International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation

Why Bamboo
& Rattan?

BAMBOO & RATTAN

Frequently Asked Questions

Bamboo and rattan are astounding resources with unique potential to combat poverty and natural resource challenges. They grow locally to some of the world’s poorest communities in the tropics and subtropics, and have many uses, providing a vast range of sustainable products, livelihood options and ecosystem services. If we can harness the potential of bamboo and rattan, the Global South will be closer to achieving its ambitious development, climate and environmental aims, including the Sustainable Development Goals, green growth, REDD+ targets, the Paris Agreement commitments, and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

What is bamboo and where does it grow?

Bamboos are part of the grass family Poaceae. There are 1642 known species, which occupy a broad range of environments across the world, largely in tropical to warm temperate ecosystems across Africa, Asia and Central and South America. In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that bamboo covered over 30 million hectares of land across the world.

Although bamboo is technically a grass plant, it can grow up to 35 metres tall and 30 centimetres in diameter. Bamboos also include some of the fastest growing plants in the world: certain species grow up to 91 cm a day. Its fast growth, quick maturity (within four to seven years) and wood-like nature make certain species of bamboo an excellent material for housing and scaffolding. Since the 1990s, new technologies have also enabled the use of bamboo as a source of paper, packaging, furniture and fabric.

Aside from its socio-economic benefits, bamboo is a key part of biodiverse ecosystems. The giant panda, red panda, mountain gorilla, bale monkey, and the greater bamboo lemur are just some of the animals that rely on bamboo for food and shelter. Bamboo’s extensive root systems mean that it binds soil and can raise the water table, making it an important part of anti-desertification projects around the world.

There are thousands of uses for bamboo, which make it a strategic resource for at least seven of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For more information about bamboo’s usefulness to sustainable development objectives, please browse our work.

What is rattan and where does it grow?

Rattan, a term derived from the Malay word for climbing palms, ‘rotan’, is a specialised group of scaly-fruited, spiny, climbing palms which belong to the family Palmae. Rattans are monocotyledons with flexible stems and are generally found near water courses. The slender stem of the rattan, often winding like a rope and armed with thorns or bristle, has a near uniform thickness along its complete length. It has a diameter of 1-5 cm and reaches a length of about 30 metres after ten years of growth. In rare cases, it can grow up to 200 metres long.

About 600 species of rattan occur in the wetlands of the tropical and subtropical rainforest ecosystems of Australia, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Pacific. However, South-East Asian nations including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are the top producers of rattan products and raw materials. Although a few species of rattan have been cultivated from plants growing in Indonesia and a few other countries, the greatest proportion of production still comes from plants growing in the natural forests. The world market leader, Indonesia, has an estimated rattan cultivation area of 37,000 hectares. The areas of rattan cultivation in Malaysia and the Philippines are about 31,000 hectares and 600 hectares respectively. Of particular economic interest is the thick-stocking species of Calamus with its manifold subspecies. In West Africa, the four endemic generic species are Calamus, Eremospatha, Laccosperma (syn. Ancistropyllum), and Oncocalamus.

Rattan cultivation, processing and utilisation constitute a major topic of interest in many parts of the world in view of the plant’s usefulness for poverty alleviation, employment generation and foreign exchange earnings. Although originally most exports were from Asian countries, in recent times there has been a significant increase in the export of African rattans.

How much is the bamboo and rattan sector worth?

Based on available data, INBAR estimates the global bamboo and rattan sector has a trade value of around USD 60 billion. The majority of this trade is domestic.

Based on data from the UN Comtrade database, international exports of bamboo and rattan products in 2017 were valued at USD 1.7 billion. This included a large number of highly processed bamboo and rattan goods, such as flooring, panels and cladding, as well as more traditional, home-made products, such as woven items. A more exact breakdown can be seen in INBAR’s trade report, below.

Most exporting countries come from subtropical and tropical regions which grow bamboo and rattan. This is particularly true for traditional producing countries in Asia. China is the world leader in bamboo and rattan trade, with an industry valued at USD 39 billion in 2018, according to national customs data. However, several non-bamboo- and rattan-producing areas are also big exporters of bamboo and rattan products. For example, the European Union is the world’s second largest exporter of bamboo and rattan products; it sources raw materials and intermediate  products from Asia, processes them, and then exports to other countries as high value-added finished products.

Unfortunately, due to their resemblance to wood products, it is highly likely that a large amount of the international trade in bamboo and rattan products is mis-classified under the UN’s Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding Systems (HS). Countries with a wider range of appropriate codes, and an increased capacity to identify bamboo and rattan products, show that the real figure may be much higher: data provided by China Customs alone adds over USD 1 billion more to the UN Comtrade’s figure for export of bamboo and rattan products, putting the global export value in 2017 at over USD 2.7 billion.

INBAR has been the recognised International Commodity Body for bamboo and rattan under the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) since 2001. Based on UN Comtrade data, INBAR maintains a trade database where users can access information about imports and exports of various bamboo and rattan products, based on their code / the commodity type, the year, the area / country / trading partner and HS nomenclature. Every year, INBAR also collates and analyses global trade data and presents it to its Member States and the world. In 2017, INBAR’s Member States comprised 86 per cent of the world’s exports of bamboo and rattan products. More information about INBAR, and the latest trade statistics, can be found on this page.

What does the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation do?

The International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) was founded in 1997 as an intergovernmental organisation, with a mission to “improve the wellbeing of producers and users of bamboo and rattan within the context of a sustainable bamboo and rattan resource base by consolidating, coordinating and supporting strategic and adaptive research and developments.” Currently, INBAR works within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, promoting the use of bamboo for goals including poverty alleviation, environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

INBAR is a multilateral development organisation of 46 Member States for the promotion of bamboo and rattan. In addition to its Secretariat headquarters in China, INBAR has Regional Offices in Cameroon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana and India. Almost all of INBAR’s Member States are bamboo- and rattan-producing countries from the Global South, making INBAR an important mechanism for South-South cooperation.

INBAR is an Observer to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. In 2017, it became an Observer to the UN General Assembly.

INBAR is also the International Commodity Body for bamboo and rattan under the Common Fund for Commodities, and works closely with the International Organization for Standardization, supporting the establishment and promotion of manufacturing standards for bamboo and rattan products.

For more information about INBAR’s structure, please read our Governance page.

For more information about INBAR’s work with bamboo and rattan, please read here.

How is bamboo useful for climate change mitigation?

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. This makes it particularly suitable as a tool for carbon sequestration. Given its fast growth rate, bamboo can be harvested regularly, creating a large number of durable products which store carbon over several years, in addition to the carbon stored in the plant itself. Over time, this means that bamboo can sequester more carbon than some tree plantations.

This is particularly important when bamboo’s potential to create durable products is taken into account. Industrial bamboo products, including flooring, decking, cladding, panels and beams, are long-lasting, recyclable, and can replace a variety of emissions-intensive materials, such as PVC, steel, aluminium and concrete. Due to their hardness, dimensional stability and aesthetic appearance, bamboo could also be a favourable substitute for hardwoods, even FSC-certified ones, in terms of carbon footprint and eco-costs.

Bamboo can also provide a sustainable source of bioenergy. It can be converted into charcoal or briquettes for cooking, or into gas or pellets for electricity and heat generation. Because it regrows quickly and matures faster than most types of tree, bamboo can provide a renewable alternative to timber fuel, on which many people around the world are still reliant for their cooking and heating. It can also provide an important source of biomass energy in countries with ambitious renewable energy targets, as a plant which grows on marginal soils and does not need to compete with agriculturally productive land.

Finally, bamboo and rattan can help communities and individuals adapt to the negative impacts of climate change: as a resilient housing material; as a nature-based tool to help prevent desertification; and as a sustainable, year-round source of livelihood for millions of people around the world. Self-replenishing, locally growing, and easy to process without the need for large machines or capital investment, bamboo offers rural communities more security in a changing climate.

You can find out more about bamboo’s contribution to climate change mitigation on this page.

What makes bamboo and rattan such valuable non-timber forest products?

Forest-based enterprises, including the harvesting, collection, processing and sale of non-timber forest products such as bamboo and rattan, constitute a major source of income for millions of rural people, particularly land-poor and landless families, in many parts of the world. With careful management and added value, bamboo and rattan can provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for millions of people, especially in rural areas.

Several aspects make bamboo and rattan particularly critical non-timber forest products. Both plants mature fast, to a hard, yet flexible, woody substance, and are harvestable within a small number of years. They are also self-regenerating: once harvested, both plants both grow back, without the need to replant. This means that a well-managed bamboo and rattan area can provide a sustainable, regular source of income within a short time. In addition, both bamboo and rattan can be harvested and processed using simple, handheld tools, without the need for heavy machinery or electric equipment.

Rattan is harvested for its cane, a versatile renewable material. The larger diameter canes are used for making furniture, carpet-beaters and walking sticks while the smaller ones are for baskets, mats, fish traps, tyres, bird cages and coarse wickerwork. Split rattan canes are utilised for the production of finer wickerwork (such as furniture), casings and cords.

Bamboo’s efficient structural design—a strong, hollow tube, with relatively high bending strength and tough outer skin—makes it a very useful plant. Giant woody bamboos, such as Moso and Guadua, are used in the construction of houses, scaffolding and bridges. Smaller bamboos can be treated in a similar way to rattans, to make handicrafts and furniture. Bamboo can also be processed to become a source of biomass energy for cooking, heating and electricity, or as fodder for animals.

In recent decades, industry developments have vastly increased the potential of bamboo and rattan as a renewable, biobased material. Engineered bamboo composite is now being used for flooring, decking, panels and pipes, and bamboo pulp and paper can create recyclable alternatives for single-use plastic or wood products, including cutlery, cups, paper and packaging. And rattan is being trialled for use as a biobased bone replacement material.

Why are bamboo and rattan important for sustainable development?

Bamboo and rattan are very strategic non-timber forest products which are widely available to some of the poorest rural communities in the world. They grow across the tropics and subtropics, making them a common resource to many countries in the Global South.

INBAR currently works to promote bamboo and rattan’s relevance within the framework of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, which started in 2016. In particular, INBAR has identified seven Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which bamboo and rattan can make a real difference:

  • SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms
  • SDG 7: Provide affordable, sustainable and reliable modern energy services for all
  • SDG 11: Access to adequate and affordable housing
  • SDG 12: Efficient use of natural resources
  • SDG 13: Address climate change
  • SDG 15: Protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems
  • SDG 17: Promote sustainable development through global partnerships

Click the links to find out more about how bamboo and rattan can contribute to environmentally sustainable development in these areas.

How environmentally friendly are bamboo products?

The environmentally friendly nature of bamboo products depends very much on the product itself. In general, bamboo products can provide low-carbon alternatives to a number of materials, including steel, cement and plastic. The range of bamboo products is increasing every year, and includes cladding, decking, flooring, panels and beams. Bamboo is being trialled for use in everything from drainage pipes and shipping container flooring to wind turbine blades and bullet train fuselage.

Some bamboo products are made using synthetic additives, such as glues and coatings, or processing chemicals, for example in viscose- and pulp-making. These are toxic or not biodegradable, and mean that the end product cannot be recycled in line with the bio-based economy. The amount of glue or chemicals used depends on the type of product.

However, even when these chemicals and glues are taken into account, European industrial bamboo products (flooring, panels, beams, cladding, decking) have a lower ‘eco-cost’ (environmental burden, based on a specific methodology) than other materials, even FSC-certified hardwoods.

The search for bio-based additives and chemicals, such as soy, lignin or bagasse, which can be made in a cost-competitive way, will make a crucial difference to creating zero-waste bamboo products. There is currently significant investment and research in product development activities by a number of manufacturers. In 2019 INBAR published a report on bamboo’s potential in the circular economy, which covers the latest innovations in a number of bamboo materials. It can be read here.

Are bamboos invasive?

Although some bamboo species are known to be invasive, particularly ‘running’ bamboo species, many are not invasive and pose no threat to natural environments.

There are two main types of bamboo: sympodial (clumping) and monopodial (running). With a few exceptions, tropical woody bamboo species that are found mostly in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia are clumping types and are not invasive. Running bamboo species, particularly those belonging to the genus Phyllostachys, are responsible for the majority of cases of aggressive spread. This is because of their extensive rhizome systems, which enable running bamboos to spread easily and make it harder to remove all parts of the plant.

Importantly, the main cause of bamboo invasiveness is through intentional introduction, rather than accidentally. This means that with proper guidelines and management, it is possibly to vastly decrease the risk of invasiveness. There are a number of easy ways to reduce the risk of bamboo invasiveness, which are covered in a recent INBAR report.

Bamboo is a hugely effective tool for rural development, climate change mitigation and environmental protection. The sooner countries understand and manage the risks related to bamboo invasiveness, the sooner they can work to realise bamboo’s full potential for sustainable development.

How can individuals or organisations get involved in INBAR’s work?

INBAR is an intergovernmental organisation. Currently, only countries can become Members of INBAR. You can check this page to find out if your country is an INBAR Member State.

As part of its mission, INBAR produces many resources which can support individuals, organisations or governments to work with bamboo and rattan. These can be viewed for free on our online library, on our Youtube channel, and in frequent news updates. INBAR also provides regular training courses to participants nominated by focal points, nominated government departments in INBAR Member or Observer States. Click on your country here to find out your country’s focal point.

As an intergovernmental organisation, INBAR primarily serves to help its Member States develop their bamboo and rattan sectors, as well as to raise general awareness about the plants. This means INBAR cannot respond to every individual request about the sourcing, applications or new initiatives involving bamboo and rattan. At the moment, INBAR does not maintain an up-to-date list of suppliers and private sector stakeholders in Member States. We encourage people to check INBAR’s online library, which contains a lot of technical materials, as well as our website and social media, which provides a general introduction to INBAR’s work.

INBAR regularly posts job openings for positions at its Secretariat and Regional Offices here. INBAR does not maintain a database of bamboo- and rattan-related job openings around the world.

 

I’m a journalist and want to talk to a bamboo or rattan expert. How can I get in touch?

For press enquiries, please contact info [at] inbar.int.

Does INBAR publish research?

INBAR has commissioned and published research by global bamboo and rattan experts for more than 20 years. All of INBAR’s research, publications and resources are freely available and can be downloaded from our resource library. In addition, INBAR writes about the latest news from the world of bamboo and rattan research on the website, here, and shares up-to-date news via a quarterly newsletter (sign up here).