Bamboo at the Biodiversity Convention

Last week I was in Korea, where I attended the last two days of the twelfth meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. This meeting is simple referred to as CBDCOP12. I was there together with the new INBAR Director of Communications and Outreach, Michael Devlin, and we had a busy few days.

CBDCOP12 was organised in a sky resort in Pyeongchang, some three hours drive from Incheon International Airport. It was cold in Pyeongchang, and the discussions took place in large tents. Picture delegates sitting at their desk with coats, scarves and even hats and gloves – that was CBDCOP12!

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This is not the first time that I attend such a meeting. When I worked for IUCN, I participated in several “COPs”, and they have always seemed special events. Most of the time during the plenary meetings towards the end of the COP is spent on debating the details of text of various documents, and there is no longer room for presentation of new thoughts or discussions of substance. That happened in the preparatory meetings and earlier in the first week. Towards the end of the COP, there are only side events where substantive issues are presented and debated.

INBAR hosted one of the side events this year, and the main aim was to launch the nine finalists of the TVE Biomovies competition. Ethiopia is the Chair of the INBAR Council, and I was very happy that the Head of the Ethiopia Delegation to COP12, Dr. Gemedo Dalle Tussie, gave the opening remarks at our side event. The Biomovies competition asked young media people to propose scripts for short videos. The judging team chose the 9 most promising proposals, and the film-makers were given financial and technical assistance by TVE to produce their video. This year, we had three categories: a) bamboo and rattan, b) renewable energy and c) protecting the world’s environment. INBAR was the sponsor for the bamboo and rattan category, and therefore we hosted the launch of the final videos.

HF-CBDCOP12

The winners were nine interesting films with different perspectives. The bamboo and rattan finalists are from Bolivia, Nepal and Zimbabwe. The Bolivian video describes a bamboo clump that is dreaming of flying. The pole is cut and the material used to make a kite. The film ends with the bamboo flying, and the message that you can do anything with bamboo! The Nepal entry describes a boy who is drawing a picture and who is slowly losing his pens, his drawing and even his clothes. The message is not to ignore the values of bamboo. The video from Zimbabwe is a series of short interviews with poor kids on the streets of Harare or Bulawayo who make a range of things from bamboo and rattan. The message is that bamboo is very versatile and its uses are unlimited. All nine films are now on-line and we are asking the public to watch and vote!

We also used the side event to talk about a project in India that INBAR was involved in from 2000 to 2003. We were very fortunate to get the perspective on Mr Hem Pande, the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in India, who joined us briefly at the event. The project aimed at helping poor farmers in an area that had been devastated during brick making, and the top soil had been stripped for several metres. INBAR and its local partner Utthan started a re-planting project with bamboo, which was very successful. We published a report “Greening Red Earth” and a few years after the project ended Utthan received the Alcan Sustainability Prize.

Greening-Red-Earth-cover

Earlier this year, I wondered what had happened, and asked one of my colleague to go back to the same place and have a look, take some photos and talk with local people. The result was not as imposing as we had hoped, as there is no large bamboo forest! But, the results are actually very impressive. Farmers have used bamboo as the keystone in an integrated agro-forestry and inter-cropping system, and as a result they are now doing well, gaining at some 10% of their income from bamboo. Bamboo provides all kinds of obvious services and it is a source of material for furniture making and construction. We started with a few hundred hectares in 2000 and now Utthan has covered 85,000 hectares. It is a real success story, which we will present in a new publication later this year.

Apart from hosting the side event, we also participated in the general discussion, and in the corridors I bumped into old and new acquaintances. Many former IUCN colleagues were at the meeting, and it was very nice to renew contacts with former staff and peers. I also met with representatives of the INBAR network, and especially the dinner with Vice Minister Adobo from the Philippines and his whole delegation was a very nice experience.

We also had meetings with representatives from Korea. Discussions with the Department of Forestry focused on the possibility of Korea becoming a member of INBAR. We talked with a delegation from Damyang Province, as this is where the World Bamboo Fair and the World Bamboo Congress will take place next year in September. INBAR still has to work out what it will do in Damyang, but it is clear that I will be back in Korea next September!

WBC-2015

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Indian Bamboo Advice

Yesterday, we had a visit by D.N. Tewari. He is an Indian specialist with a distinguished career in forestry management.  He was the first Director-General of the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education, former member of the Indian Planning Commission, former Trustee of ICRAF – the World Agroforestry Centre, former Member of FAO working group on biodiversity and much more.

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Dr Tewari is also the Founder and Director of Utthan, Centre for Sustainable Development & Poverty Alleviation.  INBAR and Utthan developed a project some twenty years ago in an attempt to help local communities near Allahabad who were living on totally degraded soils in an area that had been devastated through years of brick making. The brick-making industry had come to a halt, and the soils were so bad that there was no opportunity to grow crops or make a living.

Natural regeneration of the historical tree cover would take tens of years, so the plan was hatched to use bamboo as a means to speed up the process of ecosystem regeneration. This was the start of the “Greening Red Earth” project that has been described in an INBAR report from 2003. We are returning to the project area later this year to review what has happened since, and to be able to record the development, but Dr Tewari told us yesterday in broad terms what the impact of the project has been: In 15 years, some 90,000 hectares of mined soil has been rehabilitated in the project area, but similar work elsewhere by Utthan and its partners has resulted in upgrading of millions of hectares of degraded lands.  Side effects of the projects have also included literacy classes for the workers in the nurseries, access to vaccination and sanitation and general improvement of the living condition of nearly 1 million households.

The project is a case study of a success story, but there are new challenges, and Dr Tewari listed the following as areas where INBAR could help.

  • Policy constraints. Some areas are over-regulated and therefore nothing happens. Other areas have little or no regulation and therefore the wrong decisions are taken. Overall, there is need for policies at national level to guide sustainable development
  • There is lots of money available for rural development, but most of it is locked up in large funds with institutions that require project proposals to access the funds.  Local communities have limitations in project formulation and writing of proposals. Training by local organisations like Utthan is critical, and INBAR should liaise with in-country expertise to facilitate this.
  • International trade in forest products is regulated through certification and standards. Bamboo and rattan are often treated as a tree product, leading to unnecessary red-tape. There is need for awareness and education both in producing countries and in the countries that import bamboo and rattan.
  • There has been some exciting field work in the past years, but a lot is hidden in project reports, local language research papers, or institutional archives. We need more publications to illustrate the benefits of bamboo and rattan and to document the progress that has been made in developing the resources sustainably.
  • INBAR should take the global stage and talk about the values and benefits of bamboo and rattan so that those outside the traditional bamboo community will learn and understand what the opportunities and challenges are for bamboo and rattan producers.
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The advice from Dr Tewari fits very well with my own understanding of priorities and future direction for INBAR:

  • Ensuring that bamboo and rattan are included in socio-economic and environmental development policies at national, regional and international level
  • Coordinating inputs from a global network of members and partners and representing the needs of Members on the global stage, including the development of production standards and trade regulations
  • Sharing knowledge, providing training, communicating lessons learned and raising awareness about the socio-economic and environmental values of bamboo and rattan
  • Promoting adaptive research and on-the-ground innovation by helping to establish pilot best-practice case studies and supporting up-scaling of successful practices across the INBAR Member countries.