International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Five ways bamboo and rattan can support ecosystems

5 Jun 2021

How can bamboo and rattan contribute to diverse, healthy landscapes?

World Environment Day has been celebrated on 5 June every year since 1974, but 2021 is something special: it marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, of which INBAR is a partner.

The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a ten-year “rallying call” to protect and restore ecosystems. From 2021 to 2030, the initiative will build political momentum for ecosystem conservation and restoration, and oversee thousands of initiatives on the ground. The Decade is led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN.

As a partner of the UN Decade, INBAR will continue to work to promote bamboo and rattan for land restoration, forest conservation and biodiversity protection.

But did you know that many countries around the world are already using bamboo and rattan to protect the environment?

If grown alongside crops, bamboo can improve yields and improve soil health. This is because bamboo is an evergreen plant which provides shade, constant leaf litter and an extensive root system. A major seven-year study carried out in Uttar Pradesh, India, showed how bamboo-based agroforestry systems increased crop yields for chickpea and sesame: within three years, yields were 13% higher than when they were grown as sole crops. Over time, bamboo leaf litter and root decomposition also enhanced the fertility and nutrient quality of soil.

Intercropping with bamboo is already taking place in many countries. In 2021, INBAR published a manual for bamboo-based agroforestry in Ghana: the latest in a number of resources about planting and managing bamboo on farms and homesteads.

INBAR works on training programmes with smallholder farmers around the world to plant and manage bamboo.

Bamboo’s shallow root system acts as a net, binding soil and preventing water run-off. This makes it a useful plant to restore degraded or disturbed soils. In the Philippines, one of the world’s top mineral exporters, mining companies are now required to plant bamboo on 20% of their quarry land. Governments and communities in African countries are planting bamboo along riverbanks to prevent landslides. And in India, a ten-year project to restore dusty, degraded farmland resulted in a huge increase in income and agricultural productivity.

You can read more success stories about bamboo for land restoration in this INBAR report.

The severely degraded soil near Allahabad, India, was restored through a ten-year bamboo replanting project.

They’re not just panda food: in fact, bamboo and rattan are key parts of tropical and subtropical ecosystems across Asia, Africa and the Americas. There are more than 1600 known species of bamboo, and 400 of rattan.

Aside from the giant panda, a huge range of species, including several endangered ones, rely on bamboo and rattan for food and shelter. Elephants, bears and lemurs eat rattan fruits and bamboo shoots. In fact, the mountain gorillas of central and east Africa eat so much bamboo—making up 90% of their diet during shoot season—that one conservationist has said World Gorilla Day “might as well be World Bamboo Day.”

While unsustainable harvesting of bamboo and rattan can be harmful to these habitats, with the right management, these plants can be a plentiful resource for humans and animals. By learning how to sustainably manage wild bamboo and rattan resources, local communities as far apart as Laos and Rwanda are actually helping manage and protect the vulnerable ecosystems in which bamboo and rattan live.

Unexpected vegan: mountain gorillas have bamboo-rich diets.

Fast-growing and renewable, bamboo can be used as a low-carbon alternative to timber and other biomass as a source of energy for cooking and heating. This can be an important source of fuel in parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa, where reliance on wood fuel is a key driver of deforestation and environmental degradation.

Bamboo charcoal is growing in popularity: in 2018, the international trade value reached USD 75 million, and in 2020, Uganda-based company Divine Bamboo won the prestigious Energy Access Booster Award for its work promoting bamboo as a renewable source of cooking fuel.

A number of INBAR projects have spread bamboo charcoal use across countries including China, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Madagascar, the Philippines, Viet Nam and more.

Charcoal briquettes have a similar calorific value to other common forms of biomass, but a lower carbon footprint and eco-cost. Credit: Divine Bamboo.

Planting bamboo, or improving management and use of existing bamboo forests, can help store carbon. According to INBAR research, some bamboo plants and their products can store more carbon than certain species of tree over a 30-year period.

China is one country which is exploring bamboo’s potential as a powerful carbon sink. Bamboo afforestation initiatives can be recognised in voluntary carbon offset programmes in China: as far back as 2009, internet retail giant Alibaba bought offsets for some 50 hectares of bamboo, and new carbon forest projects are taking off in Hubei and Fujian provinces. Companies are also experimenting with durable products which store carbon for several decades, including bamboo flooring, decking, housing materials, pipes and wind turbine blades, as well as single-use bamboo cups, crockery, bags and straws.

INBAR has published a number of resources to help foresters and policymakers integrate bamboo into their climate change plans, including a manual on assessing bamboo carbon, a policy brief about how to include bamboo forestry projects in carbon markets, and a synthesis report on bamboo’s potential for the circular economy.

A number of the recent Chinese products brought to market: bamboo storm drainage pipes; single-use crockery; flooring; keyboards; and primary construction materials.

Watch INBAR’s recent webinar, ‘Integration of bamboo into forest restoration’, here.

For more information about INBAR’s other partners and donors, see the full list here.

(Featured image: ‘The best inheritance for our children and grandchildren’. Credit: Raphael Paucar and Noelia Carolina Trillo Mendoza, winners of the INBAR 2020 photography competition.)