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Review: Sustainable Bamboo Development

INBAR News
1Nov

Published in 2018, Sustainable Bamboo Development provides a must-read summary on the development of the plant, using 40 case studies across 22 countries.

For Ximena Londoño, President of the Colombia Bamboo Society, finding out more about bamboo’s potential is a no-brainer. “In these historic times, the sustainable development of bamboo is a common-sense premise”, she writes in the foreword to Sustainable Bamboo Development. However, despite bamboo’s many uses, the development of this sector has been hampered by an ongoing “clash of opinions” in media.

In Londoño’s experience, a lack of awareness – and in particular, inadequate attempts to translate research into policy-relevant information – have prevented efforts to scale up the use of bamboo development. It is Londoño’s hope that Sustainable Bamboo Development will address this gap, and will “help to demonstrate to people that communities can be transformed through the cultivation of bamboo.”

Londoño is one of several high-profile bamboo specialists to praise the new book, Sustainable Bamboo Development, which was published by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International earlier this year. Other experts include Dina Nath Tewari, winner of the prestigious Alcan Prize for his work restoring degraded land with bamboo in North-East India, and Bernard Kigomo, Senior Deputy Director at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute.

The book’s popularity is partly explained by its authors. Professor Zhu Zhaohua is a renowned expert in the field, and Jin Wei has some 20 years of experience in non-timber forest product development, through her work with INBAR. Together, Zhu and Jin present 40 cases of bamboo development across some 20 countries, including a number which were facilitated by INBAR.

The book charts the meteoric rise of the bamboo business – from a relatively small sector, reliant on manual labour, to the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. As the authors show, the creation of international bamboo organisations, such as the World Bamboo Organization and INBAR, has played an important role in lifting bamboo into public awareness, particularly in international policy circles.

According to the authors, the potential for bamboo to spur economic growth is captured by Anji, a county in Zhejiang province, China. Anji produces some 3000 types of bamboo products, including structural and decorative materials, curtains, mats and carpets, medicines, charcoal, machinery and shoots. In 2015, the total production value of Anji’s bamboo processing industry reached some CNY 14 billion, and bamboo forest-based ecotourism created CNY 5 billion. Anji’s success is an apt demonstration of China’s bamboo sector, which “has experienced a transformational growth from simple raw production to… high-added value, high-quality, environmentally friendly products.”

Anji, China, has a highly developed bamboo industry – one which the authors believe other countries can emulate.

So, how can other countries start to develop a sustainable bamboo sector? The answer starts with a realistic evaluation of bamboo resources. “All processing industries should have clear answers to three questions: Where do the raw materials come from? What are the requirements for raw materials? Is there enough supply?” The type and distribution of bamboo will affect the kinds of products which it can make, and the costs for processing and transport. At INBAR, the Global Assessment of Bamboo and Rattan is currently trying to answer these questions, and to provide more policy-relevant advice for its Member states.

Policy support is one important strategy. In Anji, huge advances were made possible by the supportive policies of the Chinese government, and in particular the five-year bamboo sector development plan published by Zhejiang. Zhu and Jin believe that a good plan “may count for 50% of future success” in bamboo sector development, and lay out detailed guidelines for policymakers in a chapter dedicated to the subject.

Capacity-building is another essential way to develop the bamboo sector – from raising awareness about bamboo’s uses and benefits, to more specific training for different aspects of the value chain (managing, harvesting, processing) and for different species. The book describes INBAR’s experience of training, and leading study tour delegations to China to witness the bamboo industry firsthand. The authors stress the need for training to be locally specific, and raise some cautionary tales – such as machines which only work for certain species of bamboo, and policies which don’t take into account regional circumstances. However, a key message of the book is the sheer number of positive stories and case studies about the bamboo sector.

Countries across the tropical and subtropical belt boast bamboo resources – such as this abundant clumping bamboo species in Africa.

Finally, innovation is a key concern. High-value bamboo products can be marketed to international markets, and processing technologies can help factories use the entirety of a bamboo culm. In China, companies are using new techniques to make everything from drainage pipes to wind turbine blades and shipping containers. An understanding of, and adherence to, international standards in bamboo construction and testing also ensures a consistently high quality of goods. Far from just copying the success of China’s bamboo sector, entrepreneurs and policy makers from other countries should “explore ways of development that meet their own special conditions.”

Hans Friederich, Director General of INBAR, praised the book’s contribution to the development of the bamboo sector. “Whether you are a company looking to switch from timber to bamboo, or a government trying to include bamboo in your development policies, sharing experiences and learning from others is the best way to learn. As a network of Members, INBAR has spent many years sharing our knowledge and expertise between countries – and so I am delighted to see Sustainable Bamboo Development doing just that.”

Sustainable Bamboo Development is published by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, and can be purchased here.