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‘Green steel’: Minister to China’s Embassy in the UK signals support for bamboo in Belt and Road

News
3Aug

Bamboo and rattan may be surprisingly powerful trade tools to foster future UK-China collaboration.  

In brief:

On Tuesday 1 August, representatives from the Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom, global engineering firm ARUP and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew gave their support to bamboo and rattan as strategic plants which can help foster UK-China trade and investment – particularly through China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The speakers made their remarks at the event ‘Putting bamboo and rattan on the map: strategic resources for UK-China collaboration’, hosted by Kew Gardens and the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR).

Mr. Ma Hui, Minister at the Chinese Embassy, signalled his strong support for using bamboo as part of the Belt and Road Initiative – China’s flagship programme which aims to build infrastructure and economic links between Asia, Europe and Africa. Mr. Ma believes bamboo and rattan are “green steel” – a belief he said is based on his observations growing up in a rural area of northern China, where these plants were used by many families for a wide range of uses. China’s multi-billion dollar bamboo industry – which uses bamboo for everything from drainage pipes and wind turbine blades to a tool for climate change mitigation – could also be true of countries along the Belt and Road routes, where bamboo and rattan grow widely. For this reason, Mr. Ma “welcomes and fully supports” the ideas behind INBAR’s recently released ‘Bamboo and Rattan for Belt and Road’ vision.

Britain is “undoubtedly a key partner” of Belt and Road and has signalled its support for this Initiative. Europe imports over $500 million worth of bamboo products every year.

As well as Mr. Ma, speakers from ARUP and Kew endorsed bamboo and rattan as key materials for a wide number of uses. ARUP senior structural engineer Sebastian Kaminski described the low-cost, lightweight and earthquake-resilient properties of bamboo houses in Latin America. Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at Kew and a well-known speaker on biodiversity issues, stressed the need for research, undertaken by Kew and partners, as a vital way to better understand and exploit existing plant resources.

Despite bamboo and rattan’s many useful properties – as a source of employment, housing, food and products – surprisingly little is known about different species. In the past this has held back researchers from exploiting their full potential. At this event, Kew and INBAR launched the World Atlas and World Checklist for Bamboos and Rattans. These two publications, produced by world research leader Kew for INBAR and the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan, together provide the most comprehensive taxonomic study of bamboo and rattan species published in recent years. Dr. Maria Vorontsova, one of the report authors, believes the Checklist will have large implications for botany and international development. “The vast majority of bamboo and rattan species have never been exploited because they were simply not known”, she said. As a result of their work, “We hope more species will be researched and used.” At the event, Dr Voronstova and Dr William Baker provided more information on the importance of bamboos and rattans for a wide range of uses.

With more political support and world-class research, this “green steel” could foster greater collaboration between China and the UK.

Speakers at the event included: Mr. Ma Hui, Minister to China’s Embassy in the UK; Professor Kathy Willis, Kew Director of Science; Dr William Baker and Dr Maria Vorontsova from Kew; Sebastian Kaminski from ARUP; INBAR Chair of the Board of Trustees Andrew Bennet; and INBAR Director Dr Hans Friederich.