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Tackling desertification and land degradation 

Stories
7Feb
Bamboo is a strategic resource that many countries can use to restore their degraded landscapes and reverse the dangers of desertification. With the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) currently holding its twelth session of the Conference of parties (COP 12) in Turkey, more policy makers and rural development planners need to be better informed about the unique properties of this plant and how it can help them combat desertification.

Bamboo can help:

Reverse land degradation 

Bamboos grow rapidly through an extensive root system that helps to bind soil, whilst maintaining a permanent canopy, making the plant a unique and effective tool to control erosion and slope stability.

This has been demonstrated in Guizhou Province, China, where research documented a 24.6 percent decrease in surface run-off compared to sweet potato croplandi, and an initiative in Allahabad, India, where 80,000 hectares of land made unusable by a decade of brick mining was brought back into productivity using bamboo as a pioneer species.

Some countries are now exploring options for achieving land degradation neutrality through the use of bamboo: Ghana is using bamboo to ‘re-green’ dump sites and the quarries of former mining areas; and Ethiopia’s Sustainable Land Management Programme is promoting bamboo as a strategic resource to control erosion and restore degraded upper catchments – an approach directly promoted by the country’s President, Mulatu Teshome.

Improve soil health 

Most bamboo species form an ‘evergreen canopy’, dropping leaves year round, providing a perennial source of nutrients. It is estimated that, on average, one hectare of bamboo produces some 5-7 tonnes of leaf litter per year – an effective mulch to improve soil properties.

Soils under bamboo show relatively high pH, helping to neutralize acidity, and the plant provides high levels of organic matter and nutrients, including Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc. In the Allahabad restoration scheme, bamboo added 6-8 inches of humus to the soil, and increased the soil’s carbon content – from 0 to 0.7 – 0.9 t/ha.

Its rapid growth and strong root systems make bamboo a powerful soil protection tool. Estimates show that a single bamboo plant can bind up to 6m3 of soil. The Government of Rwanda has acted on this evidence by drafting a national bamboo policy that calls for the planting of bamboo along rivers and lake shores.

A ministerial order on buffer zone management has resulted in bamboo being planted along corridors beside the country’s rivers and water bodies. Similar actions are in place in other countries, including Sri Lanka, Brazil, China, Kenya, and the Philippines.

Reduce pressures on existing forest resources 

Farmers and foresters who can regularly harvest raw materials and fuel from bamboo stands are under less economic pressure to unsustainably exploit less renewable forests – especially if the bamboo is close to home.

Strong, flexible and versatile, the plant lends itself to the production of over 10,000 different products, providing an opportunity for rural communities to participate in a growing global sector worth some 60 Billion USD every year.

Provide a ‘carbon sink’ 

Bamboo-led afforestation provides a significant ‘carbon gain,’ given its high sequestration rates. Substantial amounts of carbon are stored in the bamboo forests of China, the world’s largest, and the total will increase as planned afforestation programmes expand.

The carbon stored in Chinese bamboo forests is projected to increase from 727 million tonnes in 2010 to 1018 million tonnes in 2050 – nearly 40 percent in 40 years. The plant is now recognized in fledgling carbon offset programmes in China, including a nationally approved carbon afforestation and reforestation methodology developed with the help of INBAR and its partners.

Support global efforts to reverse land degradation

Bamboo can be used to help countries meet SDG15 – protecting and restoring terrestrial ecosystems. The plant also contributes to the Bonn Challenge, the global initiative targeting the restoration of 200 million hectares of the planet’s degraded lands, to which INBAR Member States have agreed to contribute some five million hectares of bamboo.