmental benefits through their effects on negating urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and attenuating storm water. They also have direct health benefits by providing urban residents spaces for physical activity and social interaction, and allowing psychological restoration to take place.

In Europe and the USA, these open spaces are normally planted with trees and bushes, but there is no reason why in the tropics green urban spaces cannot be planted with bamboo. Shenzhen has good examples of this.  On the internet, I found reference to the Jade Bamboo Cultural Plaza in Shenzhen, which is a recent urban development project by a local company (http://www.urbanus.com.cn/projects/jade-bamboo-cultural-plaza/?lang=en). Bamboo is used in the natural vegetation islands, as bamboos are indigenous to Shenzhen.

During the conference, I visited the Shenzhen bamboo park, which is an extensive public space with a good collection of different bamboo species that provides room for recreation, exercise and general wellbeing. The park straddles a hill, and the main path is a circular walk, with diversions to the left and right. There is a lot of bamboo, and there are carvings and statues focused on bamboo.

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This park in Shenzhen reminded me also of the Black Bamboo Park (formerly Purple Bamboo Park) in Beijing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Bamboo_Park). This is another large park with many bamboo species that is used for Tai Chi, dancing, exercise and all sorts of pastimes. The Beijing bamboo park is flat and has several lakes, but there is as much bamboo in the Black Bamboo Garden as there is in the Shenzhen Bamboo Park.

black-bamboo-garden

I dealt with another aspect of urban development and bamboo in early December, when I signed the partnership agreement with the Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites (ERCBWC) of the China State Forestry Administration. ERCBWC promotes the development of innovative composite material through winding of bamboo fibres. One of the key products that they are manufacturing are pipes for storm drainage or waste water transport, that can be used in an urban environment. The key characteristic is that the fibres used are bamboo fibres, instead of silica or other more expensive and less environmental fibres. The bamboo winding pipes are as durable as other pipes, have a lower carbon and environmental footprint and – most important – are cheaper than traditional alternatives. This could be a practical example of green procurement!

bamboo-winding-composite-pipe-factory

Bamboo certainly has a place for urban parks and human wellbeing in China. It could have a similar role in the urban environment of other countries with natural bamboo, which was the subject of a conference in Pittsburgh earlier on the year. The resulting “Pittsburgh Declaration” is a call for action by leading construction experts to ensure bamboo plays a critical role in the provision of safe and affordable housing, and becomes a key driver of greener urban environments. http://www.inbar.int/sites/default/files/Pittsburgh%20Declaration.pdf

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Bamboo and Rattan in Cameroon

I have just returned from Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon in Central Africa. Cameroon is a country with extensive forest resources, and it is a member of the Central African Forest Commission, COMIFAC. Since 2002, Cameroon is also a member of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan – INBAR. In 2013, Cameroon and INBAR signed a Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate the promotion of bamboo and rattan in the country, and to work together towards a bamboo and rattan programme.

Last year, we agreed to co-host a bamboo and rattan workshop in Yaoundé as an expression of the MoU, and this was postponed to 2016, after recruiting Rene Kaam from Cameroon in the INBAR Headquarters in Beijing.  During the discussion of the details of the workshop, we realised that this was rapidly becoming more than just a workshop, and in the end it was officially opened on Thursday 11 August 2016 as the Regional Conference on Bamboo and Rattan. The conference had three key sessions, dealing respectively with construction, land restoration and value chain development.  The sessions involved speakers and participants from 16 other INBAR Member States and a number of international organisations.

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The Conference was formally opened by HE Ngole Philip Ngwese, Minister for Forestry and Wildlife (http://www.minfof.cm/), and we listened to a key-note speech from the Director of Forestry of Nigeria, Philip O. Bankole, on behalf of HE Minister Amina Mohammed. Minister of Environment of Liberia, HE Anyaa Vohiri unfortunately arrived after the opening ceremony, due to cancellation of her flight, but she gave her key-note speech during the closing ceremony. The Secretary of State for Forestry and Wildlife of Cameroon and the Ambassador of Cameroon to the People ’s Republic of China also attended the opening ceremony, and Dr Li Nuyun represented the China Green Carbon Foundation (http://www.thjj.org/en/), one of the sponsors of the Conference. I spoke on behalf of INBAR.

Prior to the Conference, INBAR had organised training for some 70 local people, including a group of mayors. They worked in three groups, each focusing on different aspects of the value chain. This included training in manufacturing of handicrafts, and Master Chen from Sichuan in southern China helped to introduce bamboo as a possible raw material for weaving.

Master-Chen

Master Chen explaining how to make a bamboo weaving

 

INBAR advisor and project manager of the IFAD-funded bamboo for livelihoods project in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Tanzania, Dr Jayaraman Durai, provided advice and guidance about management of bamboo plantations, and general inputs about the value chain. There are several bamboo species in Cameroon, and there are bamboo groves throughout the country, but there is room for more plantations. Durai provided advice on how to plant new bamboos and how to make sure they flourish.

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Dr Jayaraman Durai teaching plantation management

 

Professor Zhu, INBAR Fellow for Life, shared his extensive knowledge about bamboo and rattan and we had two trainers from Peru to provide advice about modern construction methods with bamboo. All this was coordinated by INBAR Training Coordinator Ms Jin Wei.

During the actual Conference, we were extremely fortunate to have the inputs from Dr Li Nuyun, the Secretary-General of the China Green Carbon Foundation (CGCF – http://www.thjj.org/en/). CGCF is the department in the Chinese State Forestry Administration that is responsible for climate change mitigation, and they were one of the sponsors of the conference. They have developed methodologies to count carbon in forests in China, and this includes a method to deal with bamboo. It is currently the only method available in the world to measure CO2 in bamboo, and Dr Li explained how we can apply this methodology in Cameroon.

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Dr Li Nuyun, China Green Carbon Foundation

 

While I was in Yaoundé, I had a series of very productive meetings, with a range of policy makers, including HE Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, Minister Delegate for External Relations, HE Ms Ebelle Etame Rebecca, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation and Ms Marie Madeleine Nga, National Coordinator of the National Community Driven Development Programme in the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development. My meetings culminated in a very engaging discussion with HE Prime Minister Philemon Yang. The Prime Minister comes from an area in Cameroon that is rich in bamboo resources, and he told me that traditionally houses in this part of the country are mainly constructed from bamboo. He told me that the method of construction of the walls in a compound illustrates the tribal background of the family. He also made the point that bamboo is particularly useful for beehives, as the hollow stems provide insolation to keep the swarm warm.

 

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Discussion with HE Prime Minister Yang

 

I also met the Minister for Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development (http://www.minep.gov.cm), HE Hele Pierre. Minister Pierre admitted that he mainly thought about bamboo as a commodity, but he had not given full recognition to the many ecosystem services that living bamboo provides. We explained that biodiversity conservation, renewable energy, erosion control, landscape restoration and climate change mitigation are all areas where bamboo and rattan can play a role.  In this respect, Minister Anyaa Vohiri from Liberia invited Cameroon to join the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA – http://www.gaboronedeclaration.com/).  GDSA is looking for ways to help countries in Africa account for the natural capital that they possess, and bamboo is one aspect that could be used as an example.

I informed Minister Pierre that INBAR is Observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United National Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and we agreed that there are clear areas for collaboration in the field of ecosystem management and nature conservation

Minister Pierre was most impressed with the latest innovations of the Chinese bamboo industry, and gratefully accepted a radio made from bamboo.

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HE Minister Hele Pierre admires bamboo products

 

All the discussions came the same point: Cameroon wants to develop a national bamboo and rattan development programme, and Minister Ngole Philip Ngwese stressed that this will be the overwhelming result of the conference and associated meetings. This programme will include policy discussions, a capacity building programme, an awareness and publicity campaign and a series of demonstration sites to show potential investors what can be achieved. I confirmed the willingness of the INBAR Secretariat to help develop this programme for Cameroon during the closing session of the conference.

 

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Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwese; Minister Delegate for External Relations, Dr Joseph Dion Ngute; INBAR Director-General Dr Hans Friederich and State Secretary for Forestry and Wildlife at closing ceremony

 

The conference also provided lots of other opportunities for collaboration and future joint action. I had meetings with the national office of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Canadian High Commission in Cameroon to discuss regional initiatives. Minister Vohiri from Liberia and I discussed ways to implement the bamboo roadmap that INBAR has helped to prepare for her country.  Nigeria Director of Forestry Philip Bankole has proposed that we sign a Memorandum of Understanding to describe what INBAR and Nigeria can do to promote bamboo and rattan in Nigeria.  INBAR has been invited by the Rwanda Ecologists Association ARECO-Rwanda-Nziza (http://arecorwandanziza.org) to a regional forest meeting in Kigale in December, to introduce bamboo into discussions about gender and forest management in the Congo Basin. Finally, Benin offered to work on a GEF project for bamboo cultivation and landscape restoration.

All-in-all, a very productive few days, which would not have been possible without the strong support of HE Martin Mpana, Ambassador of Cameroon to the People’s Republic of China. Ambassador Mpana has become a strong supporter of INBAR, and has been a key driver of this conference.

 

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HE Ambassador Martin Mpana with bamboo shoot.  Ms Jin Wei, INBAR Training Coordinator in the background

More Bamboo and Earthquakes – Ecuador!

My last post was about a bamboo-based earthquake-response in Nepal.  Unfortunately, I now have to write about Ecuador.

On April 16th 2016, Ecuador was hit by a massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Directly impacting 6 provinces located on the northern coastal area this disaster was responsible for claiming the lives of 660 people. Forcing 7,600 families or around 30,000 people into temporary shelters the earthquake also had a devastating effect on more than 560 schools and 7,000 other buildings. Destroying many roads, it led to the isolation of rural communities from aid.

Utilising its Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) located in Ecuador, INBAR swung into action.  Understanding the gravity of the situation, INBAR immediately deployed its in-country team and network of specialists in bamboo construction to support local partners learn how to incorporate bamboo into post-earthquake planning.

Preliminary reports state that most buildings using bamboo have either been able to withstand the impact or have only been partially damaged. International and local media outlets including New York Times, BBC, CNN, ABC, El Tiempo, El Comercio, El Universo, El Expreso, and El Telegrafo have reported on a number of cases that show the relative performance and strength of Bamboo.

Our local team sent the following to illustrate how bamboo buildings are still standing

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While these observations are encouraging, we need scientific knowledge to be able to state without hesitation that bamboo construction survives earthquakes.  With the support of local, regional and international partners, INBAR is now coordinating a technical evaluation of the impact the earthquake had on existing bamboo structures and resources. The report aims to inform authorities on how bamboo could be appropriately used in the reconstruction process.  The photo below shows bamboo engineers Louis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran from Colombia reviewing the state of a bamboo market in the affected area.

visiting the Ecuador earthquake area with experts Luis Felipe Lopez and Jorge Moran

In partnership with a number of collaborators, INBAR successfully organised workshops on bamboo reconstruction and regulations for safe homes in Quito and Manta. Based on their prior experience and knowledge in utilising bamboo for alleviating relief efforts in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru experts shared their observations with the participants. The event held on the 12th of May at Quito was attended by 70 people and organised with the support of Mesa Sectorial Bambu Ecuador and the Association of Provincial Governments of Ecuador (CONGOPE).  The attendees included people from the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, and Agriculture, as well as representatives from provincial governments, universities, and volunteer organisations. The attendees of the event acknowledged the crucial need for Ecuador’s national building code to reinstate bamboo and allow earthquake reconstruction subsidies for bamboo houses. On the the 13th of May, another event was organised in Manta supported by the University Laica Eloy Alfaro of Manabi and was attended by 300 people. The attendees included a number of municipal and provincial government officials from Manta and Manabi who were directly responsible for reconstruction after the earthquake. The participants were determined to promote and encourage the usage of local materials and techniques for reconstruction using local material and techniques such as bamboo and bahareque walling systems. They further resolved to actively encourage the integration of bamboo in the national construction code and future housing policies.

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The Bamboo Training and Awareness-raising Seminar in Manta

 

An email address consultoriodebambu@gmail.com was created by INBAR to assist users in answering technical questions including the optimal utilisation of bamboo, information on providers, prices, and quality. So far, INBAR has answered more than 250 emails. The Virtual Bamboo Desk Support continues to get messages on bamboo usage and other related topics.  INBAR has also shared manuals and technical notes that offer information on optimal usage of bamboo and construction with over 600 different groups via emails, print copies and social media.

Collaborating with a number of national platforms, INBAR is working with the Ecuadorian Ministries of Housing, Industry and Productivity, Foreign Affairs, Environment, and Agriculture along with local government authorities to coordinate the reconstruction work.  We also participated in several coordination meetings organised by the National Bamboo Roundtable (platform that comprises 70 public and private organisations interested in bamboo in Ecuador). A formal resolution related to bamboo reconstruction was signed by 28 stakeholders in the month of April.

We are now looking at the future, and we have several projects in the pipeline to help build capacity for construction with bamboo.  This will involve the construction of demonstration houses, training of local builders and architects, updating the bamboo construction code and bamboo harvesting regulations.  We are also talking with the Government about the establishment of a Vocational Training Centre to train young people in bamboo-related employment opportunities.

All of this is coordinated by our Regional Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean in Quito, Ecuador.  The LAC Regional Office, established in Ecuador in 2001, represents the 10 INBAR Member States in the Region. The office supports projects to promote use of bamboo – improve value chain; strengthen local capacity; and create local policies that develop harvesting, construction and commercialisation. We also helped to develop national guidelines for bamboo construction in Peru and Colombia (see the picture below), that can now be used to support the activities in Ecuador.

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I hope we can help the people of Ecuador to re-build their lives and their houses!

 

Turning Waste into Wealth

At the World Bamboo Congress in Damyang, Korea, I attended the UEDA lecture by Professor Zhu ZhaoHua from China. He explained that in the process of furniture manufacturing, 40% of the raw material ends up as sawdust. In the past, this was considered waste, and was not used.

Now, there are several options to make money from turning waste into valuable products.

One option is to make particle boards. According to Wikipedia, particleboard or chipboard, is an engineered wood product manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or even sawdust, and a synthetic resin or other suitable binder.

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Wikipedia

Another possibility is to turn the sawdust into briquettes that can used to make charcoal.  The holes in the middle are used to increase the flow off oxygen.  The photo below is taken in Zhejiang Province, China during one of the MOFCOM-funded INBAR/ICBR training courses..

charcoal from bamboo sawdust - China

Finally, sawdust can be pressed into pellets, which can be used as bio-fuel.

bamboo pellet producer - China

All three options are relatively low-technology, and  there is no reason why producers anywhere in the world should miss these opportunities to turn waste into wealth!

Strengthening bamboo-water interactions

The water needs of growing bamboo is one of the fundamental questions we need to address. Some bamboos grow in semi-arid areas, but tropical bamboos thrive in high-rainfall environment.

The #Forests2015 Blog

Bamboo

Research on bamboo is feeding into a new global initiative to safeguard the vital role that forests play in the provision of safe and reliable freshwater.

Bamboo demonstrates important water conservation properties – it has a high water absorption capacity, a canopy that reduces evapo-transpiration and conserves soil moisture, and a dense root system that enhances water infiltration. But, its ability to conserve water resources is often overlooked – even by those that benefit most from its application.

To address this, research on bamboo is feeding into a new five-year plan to be launched at the
World Forestry Congress 2015 – an initiative designed to enhance knowledge about forest-water interactions and ensure this evidence informs national and international policies and agreements.

Read more

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