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New report: bamboo for land restoration

INBAR News
14Jun

A new report by INBAR, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development looks at bamboo’s use to restore degraded lands in eight places across the world: China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand.

Land degradation occurs in many countries across the world, and has serious adverse impacts on the environment. It also has knock-on effects on livelihoods, by reducing the productive capacity of agricultural land, threatening food security and increasing the risk of disease. According to one estimate, between 2001 and 2009, land degradation cost about USD 11 billion in Kenya, USD 18 billion in Tanzania and USD 35 billion in Ethiopia.

INBAR has long promoted the benefits of bamboo as a tool for land restoration. With its long root systems, ability to grow on degraded soils and steep slopes, and extremely fast growth, bamboo can revegetate even the most degraded soils within a short period. For these reasons, an increasing number of countries have begun to identify and explicitly include bamboo as a high priority species for use in landscape restoration.

In June, INBAR released its latest Policy Synthesis report – the fourth in the series, and the first one to focus exclusively on bamboo and rattan for land restoration. The report, which was produced with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, aims to address a general gap in the literature about bamboo-based landscape restoration initiatives, and the reasons for their success or failure.

Using nine case studies from across eight countries – China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nepal, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand – the report assesses the environmental benefits of bamboo for land restoration. As the report shows, when properly selected and well managed, bamboo species can help improve the soil quality of degraded land and raise the groundwater table level. In India, severely degraded soil – the result of an intensive brickmaking industry – staged a remarkable recovery after planting with bamboo: within 20 years, the groundwater table had increased by 10 metres, and agricultural crops and tree species had been incorporated into a bamboo landscape. In Chishui, China, bamboo plantations had 25 per cent less water runoff than adjacent sweet potato farms. And in Nepal, a similar plantation helped reduce soil erosion and flood damage. Bamboo has also been used to successfully restore degraded mines (Ghana) and bamboo poles can also be used to prevent coastal erosion (Thailand).

Pictures showing the extent of topsoil excavation in Allahabad, India, and a dust storm in the village. The cover image to this article shows the impact of bamboo planting in this area. (Source: INBAR)

As the studies show, there is an important side benefit to restoring land with bamboo: income. A number of case studies show how bamboo provides important additional benefits as a commodity. In Anji, China, the value of bamboo shoots reached about USD 2 billion per year, and the number of ‘bamboo tourists’ numbered almost 8 million in 2011. Bamboo enterprise development has also proven very successful in Tanzania, where bamboo-related enterprises have generated an estimated extra USD 200 every month per household and created jobs for almost a thousand villagers. And in Colombia, “guadua plantations gave farmers who already had experience of managing natural guadua forests an opportunity to increase their incomes by exploiting the new resource.”

Before and after pictures show how the construction of bamboo barriers helps increase mangrove forests and reduce erosion in Thailand. (Source: Bamboo Revetnment Project)

According to the report, “the key lesson from these case studies is simple. Bamboo can play an important role in reclaiming degraded land and contributing to poverty alleviation in rural areas.” However, care is needed. To be successful in the long term, bamboo land restoration projects need to consider a number of factors.

As many case studies show, local buy-in is important. Awareness raising about bamboo’s benefits, as well as subsidies and supportive regulations, can influence local participation. Equally important, however, is bamboo’s income potential. As the report says, “Given the huge income potential of bamboo products, bamboo land restoration projects should also consider integrating bamboo product development into their plans and providing appropriate support and training.” On a taxonomic level, appropriate species and site selection is needed, as the case of South Africa shows.

From left to right: (1) Bamboo creates biodiverse habitats for creatures such as this Andean motmot in Colombia (Source: Juan Carlos Camargo). (2) Participatory rural appraisals are a key part of successful projects in the long-term. (Source: INBAR) (3) Mrs. Lu Huaying from Chishui, China, now makes a living from selling bamboo products grown in her area. (Source: INBAR)

The report can be cited as: FAO and INBAR. 2018. Bamboo for land restoration. INBAR Policy Synthesis Report 4. INBAR: Beijing, China.

The report can be accessed from INBAR’s library, here.