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

 

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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.

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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. .

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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.

Master weavers from the forest

INBAR is in charge of the Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) Global Partnership Programme, and is trying to identify case studies of successful NTFP production. One of the striking examples of NTFP use is the production of woven mats and baskets from leaves and strips of material from the stems of plants.  Talking about weaving with NTFP made me reflect on my own memories of basket weaving in four of the countries where I lived

When I was young, I used to visit the Biesbosch, a large area of coastal wetlands in the southwest of the Netherlands. One of the traditional crafts from this part of the country was weaving baskets from young flexible willow branches. This is not a true NTFP, although the way willows are coppiced, allows them to continue growing.

We had a large basket for washing at home and our dog slept in a willow dog basket. Weaving baskets from willow branches is an old craft in the coastal wetlands of Europe, but due to high labour costs it is no longer economically viable in the Netherlands. Some master weavers still practice the trade for educational purposes, and in order to maintain a cultural heritage, and there are enterprises that have combines traditional basket weaving with other more general weaving of screens and partitions.

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Dog basket from willow by kwantum.nl

During my University Studies in the UK, I was fortunate to be invited to join the 1987 Royal Geographical Society expedition to Gunung Mulu in Sarawak, Malaysia. A few years later, I went back to the same place, as a member of the British-Malaysian Speleological exploration team that discovered the largest underground chamber in the world. The limestone mountains are now the Gunung Mulu National Park, a place well worth visiting.

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During the expeditions, we were sometimes invited to the local longhouse to exchange ideas, and to cement our relationships with the Berawan people that traditionally lived in the area. During these visits, I admired the beautiful weaving examples, and I found out that this is a trade that is particularly well developed in Indonesia and Malaysia. Baskets, mats and wall hangings are made with exquisite patterns and colour combinations, using natural rattan fibres.

According to the Sarawak Museum, weaving and plaiting baskets isn’t just for convenience. In the Iban community for example, the ability to plait fine baskets would enhance the standing of a woman within the community. The baskets and other plaited items are made in their own design and technique that represents the ethnic identity.  The following photo is an example that is kept in the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.

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Rattan is the name for the roughly 600 species of palms in the genera Calamus, Daemonorops, and Korthalsia climbing palms of tropical Asia, all belonging to the family Palmae (palm family). Most rattans grow in Indonesia and neighbouring countries, although they are also found in Africa. Rattans are threatened with overexploitation, as harvesters are cutting stems too young and reducing their ability to re-sprout. Unlike bamboo, rattan requires a long time to regenerate, and unsustainable harvesting of rattan leads to forest degradation, affecting overall forest ecosystem services, and this is a serious problem also recognised by the weavers.

In my current position of Director-General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, I am planning to develop a programme of activities for sustainable rattan management in partnership with our members that produce rattan. We are not alone, and will be working with other organisations that are promoting similar work. I will report on progress in this area later this year.

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A rattan palm from Indonesia

When I moved to Botswana in the early eighties, I discovered the basket weavers from Etsha in the Okavango Delta. They are true master weavers as well, using the leaves of another palm tree – the Mokola (Hyphaene petersiana) that grows in the Okavango Delta – and produce pieces of art. I bought several baskets during an interior design exhibition in Serowe in 1985, and have carried them around the world.

Commercialisation of the basket industry in the Okavango has led to changes in the population structure of the palms, but the Ngamiland Basket Weavers Trust, a local association set up mainly by women from the area is planting new trees to ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials. A private company Botswanacraft is also selling Botswana baskets from the master weavers in Etsha, and they fetch at least several hundred dollars per piece.

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Baskets from Etsha Village in Botswana. Photo by L’Arco Baleno

Now, I live in China and a few weeks ago I visited Qingsheng County in Sichuan Province in southern China. Master weaver Zhang showed us what he can do with bamboo! He makes the finest woven covers for porcelain vases and pots, some of which are sold to exclusive addresses in Europe. The photo below shows Master Zhang and me admiring one of his creations.

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Master weaver Zhang also teaches local people how to make woven paintings, using different colours of bamboo strands. The strands are hand-produced, by splitting bamboo into small strips, which are then separated into 10 layers. These thin layers are again split into even thinner strands of bamboo, and they are used to make the intricate weavings.

 

I have been fortunate to see master weavers in action in several countries, and they all use Non-Timber Forest Products. The NTFP Global Partnership Programme may be able to find other masters weavers, or maybe you know of some. I would love to get in touch with them.

 

In Transition

I have signed a contract with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) to become their new Director-General, with effect from 1 January 2014.  The position is based at INBAR’s Headquarters in Beijing, China.

The author in a bamboo forest in Anhui Province, China

The author in a bamboo forest in Anhui Province, China

For the next few weeks, I will not have much time to maintain my blog, but from next January onwards, I will write about bamboo, rattan, the green economy and more.
Till then!
Best regards, and my best wishes for a wonderful New Year.

Bamboo and Rattan – Natural Capital

Next week, the World Forum on Natural Capital will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland. Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. From this we derive a wide range of services, which make human life possible. Bamboo and rattan are two species that are extremely valuable.

Last week, I was in China for discussions with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). Did you know that the global Headquarters of an Inter-Governmental Organisation are located in Beijing? Well, INBAR is there, representing 39 sovereign states in a global network focusing on sustainable and profitable management and use of bamboo and rattan.

International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) Headquarters

International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) Headquarters

It makes a lot of sense for the INBAR Headquarters to be in China, as this is the largest supplier of Bamboo in the world. Bamboo occurs in a band along the equator, but the most extensive natural bamboo forests are in India and China, and 14% of the global bamboo supply comes from China. Forest cover in some southern provinces is mainly bamboo, including the natural habitat of the giant panda in Sichuan Province. After all – their diet is mainly composed of bamboo leaves and shoots.

Giant panda eating bamboo shoots - Wikipedia

Giant panda eating bamboo shoots – Wikipedia

INBAR has recorded some striking case studies, where bamboo and rattan provide ecosystem services to help reduce poverty and create local jobs and economic prosperity. Take the case of a poor Ethiopian subsistence farmer who was trained in making household goods from bamboo and who now heads a business that employs 24 people. Or reflect on the Ghanaian example of using bamboo to make charcoal instead of cutting hardwood trees, and making a business out of this. This provides both a local source of cheap energy and enables economic development for small scale producers.

Bamboo can also be used in construction, and engineered bamboo is an alternative to working with timber. When I was in China, I visited a research station of the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (ICBR) in Anhui Province, where we were shown houses build with bamboo and local pine.

ICBR Taiping Research Station - Anhui Province, China

ICBR Taiping Research Station – Anhui Province, China

Finally, there are some really cool ways to use bamboo and rattan in contemporary furniture, and the latest designs go well beyond the traditional sixties style. Architects and interior designers are using bamboo and rattan to come up with eye-catching new ideas, as illustrated by the bamboo chair of Tejo Remy & René Veenhuizen, the rattan bench by Alvin-Tjitrowirjo or the walls of the Leipzig zoo car parking facility designed by HP architects.

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen bamboo chair

Rattan bench by Alvin Tjitrowirjo

Rattan bench by Alvin Tjitrowirjo

Leipzig Zoo parking garage - HP Architects

Leipzig Zoo parking garage – HP Architects

The great thing about bamboo is that it re-grows rapidly. New bamboo shoots can grow nearly one metre during the first day, and bamboo culms can be harvested in four to five years and therefore cutting it down for product development or local use is a truly sustainable business, provided the harvesting rate is kept within limits.

Bamboo and rattan – natural capital high interest accounts!