China faces an uphill struggle against the effects of climate change: rising temperatures; increasingly unpredictable rainfall; and significant threats to its biodiversity. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country can also expect more extreme weather events and natural disasters in the decades ahead.
Effects are predicted to be particularly harsh in the southern province of Guizhou, where warmer and drier conditions will damage ecosystems and seriously undermine the region’s agricultural productivity. Fortunately, the province has one crucial ally: bamboo.
INBAR, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Chishui Forestry Bureau, are exploring how this strategic resource can strengthen community resilience in Chishui District. Bamboo has been planted here on a grand scale since 2001, part of China’s National Sloping Land Conversion Programme. During this time, the area’s bamboo forest area spread across 86,660 hectares.
The project is testing practical land management techniques that will raise agricultural productivity and bring ‘climate-smart’ solutions to the local population.
The techniques include:
– Appropriate harvesting of bamboo poles: adjusting the structure of bamboo stand structure based on the age of bamboo poles, helping to optimize the reproduction of young shoots and bamboos
– Removing shrubs and grass, but retaining tree saplings: trees help increase biodiversity, provide additional nutrients, and stabilize soil
– Adding nutrients: bamboo grows faster with the addition of bio-fertilizer to the soil – in this case specialized bio-fertilizer for bamboo made from locally-available chicken waste
– Safeguarding plantations: preventing livestock intrusion, forest fire, pests and disease
– Encouraging inter-cropping: introducing other income-generating forest activities like breeding chickens and the production of bamboo fungus.
What ‘climate-smart’ benefits can the community expect from these techniques? Research has shown that bamboo sequesters carbon at rates comparable to or higher than many tree species; the plant’s rapid establishment and growth allow frequent harvesting which limits exposure to disaster; and it is also highly versatile, offering a wide range of livelihood applications.
Experience in China, and elsewhere, has also revealed that bamboo can reverse land degradation: the plant thrives on problem soils and steep slopes that are unsuitable for other crops; it is an effective windbreak; and its sturdy rhizomes and roots regulate water flows and prevent erosion.
Bamboo: an important source of livelihoods
In Chishui, the improved management techniques have generated significant increases in the productivity of participating farmers: from 10.8 t/ha to 18.73 t/ha for bamboo poles; and from 2070 kg/ha to 5025 kg/ha for bamboo shoots. These figures in turn represent a rise in farmer incomes, who receive an additional 600 yuan/ha for bamboo poles and an additional 593 yuan/ha for bamboo shoots.
Bamboo production has also initiated local businesses and enterprises. One of the more lucrative is a pulp and paper mill which uses 100% bamboo and claims to be the largest mill of its kind anywhere in the world – while many mills use bamboo, they are not wholly dependent on the plant as this one is. Farmers supply the mill via collection points located throughout the area, and their bamboo is processed into pulp for clients worldwide, including Kimberly-Clark.
But, challenges remain. The area’s bamboo plantations still require improvements to their structure and species composition – the monoculture nature of many expose plantations to the destructive effects of climate change. A recent assessment, initiated by INBAR and its partners, has helped identify risks and proposes practical solutions designed to raise productivity against a backdrop of rising temperatures and increasingly unpredictable rainfall.
Field research conducted in October 2015 examined the distribution and growth status of several bamboo forests at different altitudes. Combining this with climate data and information on the area’s bamboo forests over the past twenty years, researchers have outlined the following recommendations:
– Matching bamboo species with optimal temperatures and precipitation: efforts are needed to expand the area of species P. edulis and D. farinosus at lower altitudes, and the area of B. rigida and N. affinis at higher altitudes
– Improving forest structure: Reducing the area of B. pervariablis x D. dali, and gradually replacing them with P. edulis and D. farinosus to optimize landscape structure and reduce vulnerability to pests and disease (B. pervariablis x D. dali will be particularly vulnerable to pests as effective temperatures gradually reduce)
– Maintaining optimal numbers, ages, sizes and the density of bamboo culms to enhance the productivity of the forests.
Are there lessons here for countries and communities elsewhere?
Plant management has been crucial. Previously, farmers simply planted bamboo and left the plant to grow. But, productivity can be significantly enhanced if poles are harvested properly, with farmers paying attention to the age of poles, and pests and disease are noted early and dealt with effectively. Another important consideration is the choice of bamboo species: available species need to be assessed and those more likely to prosper despite changes in temperature and rainfall distribution need to be prioritized. If these recommendations are taken on board, communities have a resilient and strategic resource to help shield them from the negative impacts of climate change.