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.

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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:

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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.

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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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Chinese Bamboo Heroes

During the 20th Anniversary of INBAR, the Foreign Languages Press from China published the “100 Heroes of China’s Bamboo Industry”. The book is a snapshot of “who-is-who” in the bamboo world of China.

Not everyone is mentioned in the book, and a second volume is in the make, but the first “100 heroes” is an impressive list of bamboo luminaries.

I have had the fortune to meet several of them, and want to use this blog to reflect on these personal interactions. I have marked the page numbers in the 100 heroes book, where you can read more about the achievements of these amazing men and women.

Professor Zhou Guomo (page 25), the President of Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University (ZAFU) has become a friend during my time at INBAR. INBAR has been working with ZAFU for a number of years already, and ZAFU was one of the main partners in the development of guidelines for carbon accounting in bamboo.

He invited me last year to give a speech at the 70th Anniversary of ZAFU, and it was a pleasure to share INBAR’s experiences with the audience. I always enjoy speaking at universities and the feedback from the students is rewarding and encouraging. This time, the audience included a number of university deans from other parts of the world, and many of them did not know much about bamboo or rattan. I hope that I was able to raise awareness and I certainly helped ZAFU to stress the importance of bamboo in China.

During my stay, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the laboratories and the bamboo garden of the university, and talk with several of the experts. There is a lot of bamboo knowledge in ZAFU, and I hope to maintain contact after I leave China in April this year.

With Prof.  Zhou Guomo from ZAFU

Professor Yang Yuming (page 31), the former President of Yunnan Academy of Forestry in Kunming is another old friend. I visited his former institute a few years ago, and during this trip, he guided me and my wife through the tropical botanical gardens at Xishuangbanna. This is a most impressive garden with an enormous number of trees, plants and flowers, and also an outstanding collection of tropical bamboo species.

We saw a valley that is being afforested with bamboo, with the intention to create an eco-tourism site, including restaurants, bamboo rafts on a lake and craft shops. We also visited several nurseries, where he showed me new species and interesting developments. In one of the nurseries, we saw black bamboo, which originates from Vietnam. The stems really are black, and it not due to age or disease. There is a lot of variety in the bamboo world!

Prof. Yang Yuming and black bamboo

Mr Ye Lin (page 84), on the other hand, is a real entrepreneur, and a private sector innovator. He is the President of Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo Winding Composite Technology Co Ltd in Hangzhou, a company that has patented the use of bamboo fibre in the production of composites for a multitude of uses. The main breakthrough was the manufacturing of agricultural and urban drainage pipes with bamboo instead of other fibres. This research is a major development for bamboo industrial use, that was also reported by UNIDO!

I had the pleasure to accompany Ye Lin to the Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC) in Brussels in 2017. He presented his innovation and received a warm applause for the new application of bamboo fibres. He told me later that this was the first time that he had given a presentation in a foreign country to an international audience, which made it even more impressive.

We went back to G-STIC in 2018, and this time he talked during a session that I had organized together with my Dutch friend and colleague Pablo van der Lugt. He was no longer just presenting the bamboo composite drainage pipes, but talked about using this technology to manufacture the shells for railway carriages or even housing units. He is already thinking about airplanes, boats and more.

Railway carriage made by bamboo winding technology

Another amazing entrepreneur is Ms Yu Yan (page 119) from Yong’An in Fujian Province. She runs a business that produces the flooring for containers, and she told me that originally the company produced floors made from wood. When Ms Yu became the CEO of the company she decided to change this into flooring manufactured from bamboo, as bamboo is strong, light and abundantly available in Fujian Province. Her business is immense – she apparently provides one quarter of the global container flooring market – so this decision had a lot of impact.

I first met Yu Yan in Durban in 2015 during the World Forestry Congress, where she participated in a private sector dialogue about bamboo. She made it clear that for her bamboo is the future, and she mentioned how her company supports thousands of local households who supply the raw bamboo.

We have kept in contact, and INBAR now has a partnership agreement with Yong’an City. She has participated in other INBAR events, including the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress that INBAR and the Chinese National Forest and Grassland Administration organised in June – BARC 2018.  I met her most recently during the 2018 Yong’An bamboo EXPO.

With Ms Yu Yan and my wife in Yong’An

The third entrepreneur that I have to recognise is Mr Lin Hai (Page 107) from Dasso Industrial Group in Hangzhou. Ms Lin is one of the first businessmen that recognized the opportunities of industrial application of bamboo. Lasso was the supplier of the bamboo that was used to make the fire-resistant ceiling in Madrid International Airport, and currently provides the materials for several European importers of bamboo furniture and interior design material.

I visited his factory and offices in 2014, and was struck by his passion for bamboo and his understanding of the opportunities bamboo provides for sustainable development. He showed me around the showroom, and I was so impressed that I asked if he could supply a dining table for the apartment where my wife and I live in Beijing, as we did not have one.
He supplied a table that is beautiful and strong, but unfortunately it was too large to fit in the lift of our building. We had to find a solution, and it is now the conference table in my office. Due to the dry climate of Beijing, and the temperature changes between winter and summer, many bamboo products crack after a few years. Mr Lin’s table has been in my office which is air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter, but after 5 years it has no dent or crack, which is tribute to the skills of the workers and the quality of the products manufactured by Dasso.

With Mr Lin Hai at the conference table in my office, made by Dasso

Master Chen Yunhua (page 104) is an entrepreneur, but also an artist and a gifted master trainer of the Meishan bamboo weaving craft. He manages a local museum and a training centre in Qingshen County of Sichuan Province, where many students come to learn how to use thin bamboo strips to create magnificent art pieces.

I have met Master Chen so many times, that I cannot remember our first encounter, but several of our meetings are memorable. I recall vividly being with him during a discussion in Lima, Peru on the sidelines of the Climate change meeting in 2014, and I saw him in action during the World Bamboo Congress in Damian, Korea in 2016. During the Regional Bamboo Symposium in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 2017, he provided training and advice to a large group of local farmers and entrepreneurs. He is a true Ambassador of bamboo and he has become a friend, and what struck me was that without foreign languages he is able to communicate extremely efficiently, and he manages to get his ideas across without fail.

Master Chen teaching in Yaoundé, Cameroon

Another Master bamboo weaver is Mr Zhang Deming (page 201), and we celebrated his skills during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. I was fortunate to receive a gift of exquisite bamboo weaving from him during the Congress.  Basically, it is a ceramic vase with a cover from woven delicate bamboo slivers, like the ones in the photo below.

I was so impressed that I asked if I could buy a similar item as a gift for UN Deputy Secretary-General, HE Amina Mohammed, whom I was planning to meet during my presence at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018. We had an inspiring conversation about bamboo and sustainable development, climate change, and could have taled a lot longer. When I gave her the vase, she placed it immediately on her bookshelf, where it now functions as a beacon for “bamboo as a tool for Sustainable Development”.

A different bamboo artist is Jeff Shi (page 178), who runs Dragonfly Design Centre. Jeff makes the most beautiful bamboo furniture, and his main issue is to make furniture with a Chinese touch. He understands that many people want to buy simple, cheap, mass-produced bamboo cabinets, but he produces affordable custom-made, unique pieces from selected pieces of treated bamboo. His design is a fusion between western and Asian styles, a combination of antique and modern touches, but always focused on individuality and innovation.

He explained this to me when we first met on the way to Yibin in Sichuan Province, and he refreshed my memory in a session about bamboo for design during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. His designs have received international recognition, and he continues to promote the use of bamboo as a real tool for design.

Some of the beautiful furniture designed by Jeff Shi

One of the first bamboo woodlots that I visited when I arrived in China in 2014 was the Zizhuyuan Park in Beijing, also referred to as the purple bamboo garden. Mr Cao Zhenqi (page 274) is the Head of the Park, which is one of the impressive greenspaces in central Beijing. Zizhuyuan Park is famous for the many bamboo stands, with different species, and in 2016 INBAR celebrated Earth Day by planting a few extra bamboos.

HE Ambassador Sikonina from Madagascar at 2016 Earth day celebrations

Many years ago, INBAR helped to construct a tea house in the garden, which is built from bamboo panels. I was quite disappointed when I first visited, as I did not see any bamboo, but my colleagues explained that this is its main attraction. The new middle class of China does not want to live in a house or an apartment that looks like a traditional bamboo hut, but they want a dwelling that looks modern. If you can do this with bamboo, so much the better.

In 2017, INBAR organised an outdoor exhibition of photos of bamboo scenes from all our Member States in the Park, as one of the activities to celebrate our 20th Anniversary. We took a long time collecting, selecting and choosing the final pictures, but the exhibition was a great success. It showed visitors that there is a lot of bamboo in other parts of the world, which was a surprise to many of the tourist in the Park.

One of the key benefits that bamboo can provide for national governments is the ability to sequester and store large amounts of carbon. INBAR has carried out research on the ability of bamboo to sequester CO2, together with the China Green Carbon Foundation (CGCF), and Dr Li Nuyun (page 277) was at that time the Director of the Foundation.

CGCF is the first nation-wide non-profit organisation dedicated to combating climate change in China, and has successfully developed a system which helps enterprises, organisations and individuals to store carbon and increase income. Since its establishment in 2010, CGCF has established more than 1.2 million acres of forest to store carbon across 20 provinces in China.

My most recent meeting with Dr Li was during the 2018 Bamboo and Rattan Congress. In a video message to the Congress, Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: “Bamboo and rattan can make an important difference to the fight against climate change. Nature-based solutions like bamboo and rattan do not just contribute to sustainable development; they also help build the kind of world we want.”

One of my concerns about organising a large congress in Beijing was the carbon footprint of bringing participants from all over the world to China and having three days of discussions in a conference centre. With well over 1200 participants from 68 countries, the Bamboo and Rattan Congress was a huge event with a significant impact on the environment.

Fortunately, CGCF helped us to make the Congress a carbon-neutral event. In a ceremony during the final day of the Congress, Dr. Li announced that CGCF will help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China, which is funded by Kunming Suge Greening Engineering Company Ltd. This plantation will sequester all the carbon emitted over the course of the Congress.

According to Dr. Li, just under 2000 tons of CO2 were generated through transportation, catering, accommodation and energy consumption over the course of the three-day Congress. It will take the bamboo plantation around ten years to offset these emissions.

Dr. Li Nuyun and I hold up a certificate, announcing BARC 2018 to be a ‘zero-carbon Congress’

These are some of the Chinese bamboo heroes that I have met during the past years. The list is not exhaustive, as I met so many other bamboo and rattan experts.  I will be stepping down as Director-General of INBAR in a few weeks time, but I hope to keep in touch with all these friends and colleagues.

Bamboo Innovation in Brussels!

INBAR was part of the 2017 Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference (G-STIC), and we were again invited to attend this year.  Unlike last year, when we arranged a whole day discussion, we were given one hour, but at prime time.  The INBAR session would take place as a plenary session in the main hall, just before dinner during the “industry night” on day 2.  We also were offered a space for INBAR to engage with the participants.

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During the preparations, the organisers of G-STIC suggested that I should bring several private sector representatives from China.  Dr Pablo van der Lugt, Head of Sustainability at MOSO International in the Netherlands was also invited, and he and I agreed to co-host the evening, and make it a little less formal and more interesting.  The idea developed into a dialogue between the two of us, during which we invited several other speakers to the podium for short interventions.  One of the added pieces of entertainment was the presence of a bamboo bicycle, which I had shipped from Beijing to Brussels.  It was a donation from Charlie Du at TUS Clean Energy, and when the bicycle arrived at the venue, it created a lot of attention.  Everybody wants to ride a bamboo bike!

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PS: The boot is helping to settle two broken toes

Pablo used the bicycle as his entrance to the INBAR session, and it provided an immediate topic for discussion.  We told the audience that the bike would be given away at the end of the evening, and encouraged everybody to put their business card in a box.  I kicked off our session with a few words about bamboo and INBAR, and I then invited Pablo to introduce his book “Booming Bamboo” and give a talk about bamboo, similar to what he had done for us during the June Bamboo and Rattan Congress – BARC2018.

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Pablo van der Lugt is presenting “booming Bamboo”

After Pablo’s introduction, we talked a little about possible bamboo value chains, and I invited Ms Shen Genlian to the podium.  Ms Shen is the CEO and Chair of the Board of VANOV New Material Co., Ltd in Meishan, Sichuan Province; a company that produces bamboo tissue paper.  One of the reasons for inviting her is the strategic partnership that INBAR and Meishan have signed, and exposure to international events is our part of the bargain.  The other reason is that we visited her company after BARC 2018, and we were all very impressed with what we saw: a state-of-the-art clean, bright factory that produces unbleached, ecologically produced Babo tissue paper from bamboo fibres.

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Celebrating a successful G-STIC at the VANOV stand

Ms Shen showed a brief video, explained what they do through her interpreter, and received warm applause.  One of the aspects of her business that struck me is the fact that she supports 10,000 or more local farmer households, who supply her factory with the necessary bamboo.  That suggests some 50,000 people are directly dependent on VANOV company, which is a daunting responsibility but also a beautiful example of local community involvement.

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Ms Shen Genlian and her interpreter Jacky

Pablo followed Ms Shen’s presentation by inviting Hans Heijmans, Account manager with HR Group in the Netherlands to talk about the bamboo road signs that his company is producing.  Several towns in the Netherlands have decided to get rid of all aluminium traffic signs, and HR is supplying the alternative signs made from bamboo.  Hans had also brought a pavement protection pillar from Amsterdam.  These so-called “Amsterdammertjes” are typically made from concrete, but this one is made from bamboo.

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It was encouraging to hear a Dutch company talk about bamboo product development, as it is very important to show people in Europe that bamboo is not just a product from Asia, but that European companies are also looking at manufacturing and sales.

After the presentation from Hans Heijmans, I invited Mr Ye Lin from Hangzhou to come to the podium, together with his interpreter.  Mr Ye is the Director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration Engineering Research Center for Bamboo Winding Composites, and President of Zhejiang Xinzhou Bamboo-based Composites Technology Co., Ltd.   He has pioneered the use of bamboo fibres in the manufacturing of composite material for the production of drainage pipes, railway carriages and housing units.  Mr Ye showed a short video and then told us that the underlying philosophy of Xinzhou company is to reduce the pressure on our natural resources, and developing a green supply chain.  He stressed that the pipes are already being installed in several places in China, and there are orders for the supply of the housing units.

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The bamboo fibre winding technology is one of the most exciting bamboo developments in China in recent years, and could be an industry that can be rolled out along the Belt and Road.  In this respect, Mr Ye explained that he is already talking with Nepal and Philippines about the creation of joint ventures.

He was followed by Dr Jiang Jingyan, the Dean of the Yong’An Institute of Bamboo Industry in Fujian Province.  Yong’An is a new bamboo centre, and they are looking for international profile and recognition.  INBAR has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Yong’An and we therefore invited Dr Jiang to tell us about the progress and the plans for the future.  His talk and slide show touched on many aspect of bamboo development, as Yong’An wants to become a general supply centre of all types of bamboo products.

One of the key priority areas for Yong’An is furniture production, and the quality and design of the items produced in Yong’An is very good.  I was there a few weeks ago for the bamboo ware fair, and I saw with my own eyes what Yong’An is producing.  It includes this amazingly stylish chair:

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Pablo and I agreed that this was the end of our session, but before calling it a day we invited Charlie Du, Senior Vice President of Beijing TUS Clean Energy Technology Co. Ltd, to tell us about the bamboo bicycle and other innovations that TUS is working on.  Charlie explained that the bicycle is merely a test case, but the main area of interest of TUS Clean Energy is the optimal manufacturing of the blades for modern wind turbines, and this includes the use of bamboo fibres.  He told us that there is a wind turbine with bamboo blades that has been in operation for several years, and TUS Wind sees this as a major area for expansion.

In a follow-up meeting, Charlie told me that TUS has signed an agreement with a consortium in the UK, involving universities in Liverpool and Cambridge and the Catapult programme.  The Catapult centres are a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth. (https://catapult.org.uk/)

Charlie then pulled a name out of the box of business cards, and the lucky winner of the bamboo bicycle is Dr Lieve Fransen.  Dr Fransen is a senior policy maker and advisor to the European Commission, and it was very appropriate that she won the bicycle.

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Dr Lieve Fransen and her bamboo bicycle

The day after our bamboo session, Dr Veerle van der Weerd presented a wrap-up of the event, and listed some of the key findings.  I was very happy that she used bamboo as one of the examples to show how nature-based solutions can help with Sustainable Development.

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Dr Veerle van der Weerd mentions bamboo in her closing speech

During the two-and-a-half days in Brussels,  I met a whole host of people, and made interesting contacts for the future. But – the bamboo session was the main reason for being in G-STIC 2018, and it was worth it!

 

Two busy weeks of membership relations in INBAR!

INBAR is an organisation of 44 Governments that believe in bamboo and rattan, and we are constantly in touch with existing member states and potential new members.  Let me give you a snapshot of recent and ongoing discussions.  I have to admit that these two weeks were exceptionally busy!

Earlier this week, we were co-hosting the Caribbean International Bamboo Symposium in Jamaica, together with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries of Jamaica, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund of Jamaica, the Bamboo Industry Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and other agencies.

The 2-day meeting reflected on “Bamboo: An Economic High-Value Chain Resource for the Caribbean”, and involved members and potential member states in the Caribbean.  It was an important gathering that was agreed some time ago, when Jamaica was the Chair of the INBAR Council, but was deferred in view of the Bamboo and Rattan Congress in Beijing in June this year.  We sent a large team headed by INBAR Deputy Director-General Prof Lu Wenming and Director of Membership Relations Ms Hao Ying.

Apart from participating in and speaking at the conference, several bilateral meetings took place with representatives from several of our member states in the Region, including Suriname.

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Ms Kitty Sweeb, Deputy Foreign Policy Coordinator in the Office of the President of Suriname with Hao Ying and Lu Wenming from INBAR

In preparation of the symposium, INBAR Trustee, Ms Sharon Folkes Abrahams visited the Embassy of Jamaica in Beijing, when she attended the meeting of the INBAR Board of Trustees earlier this month.  Ms Folkes Abrahams and I met with Ambassador Antonio Hugh and his deputy Head of Mission Ms Cheryl Campbell to talk about planned symposium and general cooperation between INBAR and Jamaica.

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Jamaica Ambassador HE Antonio Hugh, INBAR Trustee Sharon Folkes Abrahams and Jamaica Charge d’Affaires Cheryl Campbell

On the other side of the world, INBAR Member State Cameroon is getting ready to host a team of project staff to launch the Intra-Africa Bamboo Smallholder Livelihood Development Programme, funded by IFAD.  INBAR Director of Programme Brian Cohen and future Cameroon Head-of-Office Rene Kaam will be in Yaoundé, together with colleagues from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar to hold the inception workshop and agree on the plans for the coming year.

In addition to the inception workshop of the intra-Africa project, the INBAR team will also kick off a Cameroon bamboo sub-project of IUCN’s The Restoration Initiative, and they will informally discuss the date for the official opening of the new INBAR Regional Office for Central Africa. The decision to open the new office was made during the visit of the Cameroon Minister of Foreign Affairs in August this year, when we signed a Memorandum of Understanding.

In preparation of the meetings in Yaoundé, I met last week with Cameroon Ambassador to China, HE Martin Mpana.  Ambassador Mpana is a dear friend and a strong supporter of INBAR, without whom the developments in Cameroon would not have been so easy.  It is always nice to spend some time with Ambassador Mpana, and to talk about future plans.

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Cameroon Ambassador HE Martin Mpana

While some staff were in Jamaica and others will be in Cameroon, I joined the Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference in Brussels to talk about new research and innovation with bamboo.  Although we have no members in Europe, we used the meeting to share the latest developments with regards to composite manufacturing and applications of bamboo for the production of drainage pipes, bicycles and housing units.

The details will be given by a group of Chinese business people and researchers, and my assistant Li Ting has spent a lot of time to help them prepare for speeches and presentations.  They also presented the state-of-the-art production of closed-loop bamboo pulp production for tissue paper manufacturing.  This bridging role between China and Europe is an important function for the Secretariat, and I believe this relationship is critical for the future development of INBAR.

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Small-Vanov

In early December, I will move to the Climate Change meeting in Poland, where I will touch base with a number of our members that are present.  I am speaking in several events, and INBAR is organising a discussion about bamboo, climate change and South-South Cooperation with speakers from Canada, China, Ethiopia and Nepal. Apart from these speaking roles, I will undoubtedly have bilateral discussions with a number of ministers and other representatives.

Talking about South-South Cooperation, INBAR Global Policy Officer Borja de la Pena and INBAR Trustee Ms Jan McAlpine are currently in UN Headquarters in New York to speak at the Global South-South Development Forum and to discuss INBAR’s participation next year in the Buenos Aires Plan of Action 40th celebration.  Borja is also arranging meetings with delegates from several INBAR members.

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INBAR Trustee Jan McAlpine

Meanwhile, the INBAR Headquarters is preparing for a possible visit of the First Lady of Ecuador in December.  This visit would be extremely opportune, as the Ministry of Housing in Ecuador has just approved the design of a bamboo-bahareque house for a new national social housing programme “Casa para Todos” (housing for all).  This social housing programme is one of the 7 components of the Inter-institutional Committee of the “Plan Toda una Vida” that is chaired by the first lady of Ecuador.

“Bahareque” is a traditional construction style based on a wooden or bamboo frame that has provided shelter for rural communities in Latin American culture.  This little known tradition is getting a new lease of life from the Ministry of Housing with a new modernised style.  Supported by INBAR as part of our Bamboo Aruaclima Project in Peru and Ecuador financed by the Spanish development agency AECID, the ministry has approved the use of a cement bamboo-bahareque prototype.  INBAR, local government and university partners will finish construction of the first unit in December 2018.

The house, the first of its type ever built by the Ecuadorian government, has an area of 56.95m2.  It cost the government just $12,500 to build, uses entirely bamboo poles for its frame, and under the government Housing plan ‘Housing for All’, it will now be scaled up for mass construction.  Alongside construction work, INBAR is supporting research into the thermal properties and carbon footprint of this type of house, allowing us to compare it with other construction methods.

Another bamboo construction success story focuses on the Philippines, where last week 23-year old Earl Patrick Forlales has been awarded the £50,000 “Cities for our Future” Prize by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in the UK.

Forlales’ idea, inspired by his grandparents’ bamboo shack, is to transform the slums of Manila into a livable space using the most sustainable, abundant material possible – bamboo!  The outcome, named the Cubo, is a modular design made from bamboo panels that could be constructed in a week and assembled in just under four hours. The Cubo is estimated to cost just $77 per square metre – an incredibly affordable living space.

When we contacted Earl Patrick Forlales he explained that he used INBAR publications in the preparation of the design.  We are very proud of his achievement, which has been recognised by international news outlets all over the world, and for bringing the benefits of bamboo as a sustainable, affordable building material to the Global South.

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We are also actively engaging potential new members.  Last week, I gave a lecture at the Peking University Public Policy Forum, which addressed how bamboo and rattan can help countries to achieve their sustainable development goals.  More than 60 students attended from a wide range of countries, including several INBAR Member States.  I invited the Ambassador of Costa Rica to China, as she is keen to promote Costa Rica as the next Member of INBAR.  She wanted to know more about bamboo opportunities, and told me that she learned a lot from my presentation.

The discussions after my talk were rich and lasted for nearly one hour.  We could have continued, but unfortunately the working day was ending.  We touched on issues like the consumer’s demand for production standards, the need for a reliable supply chain, the choice between planting food crops and bamboo, the challenges of invasiveness of running bamboo and flowering of clumping bamboo and more.

Last week, I also met with the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas.  Timor Leste is currently Observer of INBAR, after they formally approached us to become Member in 2016.  Subsequent elections and budget negotiations have created confusion and uncertainty, and we are concerned that the Observer status may lapse before we receive the formal Instrument of Accession that would make Timor Leste a formal Member of INBAR.

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With Hao Ying from INBAR and the Ambassador of Timor Leste, HE Bendito dos Santos Freitas

Ambassador dos Santos Freitas advised us to write to the new Speaker of Parliament and the new Minister of Agriculture to find out what the current state of affairs is, and how to proceed.

Earlier this week, I met the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to greet the President of the Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso when he was visiting for the Africa-China Forum (FOCAC), and he suggested that the Ambassador has a more substantive meeting.  Ambassador Owasa and I talked for an hour about the benefits of bamboo and rattan, and the possibility of Congo joining INBAR.

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Talking with the Ambassador of the Republic of Congo to China, HE Daniel Owasa

 

This gives an idea of the membership work of INBAR during a very busy period.

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 in Bali

After four years at the helm of the Secretariat of INBAR, I finally visited the Green School in Ubud village in central Bali.  This is a well-known bamboo development, with a whole range of different buildings made from mainly Dendrocalamus asper bamboo.  The main halls of the school are several floors high, and illustrate how you can make beautiful construction with natural bamboo poles, but there are many other smaller class rooms and buildings on the grounds of the school.  The recent blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro is a very apt description of the Green School with stunning photos.

The school has some 450 students from a varied range of backgrounds and nationalities.  There is also a scholarship programme for promising students from Bali, and the contributions we made for a visit to the Green School are used to pay for the local scholarships.  My wife and I visited during the day, and were asked not to photograph students.  What a considerate request – keep their privacy and avoid them feeling exploited.  My photo is therefore rather empty of people, but for a reason.

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The Green School is the brainchild of John Hardy, who came to Bali many years ago and fell in love with the place.  He is a successful jewelry designer, and he created the blueprints for the original buildings. One of the first constructions was the bridge over the local river, which connects the school with the local village on the other side.  The original bridge was damaged during a flood a few years ago, but the replacement is a majestic structure spanning the river.

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The more recent additions to the Green School are created by IBUKU, the design and architecture firm lead by his daughter Elora Hardy.  Apart from working on the green School, Ibuku has created the nearby Green Village, a collection of stunning individually owned bespoke bamboo houses.  The “piece de la resistance” in the Green Village is a five floor high building on the slopes of the river, which I could visit, but some of the other buildings are privately owned and cannot be photographed.  Elora has given an inspiring TED talk about her work, which is worth watching. https://www.ted.com/talks/elora_hardy_magical_houses_made_of_bamboo

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The latest venture of Elora and John is a boutique hotel in Ubud, called Bambu Indah.   Thisis where I stayed during my visit to Bali.  This little haven of peace is a collection of historical teak wedding houses from Java, with a few specially constructed bamboo buildings to bring it all together.  I have photos, but another blog by Monique and Marcus De Caro captures the beauty of the place much better: http://beautiful-places.de/en/bambuindahubud-bali-thespecialeco-boutique-hideaway-by-john-hardy/

The main dining hall in Bambu Indah is a typical IBUKU construction and the open kitchen is a delight to see.  John explained that keeping the kitchen open for the guests to see what is being cooked gives a feeling of togetherness.  The food in Bambu Indah is healthy and very tasty.  Vegetables are grown on the property, and in the nearby organic garden, and little is needed to enhance the taste artificially.

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The other bamboo building in Bambu Indah is a replica of a Sumatra long house, constructed in black bamboo.  Apparently, it is a copy of a historic building, but made from bamboo instead of teak timber.  What a stunning construction.

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During our discussions, Elora explained that bamboo has to be treated to avoid insects eating the sugar, and she does this in an environmentally-friendly way.  We visited the bamboo factory where daily deliveries of long bamboo poles are soaked in a bath with a borax solution, made from a natural salt.  The system is a closed loop, and the solution is re-cycled and re-used for many years.  Once the poles are properly immersed (breaking a small hole in all the membranes that define the nodes of the bamboo, so that the liquid can freely flow through the whole length of the pole), they are left to dry before they are used for construction or other manufacturing purposes.  It was exciting to see so many large poles waiting to be used, and this illustrates how vibrant the bamboo construction industry is in Bali.

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The other protection against insect infestation is to use large boulders as the foundation stones of the main uprights.  This is an effective way to avoid white ants getting into the base of the culms, and I really like the look.

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While my wife and I were staying at Bambu Indah, John asked us to join him for a “trash-walk”.  He explained that every day, he goes out into the village, and collects litter.  He carries a large sac, and has a spear to pin down plastic bottles, bags and anything else he may come across.  John explained that local people are used to sweep the dirt from their courtyard into the road and the local stream.  That was fine in the past, when most of the litter was organic matter.  Nowadays, most of the rubbish contains plastic bags, plastic cups and other plastic items, and this is a sore sight, and it clogs the local streams.  Picking the rubbish up before it reaches the mouth of the river and the shore line is the best way of preventing more pollution of the coast.  I asked whether these litter collection walks have an impact, and John pointed out posters in the village that tell people in local language to avoid littering and to collect rubbish.  These posters are a direct result of John’s efforts, and joining John Hardy and other guests of the hotel on an early morning walk was a real pleasure.

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We stayed in Bambu Indah for five days, and what an inspiring visit this was!

2017 – a good year for bamboo and rattan

Happy New Year from the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Last weekend, I attended the China Council for International Cooperation for Environment and Development (CCICED) as delegate and international Member. This is a first for INBAR, and the first time that I attended the Council as a full member.

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I have been at CCICED meetings before; the first time many years ago when UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner attended as then IUCN Director-General, and I was a member of the support team from the IUCN Asia Regional Office. Last year, I attended as a special guest, but this time I was fully engaged. I spoke at several sessions and moderated the discussion about green investments along the Belt and Road.

This is an auspicious time for the Council. With the change of tone in Washington DC after the election of US President Donald Trump, and the direction provided by China President Xi Jinping during the 19th Party Congress, China is reaching out to the wider world. The Belt and Road Initiative that was launched earlier this year, is a clear example of the new role that China intends to play as world leader for sustainable development. CCICED is looking at ways and means to “green the Belt and Road”, and the discussion that I moderated was part of this.

I have attended the Belt and Road launch earlier this year, and was struck at that time by the fact that President Xi stressed the point that all developments along the Belt and Road should be green, and that sustainable development was more important than pure economic development. He has embellished on this during his speech at the Party Congress, and the concept of Eco-Civilisation is now embedded in China’s domestic and international policy.

Pres Xi

I first learned about Eco-Civilisation during the Eco-Forum Global(EFG) in Guiyang in 2015, and again in 2016. INBAR was present at the EFG to talk about our experiences in South-South Cooperation, and to explain how bamboo and rattan play a role in sustainable development. Eco-Civilisation is sustainable development with a Chinese flavor, adding cultural and political considerations to the common three components of sustainable development. Eco-Civilization is a balance between economic development, social considerations, nature conservation, cultural heritage and the political framework.

The over-arching message is to work with nature in order to deal with the big challenge of society, and this is a message that INBAR has been sharing for years. We have published a report about our experience together with the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. During the recent South-South Development Expo in Antalya, Turkey, I was very proud to launch this publication, together with UN Special Envoy for South-South Cooperation Jorge Chediek.

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Jorge Chediek and Hans Friederich

The report is an amazing record of some of the successes that INBAR achieved during the past decades, which are all about working between our Members. Currently, there are 43 governments that have ratified the INBAR Establishment Agreement, with Brazil the latest. We raised the Brazil flag during the 20th Anniversary celebrations on 6 November 2017 – just over one month ago. Cambodia and Timor Leste have formally announced that they want to become Members, and Fiji has indicated that it is very interested as well, so we may have 46 Members by the end of 2018. What we are still lacking is members in Europe, and I continue to talk with friends and colleagues in European Capitals and Embassies of European nations in Beijing about the relevance of what INBAR stands for.

This brings me back to the CCICED, and China’s role in the international sustainable development arena. When I was in Kew Royal Botanical Gardens earlier this year in June to launch the Global Checklist of Bamboo and Rattan, the representative from the Embassy of PR China to the UK made the point that the historical Silk Road started in Beijing and ended in London. This logic is currently also applied to the new Belt and Road Initiative, and it was repeated by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond yesterday during his visit to China. It would therefore make sense for Europe to join INBAR as well.

The role of China in the wider world was stressed again during the keynote speech at CCICED by Minister for Environmental Protection Li Ganjie, who made the point that China will assume its international environmental responsibilities. This followed similar statements during the 23rd Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention in Bonn last November, where China stressed that it will continue to fulfill its obligations under the Paris Agreement, and that it will play a strong role in global climate change mitigation and adaptation discussions. I had the pleasure of meeting the former China Climate Change negotiator Xie Zhenhua during COP23, and we discussed bamboo benefits for climate change.

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China Climate Negotiator Xie Zhenhua

When the international role of China is discussed, I always make the point that the nation also leads in the development of a global bamboo community, both for environmental and climate action objectives as well as the manufacturing of low-carbon products. I realise it is a niche-market, but it is an important niche that is worth USD 30 Billion in China alone, and which could grow rapidly around the tropics with political will, financial support and targeted capacity building.  We have just been informed that INBAR is now recognised as Observer to the United Nations General Assembly, and this will provide me with a platform from where I can raise awareness at the highest political level of the benefits that bamboo and rattan can bring to help countries reach their Sustainable Development Goals.

2017 was a good year for INBAR, and 2018 promises to be an equally important year, as we will host the global Bamboo and Rattan Congress from 25 to 27 June 2018 (BARC2018). That will be an opportunity to highlight some of the recent innovations and developments and we hope to agree on several new partnerships and launch a few new joint programmes of work.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year

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Happy New Year from the INBAR Headquarters