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.

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.

INBAR-garden-signboard

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.

Qingdao-staff-retreat

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.

25October (3)

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!

INBAR garden illustrates bamboo and rattan benefits

I wrote last week about the opening of the Qingdao Horticultural Expo, and the INBAR Garden, which highlights the role bamboo and rattan play for horticultural purposes. In Europe and the North America, bamboo is often used as a garden plant or even as interior decoration. However, in other parts of the world, bamboo has many more uses.

In his speech during the opening of the Qingdao Expo last week on 25 April, Tim Briercliffe, Secretary General of the International Association of Horticultural Producers, AIPH, stressed the role of plants and trees in urban planning. He emphasised that research has shown that a green city is a healthier city than an urban environment without plants and trees. Urban trees and plants provide shade and help to cool the micro-climate, they absorb pollution and generate oxygen, and they attract birds, bees and butterflies. In tropical areas, bamboo could pay a key role in urban planning, as it grows fast, it maintains is foliage throughout the year, and it could provide additional resources when cut. INBAR had a visit recently from a group of town planners and architects from HongKong, who are looking into ways and means to use bamboo in their plans, and they are not the only ones.  The following photo is taken in Chengdu. southern China, where bamboo is used to create a shade corridor in a park.

Bamboo corridor in Wangjianglou Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Bamboo corridor in Wangjianglou Park, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

The INBAR garden at the Qingdao Expo is a showcase for many of the uses and benefits of bamboo and rattan, and as the EXPO will remain open to the public for 6 months, I hope that many people will visit the INBAR garden to see first-hand what an amazing species these two plants are. The garden has 23 different bamboo species from all over China, although Qingdao is towards the northern margin of the natural range of bamboo. Unlike some of the other gardens that are designed as temporary structures, bamboo can remain in the Qingdao EXPO forever, and we are discussing the possibility of having a permanent presence. The different species are an illustration of the wealth of bamboo, and different species have different uses. Particularly striking bamboo for horticultural and decorative purposes is the turtleshell bamboo (Phyllostachys heterocycla), but we also show the typical Chinese moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescence) and the giant bamboo from Yunnan Province (Dendrocalamus sinicus) in the south of China.

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden giant bamboo and generalview

The garden designers constructed a traditional bamboo house, to show how round pole bamboo can be used in building sturdy structures. Such bamboo houses are earth-quake proof, as the bamboo will respond to movement, and the joints are all natural without nails or bolts. INBAR has promoted such structures in Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, and is currently working with partners in Bhutan to enhance building practices there. We are also working with partners in South America to develop affordable, modern bamboo housing examples, and we showcased some of the recent work at the World Urban Forum in Medellin earlier this month.

The path through the INBAR garden is made from decking of engineered bamboo. Bamboo has been used to make indoor parquet flooring for 30 years, and there are many ways to do so, but the use of bamboo for outdoor decks and terraces is a relatively new development. The bamboo planks in the INBAR garden are manufactured with physical treatment, which means less pollution compared to chemical treatment. Manufacturing is a mechanical process of heat and pressure, and the outdoor planks are guaranteed for more than 10 years.

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden stream and rattan bridge small

Manufacturers in the USA, Australia and Europe also produce such outdoor bamboo materials, often from raw materials that are imported from Asia.   The 2012 trade flow of bamboo and rattan products from Asia to Europe was USD 420 million, 68% of the total export value from Asia to the World, and there is a large internal market in the EU of USD 164 million. This is a market that comprises import of raw materials or partially finished products and export or internal trade of finished goods. Flooring is one of the examples.

There is a small stream in the INBAR garden. We have planted bamboo on the banks, and have used bamboo pieces to create small dams.   This aerates the water, and the bamboo on the banks stops soil erosion. The aim is to illustrate how bamboo could be used on larger scale to help protect the banks of waterways, and how constructed wetlands can help with water treatment. Rwanda has a legislation that calls for waterway bank protection by bamboo (10m buffer for riverbanks, 20m for lakeshores) and other countries have also recognised this potential. The concept of manmade wetlands for water treatment has been implemented in many places around the world, especially using reeds and aquatic vegetation, such as the papyrus swamps in Lake Victoria near Kampala in Uganda, but using bamboo is a new approach which can be developed for small communities without mechanical waste water treatment facilities. And by introducing bamboo, we open up the possibility for the local communities to develop new economic activities.

INBAR does not only represent the producers and users of bamboo, but we also a responsible for the sustainable management of rattan. The garden has large bridge and corridor made from rattan, to show how this plant can be used in design and construction. Rattan is mainly found in South East Asia and Central and West Africa. IBAR is discussing with the 10 ASEAN nations how we can develop together a more sustainable future for rattan, including appropriate management of natural resources, planting of rattan to restore depleted sources and assistance with international regulations regarding trade and economic development. I will be visiting the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta in a few days’ time, and I will be discussing the rattan programme with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry.

Qingdao Expo Opening INBAR rattan bridge with people - small

 

Finally, we have constructed a building in our garden at the Qingdao Expo which houses some examples of the many household uses of bamboo and rattan. The building is totally made from bamboo and rattan, but the walls are not made from round bamboo poles. We have used strandwoven boards that can be used in any modern construction, and the ceiling is made from bamboo plasterboard. But, we have used some massive round bamboo poles as main supports for the roof structure, to illustrate how one can combine traditional building crafts with modern housing design and construction. The shape of the building is modelled on a sailing boat, and we have the flags of all 39 Members of INBAR flying from the stern.

Qingdao Expo INBAR pavilion with flags small

Inside, there are examples of traditional bamboo painting and calligraphy, but also some modern bamboo weaving products. We have both traditional and modern interior design pieces made from rattan and bamboo, and there are examples of bamboo-based textiles. A word about the textile made from bamboo. Currently, it is difficult to produce yarn from natural fibres, as the industry has not yet discovered an economic solution to lengthen the relatively short bamboo fibres. Most bamboo textiles are there produced from viscose, and this process involves the use of chemicals. However, bamboo viscose is not any worse than viscose made from other raw materials. What makes bamboo viscose environmentally friendly is the fact that the raw product – bamboo is a plant that does not require agro-chemical applications (although some farmers may add fertiliser to speed up growth), grows on marginal lands and slopes, needs little or no irrigation once established, and does not compete with foodcrops. Moreover, as it is a crop, bamboo can be harvested every year, after 3 to 5 years for reaching maturity.

In the bamboo house you can also find some traditional round bamboo and rattan furniture, produced through a very new patented technology that uses round bamboo for handmade high quality furniture. It does not crack, even during the very dry Beijing winter. In the bamboo house you can also find other bamboo products like a bamboo computer keyboard and mouse; a bamboo radio and a bamboo calculator; a selection of bamboo charcoal products, and more.

Qingdao Expo-traditional-furniture-in-INBAR-house

All-in-all, bamboo and rattan are versatile plants with an immense range of applications and uses. The INBAR garden does not explain the role of bamboo in CO2 sequestration and the fact that it absorbs as much if not more than comparable tree species. It does not talk much about the role of bamboo is restoring degraded lands and helping to bring unproductive soils back into life. It also does not show the important role of bamboo and rattan in biodiversity conservation, as the Chinese giant panda, the Gorillas in Eastern Africa and the Madagascar bamboo lemur all depend on bamboo in nature. And the INBAR garden is not able to present to you some of the ground-breaking research that is still taking place with regards to the production of ethanol and butanol, the potential pharmaceutical properties and chemical applications. But – the INBAR garden in the Qingdao EXPO shows a lot of bamboo and rattan aspects. If you have the chance, please go and visit!

Qingdao Expo INBAR garden sign (3) small

 

Horticultural bamboo in Qingdao, China

I am in the beach resort and port town of Qingdao, well known for its beer brand in China. The reason for my visit is the 2014 Horticultural Exposition, which was opened with great fanfare today. INBAR has joined the Qingdao Expo to highlight the role that bamboo plays from a horticultural perspective.  Celebrations started yesterday evening with a gala dinner, where I was joined by the Ambassadors of two of our member countries, Madagascar and Nepal. Today was the formal opening of the Expo, and beautiful weather with sunshine and a slight breeze allowed the ceremony to take place in full glory.

There were hundreds of invited guests, from many corners of the world and a good number of Chinese VIPs as well. I sat next to Vice Minister Zhang Yongli from the State Forest Administration, INBAR’s host agency and a great supporter of bamboo and rattan. Vice Minister Zhang and I enjoyed the preparations before the actual ceremony started.

Image

Vice Minister Zhang Yongli and INBAR Director-General

The opening was a very well-orchestrated fanfare of music, dance and speeches, with the official flag raising ceremony as well. Individual Chinese singers provided leading music pieces, while a large choir helped to provide the background music. There were dancers in traditional costume, there was a children’s choir, and we had clowns and balloons.

Speakers included the Vice-Chair of the INBAR Board, Professor Jiang Zehui, and the Secretary-General of the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH), Tim Briercliffe from the UK. When the speeches ended, the organisers released more than 100 doves, who flew overhead to provide a fetching finale to the opening ceremony. After the official ceremony was concluded, I went to the INBAR Garden to wait for some of the VIP guests, and was very impressed with what has been achieved during the past year of planning and construction.

The garden is well laid out, and has 22 species of bamboo from all over China.  Bamboo is used to aerate a small stream, to show how manmade wetlands can help with water treatment.  We had arranged for s music ensemble that plays on instruments made from bamboo to provide a nice atmosphere.  The garden has wooden decking everywhere, which is made from engineered bamboo; there is a traditional bamboo house made from round bamboo, and a modern showroom with many bamboo and rattan products, as well as a bridge made from rattan.  My colleague Dr Fu Jinhe told me that the bridge is one of the most photographed places in the garden. .

Image

Dr Fu Jinhe from INBAR on the rattan bridge

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to see a few other places. I attended a ceremony at the Dutch garden, and accompanied the Ambassador of Nepal to China, Mr Mahesh Kumar Maskey, to the Nepal pavilion.

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Nepal Ambassador and INBAR Director-General in front of Nepal pavilion

Tomorrow is the official opening of the INBAR Garden, so more news from Qingdao tomorrow.