Bamboo has been an important part of life in Ecuador for thousands of years, used to build simple housing and traditional products for those living in country’s coastal tropical forests. These areas may be better known for banana and coffee plantations or cattle ranches, but INBAR has been working in Ecuador to develop strategies for sustainable bamboo industry development since 1999. With help from INBAR Capacity Building Manager Jin Wei, who has worked at INBAR for more than 20 years, we take a look at one country’s journey.
2019 was a big year for Ecuador’s bamboo industry. The government, supported by INBAR, published it’s National Bamboo Strategy, a key document which lays out the country’s decade-long journey towards the full sustainable exploitation of its bamboo resources. In addition, INBAR co-organised three bilateral training workshops on bamboo development, held by the Chinese government, for Ecuadorian participants – in August, in China, and in October in Ecuador. This represented the first time that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce had supported training programmes both in China and in a country in one year. The outsized impact of these programmes was such that we have decided to take a closer look at the history of cooperation between INBAR and the two governments since INBAR’s inception.
In fact, the August tour was the fourth Chinese/INBAR delegation that has travelled to Ecuador to deliver a capacity building programme. The first three took place back in 2000, 2002 and 2005 respectively. Since they were supported by the Chinese government, these trips represented key steps in the strengthening of the diplomatic relationship betwene Ecuador and China as well as important milestones in the country’s bamboo industry development laying the groundwork for today’s success. In addition to these multilateral training tours, groups of carefully selected Ecuadorians have been traveling to China since 2001 to attend INBAR Training Courses – as of 2020, more than 100 Ecuadorians have joined us. Over the last two decades, these ‘pioneers’ have ventured into researching bamboo’s properties and applications, bamboo propagation, forest management, pre-processing, product development, and livelihood and business development.
From the beginning: The first steps
Ecuador’s relationship with INBAR got its start in 1999, when the country joined the ever-growing network along with three other countries in Latin America – Cuba, Chile and Colombia. The following year saw the first bilateral tour, of five Chinese delegates, experts in the bamboo industry, to Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The tour was sponsored by the Chinese government and by INBAR, and INBAR’s data collection shows that the seminars held during the tour were attended by up to 3500 people, some of whom would become the country’s most passionate bamboo champions. The touring experts were both teachers and pupils, holding talks and classes to impart their knowledge, but also learning how what they knew could be transferred to a different environment such as Ecuador. During this tour, key stakeholders from the Ecuadorian bamboo industry, including Ms. Cecilia Calderon de Castro, then president of Ecuador’s national association for bamboo development, Ecuabamboo, as well as being a senator, joined the lectures and identified specific issues or obstacles that the industry faced at that time.
The study tour was an opportunity for the group of experts to take stock of the country’s bamboo industry, identifying various challenges and opportunities for the sector. Chief among these were the urgent need for rehabilitation of the country’s natural resources to reverse species loss and land degradation in areas where bamboo was found, and the need for more research into the native and introduced species of bamboo that were present in Ecuador and their suitability for Ecuador’s industrial and environmental needs.
The second stage: targeted bamboo industry research and development
The following year, in 2001, INBAR signed an agreement with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and established one of it’s earliest regional offices in Ecuador, the Regional Office of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the same year, 50 fine bamboo species selected by the Chinese experts were prepared and shipped to Ecuador early 2002. Late 2002, a second Chinese/INBAR delegation visited Ecuador for the second ever bamboo study tour to the country. The team arrived having shipped 50 bamboo samples to the country for testing on their suitability for the country’s needs the previous year. These experts carried out research and analysis in three main areas, with a wide range of concrete output on:
- Resources: The experts found that 33 of the introduced species had survived, and that nine of them were performing very well. The experts recommended 16 species for culm, shoots, and ornamental purposes as priorities for development. The experts pointed out that the sparsely distributed natural forests in Ecuador may be a hindrance for industrial development, since the need to transport materials and personnel often becomes very costly, and suggested to conduct studies on the use of bamboo for biomass fuel and production of commercial species in Ecuador, especially Guadua species to provide a basis for strategic development.
- Policy: The group of experst shared Chinese experiences with various different policy models, including land use right contracting systems, to provide incentives for communities to manage Ecuador’s bamboo forests. Experts also introduced financial, investment, insurance and personnel management policies as options to encourage the development of the country’s bamboo sector. The use of demonstration plots, training of personnel, and multi-stakeholder engagement plans completed the advice given.
- Industry: Experts suggested that policy-makers establish a product-oriented, standardised, high-efficiency industrial production base, and suggested priority species for industrial use, including native species such as Guadua Augustifolia and introduced species such as Dendrocalamus asper and Bambusa tulda. The expert report also included detailed advice on the importance of short, middle and long-term planning for the success of the Ecuadorian bamboo industry.
INBAR’s Bamboo Development Strategy: Multifaceted Development Projects
These recommendations and early results provided the basis for INBAR’s next steps in Ecuador throughout the early 2000’s: The establishment of a Regional Office for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region in Quito, Ecuador, and the implementation of various development projects in the region that served to raise awareness of bamboo’s potential, build capacity and technological expertise among various key stakeholder groups, and expand the knowledge base. These multi-level projects covered a wide variety of themes, including low-cost bamboo climate smart housing, the soil and water conservation and landscape rehabilitation, community poverty alleviation, livelihood development, bamboo product development and market research. INBAR was generously supported by international donor bodies such as the World Bank, The International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Inter-America Development Bank, the Common Fund for Commodities, and other organisations. Longstanding relationships with the Ecuadorian and Chinese governments as well as these international organisations made cooperation and effective implementation possible.
To read about the next key stage in INBAR and Ecuador’s journey towards bamboo industrialisation, click here.
To find out how INBAR and research partner the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan designed the trainng course in August 2019 in China, click here.
To read more about the two-way training programmes themselves, click here.
Watch INBAR Capacity Building Manager Jin Wei talk about bamboo’s potential in Ecuador below.