Weaving together incomes and conservation
In 2018, INBAR helped to revitalise traditional bamboo weaving villages in a World Heritage site in Chishui, China
Commonly referred to as “poor man’s gold”, bamboo is a multi-use woody resource, widely used in construction, pulping, plywood, handicrafts, and a diverse range of subsistence applications. As well as generating job opportunities and cash income, bamboo also performs important environmental services, protecting biodiversity and restoring severely degraded lands.
Chishui is an area in Guizhou, China’s mountainous southwestern province. Guizhou, which is located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the Pearl River, features abundant natural resources and fragile karst landscapes. Since 2001, the area has also benefited from bamboo reforestation, as part of the Chinese government’s ‘Green for Grain’ programme. The results have been impressive: by 2018, local bamboo forest had increased by over 500 kilometres, and the sediment in forest rivers had dropped by 62%. Many households in Chishui now grow bamboo, and the plant has fostered the development of a new eco-tourism industry, which has contributed to the rise in rural incomes.
As part of the far-reaching Danxia World Heritage site, nominated by UNESCO in 2010, Chishui has strict restrictions in place to preserve its natural environment and protect its resources. This includes a ban on certain development projects that harm the environment, and certain forms of industrial production. These restrictions, while important for environmental protection, have had adverse impacts on a number of residents, whose traditional forms of income include construction work, hunting and logging.
By 2018, local bamboo forest had increased by over 500 kilometres, and the sediment in forest rivers had dropped by 62%.
In 2018, UNESCO and INBAR worked together with Chishui Natural World Heritage Management Bureau on an initiative to support sustainable livelihood activities in Chishui. The overall objective of the exercise was to find a balance in the heritage site: between natural resource protection on the one hand, and rural development and income growth on the other. As a locally growing resource and traditional part of culture and livelihoods, bamboo could be one such solution.
Bamboo weaving is an integral part of Chishui’s cultural heritage. An intricate traditional craft, the weaving involves over 20 procedures, and masterpieces can sell for over RMB 10,000 (c. USD 1500). Popular bamboo weaving handicrafts include lamp ornaments, bamboo-woven pots, and handbags. The INBAR-UNESCO project set out to explore ways of using bamboo weaving to improve local management of natural resources, and improve bamboo value chains. According to Li Yanxia, INBAR project manager, “We identified bamboo weaving as an important way to promote the development of a green economy, promote a traditional form of craftsmanship, and conserve a World Heritage site.”
One focus of the project was to identify and nurture community leaders who are already practicing sustainable livelihoods, and to provide opportunities for them to participate in activities such as the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress, to communicate the importance of cultural heritage transmission. The project also organised a 15-day bamboo weaving workshop for some 50 local villagers. According to project manager Li, “The villagers had no previous experience with bamboo weaving.” As a result of the workshop, Li notes that “Everyone was greatly encouraged by their own progress in making bamboo baskets and lamp ornaments.” Twenty outstanding participants were further supported by the project as potential community leaders in developing larger transmitter communities.
“We identified bamboo weaving as an important way to promote the development of a green economy, promote a traditional form of craftsmanship, and conserve a World Heritage site.”
The project also focused on building an innovative ‘entreprise >> community leaders >> community’ value chain. The aim of this model is for community leaders to inspire more local people to learn the craft and engage in bamboo weaving, and for enterprises to cooperate directly with local communities – forming a complete, efficient industrial chain. In the long term, this community-centred value chain could also serve to help attract migrant workers to return home – a phenomenon which is already being seen in some bamboo-growing parts of Chishui.
According to Li Yanxia, this project is part of a much wider movement in China: “As a traditional part of local culture and livelihoods, and an invaluable environmental asset, bamboo can help Chishui’s World Heritage site realise a more ‘harmonious coexistence’ between humans and nature, as part of China’s drive towards ‘ecological civilisation’.”
For more information about INBAR’s work in Chishui, read on here.
Chishui was one of nine case studies in a recent INBAR report on restoring degraded soil. Find out more about the importance of bamboo for land restoration here.
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