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.