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!

 

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.

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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.

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Over the course of three days, participants could choose to attend a ministerial summit, three high-level dialogues – which covered South-South cooperation, climate change, and innovation and industry development – and around 80 parallel sessions.  The overarching theme of the Congress was “Enhancing South-South Cooperation for Green Development through Bamboo and Rattan’s Contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals”.

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Overall, BARC 2018 was a great success.  Bamboo and rattan are critical resources, but still grossly under-used.  Fast-growing and local to some of the poorest communities in the tropics and subtropics, bamboo and rattan are used around the world in simple construction and as household utensils, but BARC 2018 illustrated that they could provide much more.  Discussions included how to realise bamboo and rattan’s huge potential in a number of areas: sustainable commodity production, disaster-resilient construction, poverty alleviation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, land restoration and biodiversity protection.

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I was very happy that BARC 2018 was not a stand-alone activity, but it followed the INBAR Strategy 2015 – 2030.  The strategy has four components: Policy advice, membership and partnership, information and technology sharing, and real action on the ground.  In my view, BARC 2018 supported these four objectives.

With regards to policy advice, we managed to raise the profile, especially amongst a new group of stakeholders.  Our aim is to help members to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, and that means reaching out beyond the world of forestry and foresters.  BARC 2018 involved many participants who were not “bamboo or rattan specialists”, and we managed to show new partners what amazing opportunities bamboo can provide.  This will directly and indirectly influence policy.

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Dr Pradeep Monga, Deputy Executive Secretary , UN Convention to Combat Desertification

For example, we worked with UN Women to highlight the gender aspects of bamboo and rattan; we had key-note speakers from UN Conventions and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) who had not heard of INBAR before they joined us; we listened to parliamentarians from Ethiopia, Philippines and Uganda; we learned from global thinkers from the Club of Rome like Gunter Pauli, Fred Dubee and Jinfeng Zhou.

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Gunter Pauli

The opening of BARC 2018 included congratulatory messages from Heads of State from China, Colombia and Ecuador, and from the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and the Director-Deneral of FAO Graziano da Silva.  The Congress also launched the Beijing Declaration, which recognizes bamboo and rattan’s various benefits, and commits “ministers, senior officials and participants” to calling upon national governments and other bodies to implement a number of recommendations.

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Video message from Nobel Laureate and former President of Colombia, HE Juan Manuel Santos

With regards to membership support, we used this Congress very effectively for South-South Cooperation, and all our members were very happy to share their experiences and learn from each other.  We even announced a new INBAR Member – Central Africa Republic.

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We must have had several hundred representatives from our Member states all over the world, and in that respect BARC 2018 was a real membership-driven event.  The participants included Ministers and Vice-Ministers, senior civil servants and a whole range of technical and administrative officers.  I had bilateral meetings with several of the delegations, and most of the policy-makers had a speaking role in one of the plenaries or in parallel sessions.

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State Minister for Environment of Uganda, HE Mary Goretti Kitutu

One particular aspect that was particularly important was the opportunity to learn from China.  China has such a lot to offer, but most of the information is not readily available outside of the borders.  BARC was an opportunity to learn from the experiences from China, to talk with Chinese practitioners, to see Chinese products and to make contacts for future participation.  One publication that was extremely valuable is the “Yellow Pages” of bamboo and rattan in China, listing just about every bamboo or rattan enterprise in the country.

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Third, The Congress was a major tool to share information and innovation.  We had fantastic presentations, and learned the latest developments from inside and outside of China.  This included the bamboo fibre winding technology in China, but also the manufacturing of telegraph poles from bamboo in Kenya, the latest research on glues and adhesives from Australia and Ecuador and presentations about design and product development.  Prof. Mme Jiang Zehui reflected on the history of bamboo research in China, and John Hardy told us about the amazing bamboo constructions in the Green School in Bali.

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John Hardy

We also had an exhibition with amazing products, and a real eye-opener for newcomers.  The “piece de resistance” for me was the blade of a wind turbine, manufactured from bamboo fibre by Tsinghua University Science Park, but we had lots of other beautiful products.

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We launched INBAR-FAO-NEPAD report about bamboo for landscape restoration; we published a report about rattan terminology, prepared by the INBAR Task for on Rattan; we announced a report about subsidies for bamboo afforestation in China that was written by Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University; together with Delft University, we published a report about carbon storage in bamboo and we distributed the English translation of the China National Bamboo Plan 2011-2020.  We also distributed “Booming Bamboo”, written by Pablo van der Lugt.   This is an up-to-date review of what you can do with bamboo.

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Dr Martin Frick, Senior Director, Policy and Programme Coordination, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Finally, we made very practical, concrete decisions to support real action.  We signed agreements, had a political declaration, made new partnerships. It really was not just a talk-shop, but we build the foundations for a lot of new future work.  The most important agreement that we launched was a contract with IFAD Rome to start a new intra-Africa bamboo livelihoods programme, involving Ethiopia, Cameroon, Ghana and Madagascar.  I was very happy to sign this agreement with the IFAD Associate Vice-President Charlotte Salford.

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Congratulating IFAD Associate Vice-President, Ms Charlotte Salford

 

Other specific outcomes include a commitment from the Netherlands government to support the next phase of the Sino-Dutch bamboo project in East Africa with USD 2 million.  We reached a tentative agreement to hold a 2019 planning workshop in China for Giant Panda conservation and bamboo habitat management.  IFAD also confirmed financial support for a bamboo project in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.  Together with several partners we agreed to the creation of a global network of bamboo training facilities, and with FAO and potential recipient countries we discussed a large global “bamboo for climate change” project that will be submitted to GEF.  We signed partnership agreement with several organisations, including the International Tropical timber Organisation (ITTO), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA).

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Signing MoU with Ruud Jansen, Executive Secretary, Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa

One concern about flying lots of people around he world and organising a major event is the carbon footprint this creates.  I was very happy that we were able to offset all the CO2 produced by the Congress, through a contribution from the private sector to the China Green Carbon Fund.  BARC 2018 was really carbon-neutral

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Organising an event is mainly a logistics activity, and an event is only useful if it provides impact and it makes a difference.  There is no point in doing great things if we cannot share the lessons learned, and I believe that BARC 2018 was one of the most important communications tools that INBAR had at its disposal in 2018.  I was therefore thrilled that we had a lot of coverage, both in Chinese media and in international press.

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We had hundreds of Chinese media reports, including Xinhua, China Daily, and Chinese video channels CGTN and CCTV, as well as local media from BARC strategic partners Yong’an, Meishan and Yibin.

The most relevant English language reports about BARC 2018 are listed here:

There is a lot of information on the INBAR website as well.  This includes general stories about BARC 2018 as well as specific reports or interviews.  And we have hundreds of photos.  One of the young interns that helped me during BARC 2018, is now working with us to catalogue all the videos, presentations, speeches and other written products of the Congress.  A mammoth task.

Talking about interns – we had a large number of super volunteers at the Congress, and I was happy to recognise them by given  a token of appreciation to one representative.

In my closing remarks to participants at the end of the Congress, I stressed that: “Bamboo and rattan are no longer ‘poor man’s timber’ – they are truly ‘green gold’, and their applications for sustainable development and environmental protection go hand-in-hand with their industrial applications and use by the private sector.”

What a fantastic experience this was!