International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

The man from Ibarra who discovered China’s famous “Green Gold”


The man from Ibarra who discovered China’s famous “Green Gold”

This article was originally published in Spanish in the Ecuadorian Daily El Norte on 6 January 2020 and was written by Guiselle Navarrete.

It was a couple of months ago that Leonidas Nicolalde, forestry technician at Imbabura Province ‘s Ministry for Agriculture and Livestock in Ecuador, had the opportunity to travel to China to see firsthand evidence of bamboo’s potential. Upon his return, he sat down with students from the Technical University of the North to share his newfound knowledge of this precious resource.

Guadua angustifolia, a type of clumping bamboo found in Latin America

According to the technician, native forests in China have been depleted by deforestation and overexploitation, which led the country to seek out alternative ways to generate production whilst protecting the environment.

“In order to do this, they managed to establish about six million hectares of bamboo. One of the most important aspects I learnt about was the ordering of the resource distribution throughout the country: there are specific areas marked for bamboo shoot production, production of bamboo chips, production of bamboo laminate flooring and now for bamboo charcoal, from which a host of products are derived, including for cosmetology and water treatment,” he said.

With regard to enhanced bamboo production in Ecuador, Nicolalde says that investment is the most complicated issue because, unlike in China, there is no strong pathway for investment into natural resources. He highlighted that in that Asian countries, industries dedicated to industrialising bamboo resources have been already been implemented, including for food production, furniture-making, lamps and even for the high-tech production of engineered bamboo composites that can be made into train carriages.

Leonidas Nicolalde at the China Research Centre for Bamboo WInding Composites

The knowledge exchange opportunity afforded to Nicolaide was precisely because the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR), an intergovernmental organisation based in China, is seeking to link Ecuador with Chinese investors and upgrade the production chain in the country with resources and technology from the Asian country.

This investment is a welcome one. With respect to the situation in Ecuador, the technician says that some of the manufacturing processes carried out in China on a large scale are already done in Ecuador, like production of laminate boards; but the infrastructure to produce high quality furniture with these boards is not yet in place. This is due in part to the relatively high cost since, as he explained, producing a sheet-based bamboo board would cost between 80 to 100 dollars, while a laminated board made from another timber species comes out between USD 25-40, making the bamboo boards not competitive in the Ecuadorian market.

“That’s why the idea is that Chinese investors contribute machinery which can lower the product price so that bamboo has a similar value to those already in the market,” he said.

1,500 hectares of native bamboo have been identified as guadua angustifolia, a clumping bamboo that orginates in Latin America, as well as introduced moso bamboo from China. These bamboo resources are distributed across three provinces in the northwestern part of the country – Pichincha, Imbabura and Esmeraldas.

“This makes us in Ibarra a potential area for bamboo production, but management must be subsidised. The Chinese Government invests around USD 300 a year per hectare to producers that have maintained over 50 hectares of bamboo over three years. That is why it is important that the Ecuadorian State seeks incentives to strengthen, manage and seek opportunities for commercialisation,” he explained.

Unfortunately, at the moment there is no value added for production in these three provinces. The majority of harvested bamboo culms are used for construction and even exporting to Peru for processing, but the price is low so it does not recover the investment.