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.

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Bamboo, rattan and FOCAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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With Cameroon Minister for External Relations HE Lejeune Mbella Mbella

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

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

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With President of Republic of Congo HE Sassou Nguesso

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

Madagascar-President

With the President of Madagascar, HE Hery Rajaonarimampianina

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

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

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.

BARC 2018_25.6.18_audience

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”.

BARC 2018_25.6.18_Ministerial Dialogue 2

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.

BARC 2018_25.6.18_ Mary Goretti Kitutu Kimono

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.

China-BR-Yellow-Pages

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.

BARC 2018_25.6.18_Charlotte Salford Hans Friederich

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

BARC 2018_27.6.18_Li Nuyun_Hans Friederich

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!

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

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

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

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

OneBelt-OneRoad

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

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

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

Wayanad Bamboo in India. Photo: Wikimedia

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

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

Back to Qingdao

Last month, I read “the Siege of Tsingtao” by Jonathan Fenby. This is a book that describes the battle between the German forces in the port of Qingdao and the invading English and Japanese troops during in November 1914 during the First World War. It illustrates why Qingdao is a special place.

Penguin - Siege of Tsingtao

I have visited the town four times this year, and that is more than any other place in China. The reason for my visits has nothing to do with World War I, or German occupation, but is linked to the Horticultural Expo 2014. Every other year, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) organises international horticultural expositions, and this year the EXPO was in Qingdao. INBAR has a garden at the Qingdao EXPO, and this has been one of our main activities in China during 2014.  I wrote about this on 3 May on my blog.

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The first time I visited Qingdao was during the official opening of the EXPO in April. The opening ceremony was an amazing event with song and dance, music and flag-raising. It started with a welcome dinner the evening before, and culminated in the official opening of the EXPO.  I already wrote about this on 25 April this year.

INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr. Li Zhiyong at Qingdao EXPO Opening Ceremony

INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr. Li Zhiyong at Qingdao EXPO Opening Ceremony

The day after the official launch was INBAR’s own ceremony to open our garden. We had an impressive occasion with several Ambassadors, high-level Chinese officials, local dignitaries and a group of invitees. Professor Jiang Zehui, Co-Chair of the INBAR Board of Trustees gave the keynote speech at the opening ceremony, and invited Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong to the INBAR showroom.

Professor Jiang Zehui and Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong visit INBAR showroom

Professor Jiang Zehui and Minister for Forestry Zhao Shucong visit INBAR showroom

In May, we received notice that Vice Premier Wang Yang was planning to visit the EXPO. Vice Premier Wang is responsible for agriculture and forestry matters, and he expressed interest in paying a visit to our garden. INBAR Deputy Director-General Dr Li Zhiyong and myself flew to Qingdao to welcome the Vice Prime Minister, and show him around the INBAR showroom. The Vice Premier was impressed with the garden and with the bamboo products on show.

China Vice Premier Wang Yang reads poems about bamboo in the INBAR showroom at the Qingdao EXPO

China Vice Premier Wang Yang reads poems about bamboo in the INBAR showroom at the Qingdao EXPO

After the summer holidays, we organised a staff meeting in Qingdao to discuss the new 15-year INBAR Strategy and the associated re-organisation of the Secretariat, and to talk about fundraising. We also use the day to visit the garden with the full INBAR staff team.

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Yesterday, 25 October 2014, I returned for the closing ceremony of the EXPO. This was another impressive event, but shorter than the opening ceremony. I signed the transfer of management of the international gardens to the local authorities, on behalf of all the international partners. INBAR also received the Top Grand Award for our garden.

Dr Fu Jinhe and the writer with the Top Grand Award

Dr Fu Jinhe and the writer with the Top Grand Award

I visited the INBAR garden for the last time, and it still looks very good. The outdoor decking has weathered well, he bamboo are nearly all healthy. The main building is still in good shape, and there was continued interest from visitors, both inside the building and outside in the garden.

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In 2016, the next Horticultural EXPO will be in Antalia, Turkey. We have started discussions about a possible INBAR contribution, and we welcomed a delegation from Turkey to our Headquarters the following morning.

Commissioner-General Selami Gulay of EXPO 2016 Antalya with INBAR DG Hans Friederich

Commissioner-General Selami Gulay of EXPO 2016 Antalya with INBAR DG Hans Friederich

I will let you know what will happen!

Bamboo charcoal – what an amazing resource

Last Friday, I left Bejing with my colleague Dr Fu Jinhe and my wife Bee to travel south to Zhejiang Province, and more specifically to Suichang County, which is the heart of bamboo charcoal production.  Suichang is rich in bamboo, with 82% of the territory under forest cover and much of that is bamboo.  The total area of bamboo forest is reported to be 233 square kilometres.

What impressed me most during the visit was to discover the many uses of bamboo charcoal, and the fact that nothing is wasted in the process.  My first encounter with bamboo was with a local farmer who was digging for winter bamboo shoots.  Bamboo produces shoots twice per year, and the winter shoots do not appear above ground.  Less than 20% survives because of competition for nutrients, and therefore it is actually good to dig up a proportion of the winter shots, thus given the remaining ones more chance to survive.  Because winter shoot are difficult to collect, they are valuable, and they taste supposedly very nice.  I ate some of the shoots later in the day, and can confirm that they have a lovely slightly nutty taste and they are soft and delicious.

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In 1995, the Chinese Government imposed restrictions on charcoal produced from wood, and some entrepreneurial individuals in Suichang County started to use bamboo as an alternative source of charcoal.  The first attempts reportedly resulted in large piles of ash, but over the years, the process has been honed so that now large quantities of high quality charcoal are produced.  The charcoal is mainly traded in the domestic market in China, but the charcoal producer Mr Weng told us that he also sells to Korea and Japan.  Bamboo charcoal is made from the waste of other bamboo utilization processes, and the bamboo kiln that I visited had heaps of bamboo cuts that will go into the furnace during the coming days.

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The bamboo is heated to 900-1000 degrees in a closed kiln, and after a certain period of time the oxygen flow is stopped so the bamboo carbonizes.  After one week, the charcoal can be collected.  One kiln can produce a tonne of charcoal, and currently a kilo sells for 4 Yuan (0.50 dollars).  That is not all, because the steam coming out of the chimney at the top of the kiln is fed into long bamboo poles, and cools so that the liquid flows back down the inside of the poles as vinegar.  This is collected in large containers, and provides the raw material to whole range of products, varying from cleaning liquid to preservative.  This is not done by Mr Weng, but is the purview of a separate chain of product development.  Mr Weng has six kilns in one row and four in another row, and his small enterprise provides employment for 45 people.  He is 77 years old but going strong.

Mr Weng in front of his charcoal kiln

Mr Weng in front of his charcoal kiln

Once the charcoal has been manufactured, there are several subsequent production chains that use bamboo charcoal to produce other high-value goods.  Some of the charcoal is developed for general household use purposes, such as fuel or de-humidifying agent and some of it is bagged or put in boxes for use as air freshener.  But charcoal powder is also mixed with flour to make charcoal biscuits, the coating for peanuts or black noodles.  Charcoal has medicinal properties because its high absorption capacity allows it to absorb stomach acids, so mixing charcoal in with other foodstuff makes it particularly healthy food.  I stayed at the Tanyuan Inn, managed by the delightful Mr Chen Wenzhao and his equally lovely wife Mrs Ji, and they produce all kinds of bamboo charcoal food.  Their shop also sells black bamboo charcoal soap, and they are in charge of the Suichang bamboo charcoal museum.

The local government of Suichang County has allocated space to a number of bamboo charcoal companies, in order to promote the development of bamboo charcoal industry.  Apparently there are now 54 bamboo charcoal enterprises registered.

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One line of production mixes charcoal dust with clay to create extremely stylish wall and floor tiles.   The company that I visited also produces high quality charcoal air and water filters. They have a high-tech laboratory, and are looking for other new innovations.  Other products that are being developed, in addition to what I saw, include textiles, chemical products, cosmetics, charcoal cement and more.  We had an interesting meeting with the vice-governor and her staff and she explained that in Suichang County bamboo trade amounts to 1.2 billion Yuan per annum, and 350 million Yuan of this is from bamboo charcoal.  Bamboo charcoal is good business.  As one of the businessmen told me: “I used to have 50,000 Yuan in 1995 and now I have 100 million Yuan, all as a result of my bamboo charcoal business”

Finally, the extensive bamboo forests, the production of charcoal and associated activities have created a destination for nature-based tourism.  Many visitors from Shanghai, Hangzhou and other nearby towns come to Suichang for entertainment and recreation, especially since the highway was opened 5 years ago.

In short: the bamboo charcoal is a valuable primary product, a source for growing innovative secondary production and a catalyst for a booming tourism service industry.

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This was a very informative and enjoyable visit!

Certifying Bamboo Buildings – Not Easy!

I have spent one week of discussions, briefing notes and interactions with my new colleagues in INBAR.  One of the issues that has come up a number of times is the question of certification and standards.  We need standards for the management, use and trade of bamboo and rattan, and we need mechanisms to verify that standards are adhered to.  INBAR has a key role in the development of bamboo and rattan standards by bringing together the best scientists in the field and coordinating efforts with our Members.  A lot has happened, and more work is under way.

With regards to the management of bamboo forests and plantations, there is need to have a certification scheme that is similar to FSC or PEFC for forests.  Apparently, 20% of the world’s forests are now certified under either of these schemes, but as bamboo is a non-timber species that grows fast, has strong root systems and thrives on being cropped, the standard for well managed bamboo stands cannot be the same as that for a stand of woody trees.  The Rainforest Alliance is working on a “Stewardship Standard for Alternative Natural Fibers”, which will include bamboo, and INBAR is part of this working group.We hope that this will result in a practical, robust certification scheme for sustainable management of bamboo and rattan.

Once harvested, bamboo culms can be used for construction and this is another area where standards are urgently needed. INBAR is working closely with the International Standards Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland (ISO) and has already developed three published ISO standards for construction with round bamboo.  Recently, the ISO Technical Committee 165 on Timber Structures agreed to establish a new working group on structural uses of bamboo, which will have a mandate governing not only round bamboo, but also engineered bamboo.  It will be a forum for standardizing the design, testing and manufacturing processes of engineered bamboo structural products.  Therefore, I hope to get buy-in and participation from the private sector.  I am talking to several leading industry partners in the weeks to come, and this is one issue that I will discuss with them.

House construction with round bamboo poles in Bhutan

House construction with round bamboo poles in Bhutan

INBAR is the International Commodity Body for Bamboo and Rattan and together with the World Customs Organisation we have established a range of Harmonised System codes that classify traded bamboo and rattan products.  These codes cover raw materials, plaited products, industrial products, furniture and bamboo shoots.  One of the challenges with engineered bamboo is that the terminology of bamboo products is not uniform, and we have signed an agreement with several partners in December last year to work together on the classification of engineered bamboo construction products.

The last step is to have regulations in place that allow bamboo products to be used in construction of housing.  Not all countries provide for this, and only Colombia, Ecuador, India and Peru have included bamboo in their national building codes, although the US Green Building Council provides for LEED credits when bamboo is used in building construction.   INBAR will work with all its Members and the international community to promote the inclusion of bamboo in national and international building standards.

Black Bamboo Garden in Beijing - house construction with engineered bamboo panels

Black Bamboo Garden in Beijing – house construction with engineered bamboo panels

As I said above – a lot has happened but there is still a lot of work to be done.  Check out the INBAR website to follow our progress.  Of course standards are also needed for other uses of bamboo and rattan, such as charcoal, textile and paper manufacturing, but that is another story.