In April, INBAR’s Central Africa Regional Office and the government of the Republic of Cameroon hosted a three-day conference on a critical topic: assessing bamboo and rattan’s importance for sustainable economic growth in Africa.
There are an estimated six million hectares of bamboo in Africa, and more than 20 species of rattan. These non-timber forest plants are a critical component of many Africans’ lives, livelihoods and material cultures, but many countries have yet to develop lucrative, export-oriented bamboo and rattan value chains. With more support and investment, African bamboo and rattan producers can take part in a sector with an estimated trade value of more than USD 60 billion, and scale up the use of bamboo as a solution for landslides, erosion, deforestation and household energy.
A lot of work is already being done, some of which was profiled in the March 2022 issue of Bamboo and Rattan Update, INBAR’s magazine. The issue, which focused on Africa, showcased some of the people and programmes at the forefront of expanding bamboo and rattan’s uses: from improved national standardisation processes, to fully integrated bamboo plantations and factories, and the upcoming China-Africa Bamboo Centre.
The Africa Bamboo and Rattan Congress (ABARC 2022) aimed to pull together these many diverse projects from across the continent, and inspire policymakers to support and develop these two non-timber forest products. The three-day event was co-hosted in Yaoundé, Cameroon, by INBAR and the government of the Republic of Cameroon. It included ministers, experts and delegations from 19 different countries, including Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, and focused on a wide range of topics,
At the opening of the event, participants heard from a number of high-level speakers about bamboo’s potential in Africa, including the Deputy City Mayor of Yaoundé, the Director General of INBAR and Cameroon’s Minister of State of Tourism and Leisure, and a personal representative of the Prime Minister of Cameroon. The congress also received messages from senior representatives at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the United Nations Forum on Forests and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development. The message was clear: bamboo and rattan are available and scalable solutions to a number of sustainable challenges, and can make a real contribution to African countries’ green growth.
The opening ceremony was followed by a ministerial session, which included a discussion from Ministers, Deputy Ministers and representatives from Chad, the Central African Republic, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as representatives from other African INBAR Member and Observer States. Speakers discussed how INBAR could better serve its Member States in Africa and Latin America, and described a joint vision on the best possible ways to develop the bamboo and rattan sector in Africa. These views and ideas were later summarised under the Yaoundé Declaration, which was published at the end of the Congress.
The following days were divided into a number of sessions. Several sessions addressed more technical aspects of bamboo and rattan development, such as new technologies for bamboo and rattan processing, and standards and certification. Others focused more on how to develop sustainable policies for bamboo and rattan, and how to promote investment. Specific sessions focused on bamboo as a tool for wide-scale carbon storage in Africa, and as a source of bioenergy. The conference ended with the publication of the Yaoundé Declaration: a major new text, approved by the Ministers of INBAR’s African Member States, which included a number of recommendations for the future development of the continent’s bamboo and rattan sectors. These range from the need to raise more awareness of bamboo and rattan’s benefits – “Ministers [recommend] more African countries to join the INBAR network” – to more technical specifics: the “promotion and development of research centres on bamboo and rattan”, as well as “the facilitation of technology transfer and innovation in order to make bamboo and rattan professions more accessible”. The Yaoundé Declaration makes clear the importance of funding and political support for the bamboo and rattan sector to be successful.
Finally, the Declaration suggests a few key areas in which bamboo should be promoted: as a tool for the construction of low-income housing and renewable energy, and as a means for “carbon sequestration, agroforestry and the restoration of degraded landscapes”, including programmes such as the Bonn Challenge and the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative. The Yaoundé Declaration ends by recommending that ABARC become a regular event, and be organised every three years.
As the host of ABARC 2020, Cameroon has a lot to offer other African countries: it is one of INBAR’s most enthusiastic African Member States, with a real drive to develop the bamboo and rattan sectors. In 2018, its President, His Excellency Paul Biya, visited INBAR Headquarters; and in 2019 Cameroon became the Chair of the INBAR Council. Since then, Cameroon has facilitated networking and visits for a number of neighbouring countries, and played an important role in reinforcing the interest of the public and governments in bamboo and rattan, particularly across the Central African sub-region. In a statement written for the March 2022 issue of Bamboo and Rattan Update, the Minister of Forests and Wildlife, the Republic, His Excellency Jules Doret Ndongo, summed it up well: “In Cameroon, bamboo and rattan are recognised as emblematic plants of sustainable development.”